So here is a topic that will bring tech nerds nearly to punches! LCD/LED or Plasma? So hold on while I get my mouth guard out. This discussion often results in differing opinions even when talking to my installer friends! Like most things I blog on, the answer is never black and white. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and the market is always changing.
Right off the bat, I’m going to come clean and tell ya right now that I prefer plasma. The reason mainly being is that plasma is an emissive display technology, versus a transmissive display technology like LCD/LED. This means that with plasma, the pixel itself is generating the light (your old tube TV did this as well). On the other hand LCD requires some kind of backlighting (often from a light emitting diode or “LED”) to produce an image. I won’t get in to all of the “why tech” here, but it results in better black levels, less motion blur, and better viewing angles.
On the other hand plasmas tend to be “power hogs” compared to LCD. Although this has improved greatly over the years. LCD also has the advantage in that you can push the brightness way up. This is great for commercial spaces, sports, and daylight viewing. “Screen burn” is less of an issue for LCD. Early plasma’s were definitely more susceptible to having an image burned in either temporarily or permanently if left on in the same spot for an extended amount of time (although I have read this is greatly reduced now, paused images left overnight can supposedly be worked out… I don’t want to try that). One final note is that some of the modern LED displays are physically the thinnest and sleek designs around.
Some of my friends have asked “well which is better for gaming?” Well that answer is actually trickier than I originally thought. My first response was LCD. I enjoy a lot of old 8 bit and 16 bit Nintendo games. I always worried about having my Zelda “life hearts” burned in to the screen of the upper corner on my plasma. That fear may be somewhat justified for my style of gaming. However, on modern games some may prefer the faster refresh rate inherent to plasma. With plasma you are also less likely to have have to deal with any kind of “smooth motion” feature, which in addition to looking horrible in my opinion, also can add some lag time to an LCD display.
So if your a little stoked for plasma, well I have one bit of advice. Buy one now! Panasonic recently announced that they will be discontinuing plasma production after the first quarter of 2014. That just leaves Samsung and it is anyone’s guess how much longer they will stay in the game.
You may be wondering “what about OLED?” First, don’t let the name confuse you as “OLED” is nothing like “LED” in the way we know it. With current LED, light emitting diodes are currently used to produce light behind a liquid crystal film. OLED is more like plasma but that instead of using a gas to produce the light that makes up the pixel it uses carbon (hence the “organic” part of the name). So OLED is a true emissive display technology, with the advantage of when the pixel goes to black it can completely turn off, resulting in near infinite contrast ratios, excellent black levels and shadow detail. OLED should be amazing but it is currently very expensive. This is in part due to the panel failure rate during manufacture. I once read that for every OLED set that comes off the assembly line, seven of them come out defective. That has to change for the price to drop, and it is happening slower than I think most manufacturers had hoped. So it is coming, but how soon is uncertain. Hopefully, Panasonic’s exit from Plasma production is a sign of a new focus on OLED manufacturing with lower prices.