Plasma comes out swinging to take the opening round.
Round 2 – Image Retention
Due to the twisting nature of crystal technology in LCD, it doesn’t suffer from image retention or screen "burn in." Plasma, on the other hand, does. While they’ve closed the gap in this regard with newer, anti-burn in technologies, it’s still an issue that has some room for improvement. Keep in mind, if the primary use of your plasma TV is movies and cable TV, whereby you don’t plan on keeping it dialed in to CNN or MSNBC or Headline Sports (they all feature a constant and active screen ticker at the bottom of their programming) for hours upon hours, screen burn in is far less of an issue to be concerned about. Flipside, LCD can also suffer from image retention or ghosting which occurs when confronted with a “stuck” pixel or a retained pixel charge that comes from keeping a fixed image on the screen for too long. This happens far less frequently than image burn in with plasma, but it can crop up from time to time.
Drawing even, LCD fights back to take it in round two.
Round 3 – Fast-Moving Images
When it comes to fast-moving images or motion, plasma clearly comes out on top. With LCD technology, by its very nature, it suffers from an inherent delay problem. When you’re watching movies or sporting events where the action shifts quickly and abruptly from one side of the screen to the other (more apparent in LCD TVs that are over 35 inches in size), it’s not uncommon to notice pixel blocking or “artifacting” where images seem to create a trailing or ghosting effect of themselves. While newer LCD televisions offer quicker response times – some even advertised as low as four milliseconds – plasmas are about eight times as fast still, usually offering response times that are as commonly low as 0.87 milliseconds.
Clean win for plasma in round three.
Round 4 – Size
While in the past, plasma held the edge in the larger display-size category, it’s a virtual dead-heat right now, mainly spurred by the tremendous rise in LCD popularity amongst consumers. While LCD televisions will offer sizes in the lower ranges (15 inches, to as low as even seven) that plasma doesn’t (they only go as small as 32 inches), in the larger, home theatre sizes, they’ve now basically caught up to plasma displays. It’s now quite easy to find them in size ranges well beyond 40 inches, although in the 60-plus inch range, plasmas tend to be more readily available. As of this writing, Panasonic currently sells a 103-inch plasma model (at a cool MSRP price tag of about $80,000.00 USD), and has announced plans for a 150-inch model to be unveiled in 2010. LCD displays currently go as high as 82 inches, and Sharp has a 108-inch model in the pipeline for late-2008, and has already shown a 102-inch prototype. Yes folks, the pissing contest for your hard-earned dollars is in full effect as both plasma and LCD are doing their best to get bigger and badder.
Too close to call, so I’ll call it a draw.
Round 5 – Price-Point
In terms of price; it’s also essentially a dead-lock based on like sizes, with the better brand names on both ends commanding about the same in terms of cost. In the 40-plus inch range of TVs though, plasmas might be just a whisker less expensive these days.
In an absolute photo-finish, plasma edges it out in round five.
Round 6 – Weight and Mounting
On the average, when looking at similarly-sized LCD and plasma televisions, LCDs tend to be a little lighter on their feet, and therefore prove easier to mount for the average consumer. With the added bit of bulge that comes with plasmas, it’s probably a better idea to have them mounted by a professional and avoid any potential issues.
Somewhat of a toss-up, but I have to give an ever-so slight edge to LCD in this particular department.
Round 7 – Style and Real Estate
In terms of style and the space they take up, beyond the obvious wing-span of the larger LCD and plasma home theatre televisions, both are ultra-thin and mountable (plasmas are as thin as three inches, while LCDs can get as low as two inches), blending seamlessly into any room with the style and ease of a picture or painting that hangs in your home.
Another even round that can only end in a draw.
Round 8 – Durability and Longevity
Brace yourself for yet another cat’s game here. While both plasma and LCD will offer a display life anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 hours, with LCD there is the potential of losing slight picture quality and color accuracy (which then requires having to re-calibrate) once the backlight fades over time. If the backlight is completely shot, it’s not yet known if, in fact, the backlight is even replaceable or worth replacing depending on the cost. With plasma, at about half-life of the display, you’ll lose about half of the image brightness, but really, this isn’t as bad as it sounds, as it’s still two to three times brighter than regular TV.
Another round, another draw, but this could change down the road assuming that LCD doesn’t effectively deal with the potential backlight issue.
Round 9 – Black Levels and Contrast
Although LCD has made up a lot of ground in this regard, in both instances – and by nature of the very mechanics of their respective technologies – plasma still gets the edge here. While plasma can get really black, LCD tends to be more on the dark gray side-of-things. This is an important round as well, because when it comes to understanding what takes an image from merely good to great, contrast and black levels play a huge part in the overall picture.
Plasma breaks the consecutive draws with a boisterous and determined round nine romp.
Round 10 – General Picture Quality and Color Accuracy
This can be the highly contentious part of the discussion that usually offers a very generalized, though somewhat accurate way of putting things. Plasma tends towards a richer, smoother, and more natural-looking picture which works best in mid to low-level lighting conditions, while LCD does still suffer somewhat from the stigma of being a more “digital-looking” picture, with colors that don’t appear as natural or realistic. The plasma advantage is due in no small part to a technological engine that features pixels which contain RGB (red, green, blue) elements that can produce millions upon millions of colors for unsurpassed color accuracy, and hence, a better overall picture. With LCD, the modus operandi which drives the technology calls for color to be reproduced by manipulating light waves and subtracting colors from white light. This is a more difficult blueprint to follow, and as such, plasma is able to deliver a consistently better image than its LCD counterpart. If you’re focused strictly on still images, or specifically computer displays and applications, LCD technology was designed (at least initially) for this, and consequently fares far better in this regard, even managing to trump its bitter rival in this category.
The graphic below (left), courtesy of IDC, illustrates in chart form how much more color accurate plasma (PDP) displays are as compared to LCD, by virtue of this RGB SMPTE color pattern comparison. Ideally, the closer to 0% percent you are, the more accurate the color. Because the human eye is less sensitive to blue color frequencies, those numbers are less significant, but in the red and green spectrum, you can clearly see how much more spot-on plasma is. The chart to the right illustrates the superior color range that plasma (yellow triangle) has over LCD (blue triangle).
Plasma with another crushing late round win.
Round 11 – High Altitude Viewing
While this isn't a concern for the average consumer looking to add that theatrical-viewing element to their home, in terms of which technology takes the cake when viewed at extremely high altitudes (6,5000 feet or more), LCD is the clear winner, as it’s not affected nearly as much by fluctuations in air pressure as plasma is.
Save for the airline industry - or people living waaay up in the mountains with electricity - I’ll declare this a moral victory of sorts for the fighting-to-the-finish, never-say-die LCD camp.
Round 12 – Power Usage
Proving to be a gamer, LCD closes out the bout with a final round victory – or does it? With respect to power consumption, LCD, by virtue of utilizing backlighting to produce its images, operates on far less power than does plasma, which has to light – subsequently using more power – each and every pixel that comprise its images. Or so we thought...
An interesting update to this particular topic: Panasonic and Pioneer are both reporting that as per independent lab tests, plasma has been shown to be at least equal to LCD in terms of power consumption, and in some cases, may even use less energy based on the fact that plasma power consumption is based upon how dark or bright the image is. So, if you’re watching mostly darker programming, in theory, your plasma display would be using less power, whereas with LCD, it uses the same constant, median supply of power, no matter what you happen to be watching.
While a final round victory for LCD was all but assured, recent developments have now necessitated calling this one a draw until further notice.
Conclusion and Parting Shots
Despite some late round drama, the Rocky saga this isn’t, and when it goes to the scorecards, plasma scores the unanimous victory in this bout. While this debate has surely been slanted more in the direction of the home-theatre universe, the truth is that when you or I discuss and/or consider plasma or LCD, we do so mainly under the pretext of home theatre purchases.
At the end of all this spirited banter, there are enough well-known and researched facts out there about both technologies that allow the above conclusion to be drawn with the utmost of confidence, and free of any controversy. Having said that, both camps can take great comfort in the fact that plasma and LCD technology represents a giant leap forward from the not-so glory days of big and bulky tube televisions, and that they can, and will, only continue to get better, further astounding us with their awe-inspiring images.
All images courtesy of Panasonic and Pioneer.
Ridley Acoustics EVIO852B
Sinclair Cube System
RF Link AVS-5811