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Plasma vs LCD TV – Which Is the Better Television Set For You?

By David Bakke

Although your Christmas shopping may be winding down, you may still be in the market for a flat panel television. And if you look in the right places, you should be able to score one at a great price. However, the question remains—do you go with the plasma or the LCD? I decided to look deeper into this issue and outline the pros and cons for both types of televisions. For the purposes of comparison, I have broken down my findings into four important categories: picture quality, functionality, durability, and price.

Picture Quality

During all of my personal research, I have always thought that the LCD TV has the best picture quality. Not only have I heard that as the casual rule of thumb, but these TVs also just seem to have clearer, higher quality pictures. However, as I have researched the technical aspects of of LCD versus plasma, I have learned this may not necessarily be the case.

Contrast
One of the things that affects the picture quality of either set is the picture contrast. Basically, this is the difference between the brightest whites and the deepest blacks that a TV can produce. LCD screens are typically brighter than plasmas, which makes them a smart choice if you like to watch TV with the lights dimmed or darkened. Plasmas, on the other hand, are known for achieving deeper black levels, which would give them the edge if you do your viewing in rooms with a lot of light or glare.

Viewing Angle
Another key component affecting picture quality is the viewing angle. All flat panel televisions display great pictures when you’re sitting directly in front of them. But, as you move off-center, you may notice that the picture looks less bright and vivid or that there are slight changes in color. Viewing angle limitations are more of an issue with LCD TVs than with plasmas. Therefore, keep in mind that you will see larger variations in picture brightness with LCDs as you move off-center.

Functionality

Thickness
If you’re looking for a thin flat panel, then you should definitely go with an LCD. Plasmas are, for the most part, much thicker and bulkier.

Energy Use
On the topic of power consumption, the LCD gets the nod. Since LCD televisions use fluorescent backlighting to produce images, they require much less electricity to operate than plasmas. Overall, an LCD set consumes about half the power that a plasma television does. This is definitely something to keep in mind when you’re trying to keep your energy costs down.

Size
You will have a wider range of choices for screen size if you go with an LCD TV. When it comes to plasma TVs, 37 inches is typically the smallest size, which can be a limiting factor for those working with a smaller space.

Installation
In terms of installation, plasma televisions are tricky to install because of their weight. If you choose to go with a plasma, I would definitely suggest getting it professionally installed, which will add to the overall cost of the set but save you some frustration and time.

Noise
Plasma televisions are operating at maximum power when producing full white color.  Some plasma TVs made by second tier manufacturers will have an audible buzz or whining sound when displaying white or very light images. Keep this in mind when you make your choice.

Durability

LCD televisions have a fairly long life. Most estimates say an LCD should last from 13 to 15 years, based on six hours of use per day. Plasma TVs, on the other hand, are somewhat fragile in nature. Most plasma manufacturers will claim their product will last as long as an LCD competitor, and I was unable to find real statistics to dispute that claim. However, it is my personal opinion that an LCD TV will last you longer than plasma TV. For what it’s worth, I have numerous friends and co-workers who have not had much luck with plasma televisions and longevity.

Price

If price is your main deciding factor, then you will want to go with the plasma. Plasma TVs are simply less expensive than LCDs. Of course, I feel that the reason for this is that plasmas are of lower quality. But, if you’re looking to save a buck, you most likely can’t go wrong with a plasma. On average, a plasma television will be at least 15% less expensive than an LCD.

Final Word

I’ll make no bones about it—I am an LCD guy. I have always owned LCDs and have never really considered buying a plasma. However, my research for this article was enlightening. I found out that the quality discrepancies may not be as large as I had originally thought.

I definitely recommend that you take how and where you watch television into account when you make your decision. While the choice of a television is important, the level of light in the room where you watch TV will determine whether or not you are watching a top quality picture, regardless of the set you choose.

As always, you must decide what is most important to you. Conduct your due diligence and shop around because you are going to make a large investment when you buy a flat panel television. If possible, visit more than one retailer, ask in-store associates for advice, and always look around until you feel you’ve found the best price. Also, remember to check each store’s consumer policies and make sure you will receive good service in the event that something unexpected happens.

What are your thoughts on the LCD/plasma debate? Feel free to comment below.

(photo credit: lge)

David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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Comments

  • Kevin Vesga

    I tend to prefer plasma TVs due to the glossy screen. To me the picture looks vivid compared to the more matte look of LCDs.

    Also I’m surprised you say plasmas are cheaper. I have not done research on it myself, but I always thought the opposite was true.

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com David/moneycrashers

      Kevin

      In the end, it’s really a matter of personal choice. I just wanted to throw out there the research that I uncovered in addition to adding in my personal opinions.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Jason V

    Generally good article, but you’re incorrect about your first point. LCDs are brighter than plasmas in general, but that’s why they’re better for light rooms, not dark ones. The additional brightness allows the image to come through more clearly, even in a room with a lot of ambient light. Conversely, the deep darks of a plasma would be entirely wasted and washed out in a light room, but would provide a more detailed, cinema-like picture in a dark room. Also, some newer LCD TVs have LED backlights rather than flourescent, which allow them to approach the contrast level of plasmas.

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com David/moneycrashers

      Jason

      I can certainly understand that viewpoint as well

      The LED-backlit TVs are certainly an improvement too!

      Thanks a lot for your viable feedback

  • http://blogtoread.com/ Chris Cell

    The reason plasma televisions are cheaper is simple, they burn out! A plasma will look great in the store, maybe even for a year or two at home, but eventually, they will fade as the screen “Burns in.” If you are only going to have the tv for a year or two, who cares, but if you plan to keep it for 10 years or more as most people do, LCD is the only way to go.

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com David/moneycrashers

      Chris

      I am with you 100% on your points.

      I am surprised (and also not-so-believing) of the research that I found regarding the “life” of Plasmas.

      As I said at the end, I am absolutely an LCD “guy”.

      Thanks for joining the conversation

  • Shock

    I had a first generation plasma that lasted only 5 years. I replaced it with a LCD. The picture quality is better and brighter. Maybe plasma technology has improved, but mine burning out in such a short time left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ll only buy LCD TVs from now on.

    • David Bakke

      Shock

      Again, with you 100%–I can’t imagine ever buying a Plasma…

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