The price of those fancy high definition televisions is rapidly falling, but it’s hard to know whether to choose a plasma or LCD model. Fortunately, DiVine is here to help.
Plasma panels use gasses between panels of glass which emit light. LCD screens use tiny liquid crystals in front of a backlight. The differences between the two can be minor, and vary between manufacturers. But use the information below as a guide when shopping.
Blacks and colours
In general, plasma can make more colours and darker blacks, while LCD images tend to be both crisper and brighter.
In a dark room, such as a home theatre, plasma tends to give you a richer, more vibrant, more film-like image than LCD. But with the curtains open in the daytime, or the lights on at night, plasma can look washed out and faded, while LCD usually still looks bright and clear.
Plasma pixels blur slightly, giving a more natural appearance. LCD pixels don't blur, so text and computer-generated images will have more clarity. However, LCD screens will often blur somewhat when on-screen action is moving fast, despite clever processing tricks in the latest models.
For screens larger than about 100cm (which is measured diagonally) plasmas are typically cheaper than LCDs. Small plasmas are now very hard to find. LCDs can cram more pixels into a given space, so they can give a better resolution on small screens.
Plasmas used to have a reputation for being power guzzlers, but the consumption of some plasmas is now very close to the same-sized LCD. Check with the manufacturer’s ratings. Naturally, a larger TV will use much more power than a smaller one. If power consumption is an issue for you, don't choose the biggest one.
“High definition” televisions come in 1080p, 1080i and 720p models. 1080p is the best, and often referred to as “Full HD”. But it’s only important when watching Blu-ray discs as most television signals are not even in 720p resolution. It also only really matters if you are sitting closer than two metres away from a screen larger than 50 inches.
Plasma used to have a bad reputation for burn-in. It could occur if you left a static image (like a video game screen or a broadcaster’s logo) on the screen for a long time. There would be a constant shadow of that image for the rest of the television’s life. But most models now have mechanisms to avoid burn-in.
LCD screens can have “dead pixels” - little dots on the screen that will not change colour. When you bring your new LCD screen home, check it carefully for dead pixels. It's generally considered a manufacturing defect and most manufacturers will replace the screen if there are too many. Ask the salesman about their returns policy before you buy.
Choosing a screen
Measure the space you want to put your television into, and decide roughly what size you want your TV to be. Measure how far away you intend to sit most of the time. Determine whether you mostly will watch the TV in a darkened “home theatre”-style room, or a lit environment.
If you can, compare your choices of TV at a light level and distance similar to that in your home. Look for:
- Colour brightness
- Intensity of blacks
- Visible detail in both dark and bright scenes
Allow the sales staff to adjust the brightness and contrast for you. You want TVs that look good to you when somewhere in the middle of their settings range.
If you've chosen an LCD, test for “response time”. This is the technical term for the blurring in fast-paced scenes. Bring a DVD of a typical fast-paced thing you watch to the shop. A fast-paced movie scene or sport is a good choice. Have the staff play the fastest scenes for you to test the television.
Try taking a Blu-ray disc and a standard DVD to the shop and view them on each of the TVs you're considering. You should get a crisp, clear picture from both the Blu-ray and the DVD. There should not be any visible blurring, pixelation, after-images or other visual glitches. Study hair, grass, or textured fabrics. This fine detail is where problems will show up most clearly.