Plasma vs. LCD: How Do You Decide


Improving technology has rendered many differences between plasma televisions and liquid crystal display TVs obsolete. Plasma TVs used to have a shorter lifespan, for instance, but CNet says they now last as long as LCD TVs -- seven years of running 24/7. There's no longer a risk of the phosphors in plasma screens burning the ghost of an image into the screen for good. The differences between the two are still significant, though, for instance, plasma TVs use two to three times the power of an LCD set.

Display Differences

  • Plasma screens offer richer color, but LCDs offer greater screen resolution, so you can see more of the details of the image. Contrast between light and dark is more important to a good picture than resolution and plasma has better contrast. LCDs use backlighting that seeps into black parts of the image; when the phosphors in a plasma screen go dark, there's no light in that part of the screen at all. The best LED televisions, such as the LG Infinia 47LW5600, do have contrast to match plasma sets, according to "PC Magazine." Plasma screens allow a wider viewing range. The farther away you sit from the center of an LCD screen, the more washed-out the image becomes, but LCDs produce a better picture in bright light.


  • LCD sets that use LEDs -- light emitting diodes -- to illuminate the screen offer the thinnest profile of any flatscreen, as it only takes small LEDs to produce enough light for you to watch. Televisions with LEDs placed around the sides -- edge lighting -- are even thinner: Samsung's edge-lit 8000-series LED televisions are .9 inches thick, compared to 1.4 inches for the same-series plasma model and 3.2 inches for Samsung's 750-series of fluorescent-lit televisions. Edge-lit LCD televisions can't darken black areas of the screen as effectively as backlit LCD televisions, however.

Video Sources

  • If you want to watch 3D television, plasma sets are currently the best at showing 3D images without the distraction of "ghost" images on the screen. If you want a huge TV for video gaming, plasma does better at capturing rapid motion than LCD sets, though LCD televisions that refresh images at the 120Hz or 240Hz rates are competitive with plasma. If your image source has a lower resolution than your television, neither plasma nor LCD can improve the resolution; if your source has higher resolution than your set, some of the detail will be lost. In many cases, this doesn't matter: 1080p sources have greater resolution than 1080i, but you can't tell the difference on a screen smaller than 40 inches.


  • When choosing between plasma and LCD sets, variations in features and screen size make it hard to compare prices between the two. Generally, "PC Magazine" says, plasma sets cost less than LED-backlit LCD televisions with equivalent-sized screens and comparable features. LCD sets that employ fluorescent bulbs are close to plasma sets in cost, but they're heavier and thicker than LED-based LCD sets. Below 40 inches, LCD sets are the only option available; LCDs with LED backlighting are also the only sets with screens larger than 65 inches. Most sets sell for less than list price, so shop around and negotiate to get the best deal.

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