If it has been a long time since you last purchased a television and are considering one of the new LCD or Plasma flat panel models, then there are a few things that you should understand before you go to your local electronics retailer.
First of all, put all the old information out of your head that you’ve ever heard about plasmas and LCDs. As an electronics specialist I hear some pretty funny misconceptions about the newer televisions on a daily basis. My favorite myth is that the plasma televisions have to be injected with gases every few years. This is actually pretty ridiculous if you think about it. Where exactly are you going to inject it? Those inputs on the back are for connecting cables and other electronic equipment. I can assure you that plasmas do not get injected with gases. If someone tells you this, then they have absolutely no concept of how the newer televisions work, so simply ignore them.
When you get to the electronics store, you’re going to see a lot of numbers on the ad tags for both plasma and LCDs. If you understand these numbers then you will be able to make a better decision.
First, we will talk about contrast ratio. Plasma televisions are capable of producing much better contrast than an LCD. This is the color intensity and vibrancy the television will produce. Plasma televisions have much deeper black tones, typically brighter whites than LCDs, more bold red tones, more natural flesh tones and in general, a much better picture for several other reasons we’ll get into soon. When you look at the tags in the store, you will see a number such as 15000:1 or 7500:1. The higher the first number, the more color combinations the television will make and the better the picture color will be. There are two different types of contrast, dynamic and native. I could spend all afternoon explaining the differences between how the two are measured and why they exist, but we’ll save that for another article. What you need to know is that if the television is being measured in dynamic contrast then you will want one that is at least 100,000:1. If you’re buying a television that is measured in native contrast, then don’t go less than 10,000:1 or you will be sacrificing color quality.
The next number to look at is the resolution. Most of the older tube televisions were in 480p. This is considered standard definition. Steer clear of 480p televisions because they are outdated. Soon, all of the broadcasts over air will be in 720p or greater, also known as high definition television or HDTV. In fact, I would suggest that you go with no less than 1080p or else your television will be outdated before you even get it home. All of the new technology is going to 1080p. The Blu-ray disc player is what has replaced the DVD and it is 1080p, but will also improve the picture quality of your older DVDs to make them look high definition. Soon, all of the over-air broadcasts will be in 1080p and if you only have a 720p or less television then you will be missing out on some of the picture sharpness. You see, the picture on the screen is made up of little dots called pixels. In a 720p television you will have about a million little dots over all. If you get a 1080p television then you will have about 2 million little dots which equates to a much sharper image. Don’t be confused though by 1080i. This is not the same as 1080p in any way because most 720p televisions will state that they are 1080i capable. It is very misleading.
Another important factor is the speed of the television. Currently, most LCD’s on the market are capable of 60hz or 120hz. A 60hz model is capable of showing you 60 frames per second and a 120hz will show you 120 frames per second. You will see these numbers on an LCD television, but plasmas are lightning fast at a whopping 480hz. What that equates to is super clear and sharp pictures during sports and actions movies. If you see a football thrown across the screen at a high speed on an LCD then you will likely see a bit of blur behind the ball. On a plasma you can actually watch the laces turn as it is thrown.
Plasma televisions do show a bit more glare than LCD’s, but most people either watch TV at night or can control the amount of lighting that hits the television during the day. If you go for plasma, just get one that has anti-glare technology and you should be fine.
It is also not true that LCD’s will outlive a plasma. It is quite the opposite. Both Samsung and Panasonic plasmas are rated at 100,000 hours half life where LCD’s in general only have a 60,000 hour half life. This is simply the number of estimated hours that you can watch the television before it is half as bright as the day it was manufactured.
In my book, plasmas televisions are the only way to go. However, plasmas are typically available in 42″ and larger screen sizes only unless you are fortunate enough to find one of the smaller Panasonic 37″ models. If you need a smaller television, then go for the LCD over the old tube style.