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LCD vs. Plasma Screen Displays: Technology Comparison

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) Televisions Technology Overview & Description

Liquid Crystal use a florescent backlight to send light through its liquid crystal molecules and a polarizing substrate. LCD TVs work passively, with red, green and blue pixels. By applying voltage to the pixels using a matrix of wires, the pixels can be darkened to prevent the backlight from showing through. Many LCD displays double as computer displays by allowing standard analogue VGA input, a great option if you need your display to pull double duty as a PC monitor to save money and space. Nearly all LCD TVs offer flexible mounting options including walls or under cabinets.

What's Next

Bigger, faster, cheaper. Direct view LCD screens are just starting to break the size barrier that once held them back (with some models getting as large as 82" though don't expect volume shipments) and it will be up to the manufacturing plants to convert or expand to the point where these larger screens become affordable and economical to produce. LCDs are not yet the best for black levels, but they are getting better and the "blur" effect, where the pixels cannot refresh fast enough for the screen motion, is all but extinct in newer models.

LCD Display Advantages

Flat Screen LCD Display

LCD Display Disadvantages


Plasma Screen Televisions & Displays

Technology Overview & Description

Plasma screens are basically a network of red, green and blue phosphors (each triad makes up a single pixel) mounted between two thin layers of glass. Plasma screens use a small electric pulse for each pixel to excite the rare natural gases argon, neon and xenon used to produce the color information and light. As electrons excite the phosphors, oxygen atoms dissipate and create plasma, emitting UV light. These rare gases actually have a life and fade over time.

Here's the cool part: because all the phosphor-excited pixels react at the same time, there is never any flicker apparent to the viewer. There's also no backlight and no projection of any kind, so the light-emitting phosphors, result in a bright display with a penchant for rich color and a wide viewing angle.

 

What Are Phosphors?
Phosphors are chemical compounds on back glass that emit the visible light that makes up the picture we see. Hit them with light and they react by producing an amount of red, green or blue. On a CRT, or cathode ray tube display, the phosphors are on the front glass and are excited by a "steered" beam of electrons from the cathode-ray. On plasma monitors the phosphors are excited by UV light produced by electromagnetically charged plasma.

 

Plasma screens are sometimes viewed as a wonder of the modern world, and most of their attention comes from their flat presentation and large screen sizes. They are able to be produced in sizes up to 103" (don't look for mass production of this size, however) and yield a very nice picture. The downside is that they are power-hungry (not to be confused with the environmentally-friendly LCD screens). You may enjoy watching commercials with plasma screens hanging on the ceiling, but even Philips will tell you that their screens do much better hanging on a wall or placed on a stand.

 

What's Next

At one time I stated: extinction. While I am now reconsidering that statement I maintain that LCD panels are on a trend to become a commodity. The manufacturing process is getting better, additional manufacturing plants open up each year to turn out more and more panels and performance is increasingly getting better. Add to that the low cost of manufacturing and additional technologies coming on board and you have a tough road ahead for plasma. Tough, but not impossible. Plasma displays are indeed competing in terms of longevity, brightness, (true) contrast ratio, power consumption and burn-in. Their black levels and color saturation are very impressive. Due to these advancements it is very likely that plasma and LCD will maintain parallel development for some time. As LCD displays become cheaper, faster and more competitive, perhaps plasma will become obsolete - until that time I have to retract my original prediction as being too far-reaching to be practical.

1080p has also finally made inroads with plasma. Beginning with Hitachi (who unlike many other companies actually demonstrated a working unit at last year's CEDIA) 2007 seems to be the year of 1080p plasma technology - albeit at a price.

 Plasma Advantages

Plasma Disadvantages

 

LCOS  Technology Overview & Description

One of the newer rear-projection display technologies, LCOS (or LCoS) is similar to LCD and consists of a liquid crystal layer which sits on top of a pixilated, highly reflective substrate. Below the substrate exists another layer containing the electronics to activate the pixels. This assembly is combined into a panel and packaged for use in a projection subsystem. Currently LCOS light valves are manufactured in 1280 x 768 (720p) and 1920 x 1080 (1080p) chip configurations (among others), with 4K (3480 x 2048) systems also being readied for professional markets (Sony already has two SXRD units on the market with 4096 x 2160 resolution.) Pick a resolution, any resolution...

LCOS is a reflective LCD display panel with high open area ratio. Basically, by placing the wiring area and switching elements under the reflection layer, there is no black matrix area - so it is possible to view a near-seamless image. LCOS systems can be created as 1 chip and 3 chip systems.

At the moment (meaning the next 15 minutes), LCOS technology is fairly competitive in terms of price and performance advantages compared to LCD and DLP systems. Pixels on LCOS panels can be made smaller than is possible with most other micro display technologies, without compromising picture quality or manufacturability. LCOS displays can be scaled to 1080i/p resolution (1920x1080 pixels) and beyond, without increasing the size and cost of the panel and other optical components in the light engine.

 

What's Next

Philips 55PL9773 Cineos LCOS Television

The future, we hope, now that manufacturer Syntax-Brillian has entered the picture and picked up where Intel dropped the ball. Better, faster, cheaper. LCOS technology is still relatively expensive compared to LCD and DLP, and with Intel opting out of mass production in 2004 that can be expected to remain for some time. This means that HDTVs based on LCOS technology may remain more expensive than the competition. Right now the main players are JVC, Philips, Sony and Syntax-Brillian (with a one-off from Mitsubishi and a couple front projection products from

Canon) so we'll have to look out to see how effectively they manufacture and market their products.

Despite a lot of hoopla, Sony Electronics actually seems to be driving this market single-handedly - at least as far as the consumer market is concerned. While companies like Brillian continue to post endless press releases of financials and new marketing initiatives (including the acquisition of Syntax Groups and the Olevia brand or LCD TVs) the name recognition is through SXRD and Sony.

 
LCOS Display Advantage

LCOS Display Disadvantage

 

Technology Overview & Description

A Thin Film Transistor (TFT) display is used for the light valves. Light from an ultrahigh pressure mercury (or other) lamp is split into red, green, and blue using a special mirror called a dichroic mirror, which passes light with a certain wavelength while reflecting a specific wavelength. After the image is created by LCDs for each color it is rejoined with a prism and projected. Light usability is better in a 3-Light Valve System than a 1-Light Valve System as you can achieve greater color depth and contrast. This transmission method is utilized in both LCD front projection and rear projection systems.
LCD projection technology continues to dominate the low-end projector market and was almost exclusive to the office projector market until last year. The portability and brightness of LCD projectors have made them a popular choice for portable presentations. The lightest LCD projectors weigh-in at less than 5 lbs.
 

What's Next
In HTPS micro displays, the aperture ratio is defined as the ratio between the bright pixel area and the pixel area that is blocked by the transistor required to drive each pixel. The aperture ratio must be maintained in order to preserve display brightness. Due to technical difficulty of shrinking the intra-pixel transistors, HTPS pixels cannot be made smaller without lowering brightness and reducing picture quality. A lower aperture ratio worsens the pronounced "screen door effect" often seen with LCD technology. Adding more pixels without shrinking each pixel maintains the aperture ratio, resulting in an enlarged panel and added cost.
Newer LCD projectors include special optics enhancers like micro-lens array that minimize pixelization known as the "screen door effect" and have contrast ratios as high as 1500:1, though as we have found during our measurements, contrast ratio numbers are largely just marketing gimmicks (we try to provide fairly accurate "real-world" measurements on any displays we review). Look for increased contrast ratios and better black levels with higher generation LCDs. A lot of companies are behind this technology so it won't be sitting idle.

LCD Projection Advantages
LCD Projection Disadvantages
Sony KDF-70XBR950 LCD Rear-Projection Television.

Yamaha DPX-500 LCD Projector.
 

D-ILA Technology Overview & Description
 
The LCOS technology is based on an innovation in microchip design that packs 2048 x 1536 pixels on a single 1.3" chip (labeled a QXGA device). Keep in mind that with all of the flavors and versions of LCOS-type technology the resolutions vary more than I care to include here. This makes possible display of HD images at full-spec resolution of 1920 x 1080 (with support for 1080p possible). Overall, LCOS projectors produce higher resolutions, better contrast ratios, less image artifacts, and better tonal and color information than just about any LCD front projection device.
 
How it works
The light from the xenon lamp travels through a polarizing beam splitter (PBS), which is reflected off the LCOS device, then passed through the projection lens and onto the screen. High brightness and high resolution are achieved using a reflective LCOS device with a high aperture ratio (93%) and high-density pixels, providing real resolution with pixels that blend almost seamlessly together. High contrast is achieved using vertical alignment liquid crystals of normally black operation and a high-precision optical system. Analogue gradation makes it possible to reproduce dark areas with high S/N (signal-to-noise ratio) because the LCOS device has an S-shape response. In combination with the high-speed response of the vertical alignment liquid crystal, LCOS technology makes it possible to reproduce smooth, noiseless motion pictures with clear, sharp high definition and film-like picture quality.
 

What's Next
JVC just announced July shipment of the next-generation of D-ILA products containing their new 0.7" chip (1920 x 1080) which is designed to take advantage of higher yields (and lower costs) while offering true 1080p HD resolution. Screen sizes include 56-, 61-, and 70-inch models. Sony is constantly dazzling people with its new SXRD line of products which continue to look fantastic so far and Syntax-Brillian is pushing new 1080p models out the door as fast as it can. This should create much needed competition for next-generation LCD and DLP projectors if they can get manufacturing costs down and feed more of these units to consumers. Right now the contrast ratios on these projectors is greater than LCD, but continue to be less than even single-chip DLP projectors. LCD technology, be it reflective or transmissive has a long way to go to gain significant ground in this one area, but its unique characteristics put it somewhat into a class of its own.
 

LCOS Projection Advantages
·       Excellent color reproduction
·       Excellent contrast ratios
·       Nearly seamless images
LCOS Projection Disadvantages
·       Still expensive despite more acceptance
·       Currently geared towards high-end home theater and commercial uses

JVC D-ILA Projector (left); Brillian 6501mb LCoS TV (right)
 

Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) Direct View and Rear Projection TVs
 
A cathode ray tube (CRT) is a specialized vacuum tube in which images are produced when a moving electron beam strikes a phosphorescent surface. There are three factors that limit the resolution on CRT display devices: screen dot pitch, electron beam size, and the bandwidth of the video amplifier. A typical CRT has a dot pitch around 0.8 - 0.9mm (much larger than a typical computer display). Lowering the dot pitch increases the display resolution, but increased dot pitch provides a brighter picture. Most CRT displays are configured to perform well with lots of ambient light, so dot pitch is typically higher.

Editor's Note: Dot Pitch Explained
Dot Pitch, or phosphor pitch, is a measurement indicating the diagonal distance between like-colored phosphor dots on a display screen. Measured in millimeters, the dot pitch is one of the principal characteristics that determine the quality of display monitors. The lower the number, the crisper the image. The dot pitch of color monitors for personal computers ranges from about 0.15 mm to 0.30 mm.

Rear projection TVs typically utilize 7" CRT guns, with some of the higher-end models using 9" guns. 7" guns can typically resolve about 700-800 lines of resolution. The high end 9" guns can do upwards of 900 lines. Typical direct view televisions deliver just over 600 lines of resolution. Most RPTVs have at least 30Mhz of video amplifier bandwidth, which is good for just under 720p or 1080i. Better models have upwards of 75Mhz. Most direct view televisions have 20Mhz video amplifiers, with some higher-end units extending above 30MHz.
CRT televisions receive video signals at the rate of 30 frames a second. Each frame of video contains about 480 lines of information. A single frame is projected on the screen line-by-line in two passes (each pass is called a "field"). On the first pass, the beam projects all of the odd numbered lines from 1-479 from top to bottom. On the second pass, it projects all of the even numbered lines from 2-480. It takes 1/30 of a second to complete both passes. This process is called interlacing. CRT type TVs need time to reset the electronic beam to the top of the screen so it can get ready to paint the next sequence of lines. To accomplish, they build in an interframe gap that equals about 45 lines. There is no picture information here. So the total lines per frame are 525 (480 + 45). Thus standard definition TV (SDTV) is often referred to as 480i (interlaced).
 
What's Next
Extinction! Front projection CRT-based systems are all but gone already. Rear projection CRT is soon to follow as soon as LCOS and DLP systems drop in price (LCD is already providing an easy way to get HDTV on the cheap). Samsung seems to be holding on, and they are one of the few. As rival flat screen and digital projection technologies drop in price and increase in quality, there will become less and less reason to pay for the bulk and power consumption of CRT displays. It is very likely that if you have a newborn, when he is a teenager he will look at you quizzically if you say the words "CRT" (and good luck explaining a record player).

CRT Direct View/Rear Projection Advantages
·       Among the clearest alternatives
·       Excellent color and contrast potential
·       Relatively inexpensive
·       Excellent life expectancy
CRT Direct View/Rear Projection Disadvantages
·       Heavy
·       Very deep (new models improve on this, but units are still relatively bulky)
·       Did we mention heavy?
·       Analogue connectivity or D/A conversion of digital input connections
·       Potential for screen burn-in

Technology Overview & Description
 
A new technology player was in town this year at the 2006 CES. LED technology debuted as a future digital display backlight option that promised intensely saturated colors, the end of bulb replacement for rear projection displays, and increased color reproduction for direct view LCD televisions . It will also make you chicken soup if you are sick (OK, we added that part.) While the life expectancy of the LEDs was not fully addressed to my satisfaction (to convince us that bulbs will truly be a thing of the past), the color saturation does indeed look to be very impressive. The Sanyo model we saw, for example was absolutely stunning and boasted displaying 120% of the NTSC color gamut. Currently there are models being shipped by some (Sony's QUALIA 005 for example), and prototyped by others - including Samsung, Sanyo, HP, JVC, Akai, Mitsubishi, and InFocus, and others have indicated upcoming use of this technology as well. Texas Instruments is excited about it and mentions the technology on their DLP website. Do you get the feeling that this LED thing is taking off? We'll see. For one, their color extension claims are dubious at best. Not many panels that I've seen demonstrate 75% coverage of the NTSC chromacity spectrum - more like 90%.

 

What's Next?

DLP TVs will almost invariably go the route of LED technology as it eliminates the color wheel and one more moving part. As for other technologies it's a no-brainer that increases the shelf life of the backlight system and improves color - making products more competitive. I would suspect that even many LCD flat panels will be replacing their fluorescent backlight systems with LEDs once the panel depths get better and the technology gets more affordable through mass production. Look for manufacturers to start bragging about color instead of contrast next year as this easily marketable feature takes off during 2007.

LED Backlight Technology Advantages
·       Exceeds NTSC color gamut
·       Excellent life expectancy (replaces typical 6000 hour bulbs in lamp systems)
·       Replaces color wheel on DLP displays
·       When used as LCD backlight, allows for exceptional black levels
·       "Instant-on" systems with almost no warm-up time.
LED Backlight Technology Disadvantages
·       Expensive as "new technology" though expected to drop in price once it ships in quantity
·       Panel depth for flat panel systems is a tad large at present in order to allow for combining of red, green, blue LEDs to make white.
Samsung HL-S5679W LED-based DLP Display
 
OLED and SED displays
Organic Light-emitting Diode displays (OLEDs) represent, like SED displays, a very promising format for use in home theater. The contemporary technology was developed by Eastman-Kodak and works via electroluminescence whereby a bright light is emitted whenever current is applied to conductors surrounding organic thin films. These displays do not require backlighting and can be manufactured in very thin, compact designs. Viewing angles are expected to be at least 160 degrees in all directions and operation occurs with just 2-10 volts. There is a lot of confusion within OLED technology however, as there are multiple manufacturing methods and technology approaches. As such, we're waiting a bit for the industry to shake itself out and see which technologies will take off for each application type.
AM (Active Matrix) OLEDs seem to be the technology of choice when it comes to the types of displays that will make it into the home theater environment. In an AM OLED, the OLED pixels are placed onto a TFT (thin film transistor) array backplane which functions as a series of switches to control the current flowing to each of the pixels. Typically there are two TFTs at each pixel, which results in a the ability to have a constant current flow and eliminating the need for power-hungry current spikes as in passive OLED technologies.
A potentially more exciting form of the technology (though likely not home theater-related) is more commonly referred to as PLED (Polymer Light-emitting Diodes) or LEP (Light-emitting Polymers) whose emissive materials can be applied using techniques derived from commercial inkjet printing (thanks to Seiko Epson and a 30 micron printing process). This technology was developed by Cambridge Display Technologies (CDT). The end result is that these displays can be made in a very flexible (literally) and cost-effective manner. LEDs are very closely related to LEDs however instead of using a semiconductor material to produce light, LEDs use a 2-layer polymer.

What's Next
AM OLEDs and LEDs are both positioned to take over LCD displays - though the fruition of this endeavor remains to be seen. Both OLED technologies promise several advantages including: elimination of backlighting, requiring a single layer of plastic as opposed to two sheets of glass, lower power consumption, and the possibility for physically flexible displays. They also face significant challenges in the area of life expectancy and color consistency over the life of the display. Samsung demonstrated a 21" (1920 x 1080) prototype AM OLED display in January 2005 as well as a 40" (1280 x 800) prototype AM OLED display in May 2005. The 40" unit boasted 600cd/m^2 brightness, 5000:1 contrast ratio, 80% NTSC color gamut, and a panel depth of just 3cm. At CES 2007 they were nowhere to be found (on-site anyway). With LCD and plasma prices dropping and technology advancing, OLED has its work cut out for it.

OLED Display Advantages
·       Excellent brightness
·       Great color and contrast potential
·       Relatively inexpensive to manufacture
·       Thin, lightweight & durable
·      Fast response time
·       Eventually have capability of being physically flexible or rollable (LEDs)
OLED Display Disadvantages
·       Short life expectancy (especially blue)
·       Differing life expectancies for each color resulting for potential of color shift over time (needs to be controlled via electronics)
·       Currently prototype-only for larger screen sizes - most OLED displays are for portable devices

Samsung Prototype 40-inch OLED display
 
Technology Overview & Description
SED, or Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Displays are a new, emerging technology co-developed by Canon and Toshiba Corporation. The hope for this technology is a display which reproduces vivid color, deep blacks, fast response times and almost limitless contrast. In fact, if you take all of the claims made by the backers of SED you would think that there should be no reason to buy any other type of display. A long life filled with bitter disappointments and lengthy product-to-market times have increased my skepticism and lowered my tendency to act as a cheerleader until products start to hit the market. As far as the specs go, this is one hot technology.
An SED display is very similar to a CRT (and now we come full circle) in that it utilizes an electron emitter which activates phosphors on a screen. The electron emission element is made from an ultra-thin electron emission film that is just a few nanometers thick. Unlike a CRT, which has a single electron emitter that is steered, SEDs utilize a separate emitter for each color phosphor (3 per pixel, or 1 per sub-pixel) and therefore do not require an electron beam deflector (which also makes screen sizes of over 42" possible). Just for clarity that means a 1920 x 1080 panel has 6.2 million electron "guns". The emitter takes roughly 10V to fire and is accelerated by 10kV before it hits the phosphor lined glass panel. Sound like a lot of power? It's all relative as a typical SED display is expected to use about 2/3 the power of a typical plasma panel (and less than CRTs and LCD displays).
OK, here's the real interesting news. SED display electron emitters are supposed to be printable using inkjet printing technology from Canon while the matrix wiring can be created with a special screen printing method. The obvious result is the potential for extremely low production costs at high volumes once the technology is perfected.
What's Next?
Canon debuted an SED display prototype at the la Defense in Paris in October 2005. The specs referenced a < 1ms response time, 100,000:1 contrast ratio, brightness of 400 cd/m^2, and 180 degree viewing angle in all directions. Actual shipping models are expected to fist be released by Toshiba in 2007. Pricing is expected to be less than LCD and plasma for the same size - we'll see.

SED Display Advantages
·       CRT-matching black levels
·       Excellent color and contrast potential
·       Relatively inexpensive production cost
·       Wide viewing angle
SED Display Disadvantages
·       Unknown (though optimistic) life expectancy
·       Potential for screen burn-in
·       Currently prototype only

Toshiba Prototype SED Display

LCD vs. Plasma Screen TVs: The Flat Picture
As I mentioned above, the Plasma TV has the edge in terms of cost per size and black levels. While refresh rates used to be better in plasma displays, LCD panels are now fast enough to really turn this into a non-issue. Plasma also remains a less expensive option for larger display sizes though we see this cost-crossover size increase with every new LCD manufacturing plant that opens. LCD displays continue to drop in price as they increase in terms of quality and black level reproduction and contrast. Once this happens, Plasma may lose its edge and LCD technology could win out - at least in terms of mass market appeal. Note: "could", "might", "may"... you get the idea... We might be going back and forth a long time - which is only to our advantage. As many of the CRT manufacturing plants are slated to close or convert over to LCD (Sony announced the closing of two more CRT plants in the first quarter of 2006 alone), you can imagine that the technology as a whole will benefit from smarter, more efficient manufacturing processes. Add to this the en-mass entry of Korean manufacturers who are willing to lose money on panels in order to gain market share (being subsidized by your government is a good thing) and you've got a wild commodity environment for LCD. As this goes on, prices will continue to drop and the LCD market will likely drive even larger flat panel display products into the homes of consumers. 50-inch LCD displays are now quite affordable whereas 30 inch versions were expensive just a couple years ago.

DLP vs. LCD vs. LCOS Rear Projection Televisions
This is where the competition gets interesting. This is essentially a battle between Texas Instruments and all of the LCD manufacturers (Sony, Philips, Toshiba, Samsung). Many companies are hedging their bets on this one (Samsung manufactures all 3), however the real winner will be the one who can produce the best picture at the lowest cost. My bet is on DLP. DLP is releasing its 1080p chips and has increased black levels and contrast ratios with its new DC3 (Dark Chip 3) technology. The advances in DLP both current and forthcoming are exceptional, but so is LCOS which is essentially a densely-packed LCD - creating a finer picture without any of the "screen door" artifacts found in many LCD displays. Still, DLP's reluctance to allow 3-chip pricing to hit "mere mortals" means that rainbow effect is still a concern for many.
3LCD rear projection does have some advantages, however. It is being developed further and further and will benefit from rapid price drops as manufacturing ramps up and technologies improve. Right now you can find large, HD-ready LCD-based RPTVs for under $1500. A similar DLP or LCOS version (currently) will tend to cost you around $500 - $1000 more. 3LCD front projection is fantastic at the proper viewing distances, however DLP seems to be quickly eating up the entry level projector market (Optoma's HD70 brings 720p DLP into the sub-$1000 price category for the first time). The emerging LED backlight technology, replacing color wheels on DLP and bulbs on all of the rear projection sets will only enhance the color reproduction and shelf life of all three technologies.

The Cost Factor: How Much Do I Spend?
How much do you have? Seriously, though, budget and intended use will determine the direction you take in what technology you choose. Those with the strictest budgets will want to break into HDTV via LCD rear-projection or DLP/LCD front projection. We really no longer recommend CRT-based RPTVs as they represent a dying technology and we feel the advantages they once had are now far outweighed by the digital competition (die, convergence, DIE!)
If you are desperate for a flat panel, it's going to be a question of size. LCDs cost more than Plasma TVs at the larger sizes (50-inches and up). The reason for this is production yields and undersupply. There is currently a condition of undersupply for many sizes of LCD displays due to the number of manufacturing plants available and the current configuration of those plants. Couple this with lower yields on larger display sizes due to burned out pixels and quality control, and you have a demand situation which forces LCD prices way up for displays over 42-50". A fair estimate would be that at and above 50" an LCD TV could cost 20-30% more than a comparable Plasma display. If you want the benefits of LCD above this size you will have to pay for it - and you thought Plasma was expensive!
If you are made of money and want the biggest flat panel around, Samsung and LG have been battling it out for years. I used to give the models and sizes of these TVs, but it's become such a joke (they almost never ship - at least not in quantity) that we'll just say they make big TVs. In addition, these oversized flat panels are priced at… well, more than you want to know.
So, as always, the choice is up to you. Spend your money wisely, and keep your eyes peeled for the new technologies as they break into the marketplace. Competition is always good and should do well to make all the technologies strive for better performance and lower costs to the consumer.


OLED

DLP

LCD

Plasma

Contrast Ratio

very high

very high

medium

high

Type. Brightness

600+ cd/m2

750+
cd/m2

700
cd/m2

1000††
cd/m2

Longevity (hours)

TBD

2-4k
(lamp)

30k**

30k**

Burn-in

No

No

No†

Yes

Viewing Angle

160°+

170°

160°+

170°

Fully Digital Display

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Refresh Rate

< 6ms

NA

< 12ms*

< 8ms

Max Resolution

1080p

1080p*

1080p

1080p*

Weight (lbs)

lightest

medium

light

medium

Set Depth

< 1-2"

6.5" - 24"

2"+

3" - 7"

Screen Size

< 10"

43" - 73"*

< 82"*

< 103"*

Power consumption

Very Low

Medium

Low

Medium

*Fairly new development noticed at CES 2006
** Expected LCD backlight lifespan or plasma half-life; note: differs from manufacturer claims
†† Plasma "real-world" measurements after calibration are considerably lower

 

 

 

 

 

 

LCOS/DILA

RP LCD

SED

CRT

Contrast Ratio

medium

medium

highest

highest

Type. Brightness

750+
cd/m2

450
cd/m2

400
cd/m2

300
cd/m2

Longevity (hours)

2-4k
(lamp)

2-4k
(lamp)

TBD

20k+

Burn-in

No

No

No

No†

Viewing Angle

180°

170°

180°

180°

Fully Digital Display

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Refresh Rate

< 8ms*

< 8ms*

< 2ms

NA

Max Resolution

1080p

1080p

1080p

1080i

Weight (lbs)

medium

medium

medium

heavy

Set Depth

24" - 30"

13" - 20"

< 4"

16" - 30"

Screen Size

< 82"

< 70"

TBD

< 42"

Power consumption

Medium

Low

Low

High

*Fairly new development noticed at CEDIA 2006
† Fixed images can result in burn-in over long-term (unusual)

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
1. Plasma and LCD technology - what's the difference?
Plasma and LCD panels may look similar, but the flat screen and thin profile is where the similarities end. Plasma screens, as its name suggests, uses a matrix of tiny gas plasma cells charged by precise electrical voltages to create a picture. LCD screens (liquid crystal display) are in layman's terms sandwiches made up of liquid crystal pushed in the space between two glass plates. Images are created by varying the amount electrical charge applied to the crystals. Each technology has its strengths and weaknesses, as you'll read below.

2. Is there a difference in picture quality between plasma and LCD screens and normal CRT TVs?
It's not what's happening behind the screen that's important - it's how the screen performs as a television that matters the most. In that regard, both plasma and LCD sets produce excellent pictures, although many home entertainment specialists and gamers still say CRTs produce the best overall images (although the latest plasmas are particularly good, and LCD sets are quickly catching up in terms of quality).

Those same home entertainment specialists will tell you that for basic home theatre-like usage, plasma screens have a slight edge over LCDs. This is because plasma screens can display blacks more accurately than LCDs can, which means better contrast and detail in dark-colored television or movie scenes. The nature of LCD technology, where a backlight shines through the LCD layer, means it's hard for it to achieve true blacks because there's always some light leakage from between pixels. This is steadily improving with every new generation of LCD, however.

3. What advantages does plasma have over LCD?
Apart from better contrast due to its ability to show deeper blacks, plasma screens typically have better viewing angles than LCD. Viewing angles are how far you can sit on either side of a screen before the picture's quality is affected. You tend to see some brightness and color shift when you're on too far of an angle with LCDs, while a plasma's picture remains fairly solid. This is steadily changing, however, with more and more LCDs entering the market with viewing angles equal to or greater than some plasmas. Plasmas can also produce a brighter color, once again due to light leakage on an LCD affecting its color saturation.

Plasma pundits will also tell you that some LCD screens have a tendency to blur images, particularly during fast moving scenes in movies or in sports. While that was true for older generation LCD screens, newer models have improved significantly -- so much so that the differences in performance between LCDs and plasmas in this regard is almost negligible (here's a tip -- if you're shopping for LCDs, check the pixel response time, measured in ms. The lower it is, the better the image quality in fast moving scenes).

 

Traditionally, the biggest advantage plasmas have had over their LCD cousins is price, particularly in the large screen end of the market. In the past 12 months, this has changed, with LCDs matching plasmas in both resolution and price. Plasmas being sold thruout the world generally run between 42-inches and 63-inches wide, with the cheapest standard definition 42-inch selling for approximately AU$2,300 (although you can expect to find sets cheaper than AU$2,000 in real world prices).
  4. What advantages does LCD have over plasma?
Apart from being price competitive, LCD has the edge over plasma in several other key areas. LCDs tend to have higher native resolution than plasmas of similar size, which means more pixels on a screen. If you're a true high-def junkie who's keen to see every pixel of a high-res 1080i/p image reproduced pixel-by-pixel (providing you have a source that high, of course), then LCDs are seemingly the way to go. However, top-of-the line plasmas will also display 1080p content, so the choice isn't as easy as it once was.
LCDs also tend to consume less power than plasma screens, with some estimates ranging that power saving at up to 30 per cent less than plasma. LCDs are also generally lighter than similar sized plasmas, making it easier to move around or wall mount.
LCD pundits also point to the fact that LCDs have a longer lifespan than plasma screens. This was true of earlier plasma models, which would lose half of their brightness after more than 20,000 hours of viewing. Later plasma generations have bumped that up to anything between 30,000 and 60,000 hours. LCDs, on the other hand, are guaranteed for 60,000 hours.
You might have also heard that plasmas suffer from screen burn in, an affliction not as commonly associated with LCDs. Screen burn in occurs when an image is left too long on a screen, resulting in a ghost of that image burned in permanently. Newer plasmas are less susceptible to this thanks to improved technology and other features such as built-in screen savers, but burn-in is still a problem. But after a few days of use most burnt-in images will fade -- they are no longer permanent.

Sharp's Aquos
5. Which is better value for me right now: plasma or LCD?
If you're in the market for a big screen television -- and we're talking 50-inches and above -- then we'd suggest plasma as a safe bet. Plasmas give you more bang for your buck at the big end of town, and while LCDs can give you better resolution, plasma still has the edge in terms of picture quality. One other thing to look for, whether you opt for plasma or LCD, is an integrated tuner -- many TVs still have analogue tuners, which look pretty terrible on a large screen. Try to get a model with an inbuilt HD tuner if you can.
At the smaller end of things (15" to 42" TVs), LCD is the only way to go if you want something slim and tasteful. And the best thing is that LCDs are getting cheaper all the time.

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