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

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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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