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by Archives April 12, 2006

So you’re finally ready to drop some serious money on a high-definition flat panel television. But there’s still one major decision to be made: are you going to listen to the plasma diehards or the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) revolutionaries?

Plasma screens use thousands of small gas pockets charged by electric pulses to create a picture. LCDs use liquid crystals crammed between two glass plates. A florescent backlight shines through the crystals while a matrix of wires applies voltage to create an image.

Picture

Plasmas have better image quality than LCDs and are capable of richer colour in a broader spectrum. Since plasmas don’t use a backlight, they are also able to display much blacker.blacks.

Also, plasmas generally have better refresh rates. This means that when you are watching fast action sequences the image will be smoother. LCDs have improved tremendously in this respect over the last few years and many people won’t notice a difference between the two.

Plasmas also tend to have wider viewing angles than LCDs. The viewing angle is how far you can move to the left or right when standing in front of the screen and still make out the image. Plasmas win in this category because light emanates from each individual pocket rather than a light behind the screen.

If you are actually planning to buy a large flat screen television, your best is to go to an electronics store and compare them for yourself. Just be careful: many retailers increase the brightness on inferior screens in the hope that you’ll mistake it for good picture quality.

Size

Generally, plasmas are offered in larger sizes. The largest available plasma television is an 80-inch display by Samsung for US$40,000. The largest LCD available to consumers is Sharp’s 65-inch panel for US$20,000.

On the other hand, LCDs have the market on small flat panels cornered. The smallest commercially available plasmas are 32 inches. LCDs are as small as 13 inches. This is because the pixels that make up an LCD can be manufactured much smaller than the pixels used in a plasma screen.

Longevity

LCD manufacturers claim their backlights last 50,000 to 65,000 hours, or 34 to 44 years at 4 hours per day. After this, a new backlight must be installed. Sometimes these backlights are expensive enough to justify purchasing an whole new LCD.

Many plasma manufactures claim their displays have a half-life of 60,000 hours or 44 years at 4 hours a day. This means that after 60,000 hours the display will be half as bright as it originally was. There are no parts you can replace in a plasma screen to solve this problem; the display will simply continue to get dimmer over time.

Unless you’re running your display 24 hours a day, this is a moot point. I would imagine almost everyone would replace their television long before this becomes and issue.

Problems & Misc.

Despite many recent improvements, plasmas are still susceptible to burn-in. When an image is displayed on the screen for a very long time it will sometimes leave a ‘ghost image’ that will remain visible even when the image changes. This can be a problem if you intend to leave the television on a channel that has a static logo like CNN or MTV.

Because of the way they function, plasmas have an image flicker. You can’t actually see the flicker, but it can still cause eye fatigue if you’re sitting too close. LCDs on the other hand have a stable image, which means you can sit as close as you like.

LCDs generally have higher resolutions than their Plasma counterparts of a similar size. This is good, but is offset by the fact that they tend to do a worse job displaying regular television because of it.

Also, for the eco-friendly, LCDs use significantly less electricity than plasmas.

Conclusion

Both plasma and LCD have different things to offer. The decision is only more difficult since prices are competitive between plasma and LCD televisions of similar sizes. After size, the biggest determinants of price are probably brand name and features. So if you know what features are important to you, you should have little trouble deciding.

This is my final Tech Talk with The Concordian. After 31 columns all I can say is that it has been a tremendous amount of fun. If you’d like to be notified if I start writing tech pieces somewhere else, send me an email.

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