LCD vs LED vs plasma
By Steve Morris, 26 Nov 2012, last updated 3 Dec 2013
Plasma vs LCD? LCD vs LED? What are the pros and cons? Let S21 help you decide!
Today's best buy: Sony Bravia KDL-32RE403 from Currys (£249.00)
Before we get stuck in, let's talk about LED. LED TVs don't actually use LED screens. They use LCD screens but with LED backlighting. There are three types: edge-lit LED, backlit LED (sometimes callled Direct LED) and backlit LED with full-array local dimming. Edge-lit LED TVs tend to be thinnest, but LED TVs with local dimming can produce deeper blacks. Some high-end LED TVs are edge-lit with micro dimming, and these have most of the advantages of true local dimming and are very thin too. Direct LED TVs are the cheapest type and tend to be thicker, have poor contrast and uneven lighting levels.
Conventional LCD screens are being phased out, because LED screens (all types) have lower power consumption and higher contrast ratios. In this article we'll talk mostly about LED, not LCD.
Visit your local TV shop and you'll see lots of eye-poppingly bright LED TVs eager for your attention. At the back of the display will be the plasmas, brooding sulkily like James Dean.
There's no doubt about it: LED TVs are brighter than plasma TVs. But does it matter? Take your new TV home, dim the lights, and you'll find you don't really need that brightness after all. Your eyes will adjust and you might even prefer the plasma with its more subdued cinema-like look.
Time for plasma to fight back. LED may be brighter, but plasma can be darker. That's because LCD and LED displays are backlit, so to produce black the display has to block out the backlighting. Plasma screens simply turn off pixels for the ultimate in black. So even though plasma screens lose out in brightness, they generally make up for it in contrast ratios.
LED screens usually outperform LCD screens in this regard, but plasma is still top dog. Having said that, the very latest high-end LED displays with local dimming are possibly a match for plasma. LED displays that use VA (Vertical Alignment) technology perform best in this respect.
Another problem to watch for in edge-lit LED displays is uneven illumination in dark scenes (cloudiness).
Plasma screens generally have excellent response times. You'll rarely find any kind of motion blur or ghosting on a plasma screen.
Early LCD screens had poor response times and motion blur was frequently an issue, especially with sports or games. Modern LCD and LED displays tend to have much faster response times, so this is less of an issue. Low-end screens with a 50Hz or 100Hz refresh rate can still have problems, but choose a screen with a minimum of 200Hz and the problems disappear. You'll be unlikely to notice much of a difference between a 200Hz screen and an 800Hz one unless you spend most of your time watching fast action sport, or have a particularly large screen size.
Note that manufacturers seek to muddy the water here. Instead of quoting response times or refresh rates, they use jargon like Samsung's Clear Motion Rate or LG's Motion Clarity Index. Don't worry about this. If the number is 200 or more, you should be OK.
Plasma screens have wider viewing angles than LCD/LED. That means that the picture quality doesn't deteriorate when you view from the side.
When it comes to LCD/LED screens, screens that use IPS (In Plane Switching) technology offer superior viewing angles to screens using VA (Vertical Alignment) technology. Worst of all are cheaper screens using TN (Twisted Nematic) technology.
Poor viewing angles lead to colour shifts and a washed-out effect (milkiness) unless you sit directly in front of the TV.
PCs & gaming
If you have a games console hooked up to your TV, you might prefer LCD/LED over plasma. That's because you can't beat the pixel-sharpness of LCD when it comes to displaying static images.
Choose a screen with a fast response time, and look for a games mode too, which can significantly reduce lag times.
Don't worry about screen burn in plasmas though. Permanent screen burn was never really an issue - temporary image retention is a better description of the phenomenon - and modern plasma screens don't suffer significantly from this.
Plasma screens tend to be larger, but they are also thicker than edge-lit LED TVs. If design aesthetic matters to you as much as picture quality, you might prefer a slimline edgelit-LED screen.
This is where LED is the clear winner. An LED TV uses about a quarter of the electricity of a plasma screen the same size. An LCD TV uses perhaps twice as much as an LED TV, but still less than plasma.
But to put it in perspective, a modern 46 inch plasma screen uses no more electricity than an old-fashioned 32 inch cathode ray tube. In any case, the energy you use heating and lighting your TV room is vastly more than the energy consumed by the TV itself.
And by the way, don't worry about standby power. All types of modern TVs typically consume much less than 1W in standby mode. It'll cost you pennies a year to leave it in standby.
Conclusion - plasma's not dead (yet)
Most TVs sold these days use LED screens. That's because most TVs sold in the UK are 42 inches or less. Old-fashioned LCD is on its way out.
Edgelit LED TVs are more popular than screens with full local dimming, even though their picture quality isn't as good. That's because edgelit LED screens are incredibly thin. They're also cheaper to manufacture. But high-end edgelit TVs with micro dimming offer the best of both worlds.
If you can find out the LCD panel type, you'll find that generally VA (or PVA) outperforms IPS which outperforms cheap TN panels.
But if you're looking at a really big screen - 46 inches or more - you'll have to choose between LED and plasma. There isn't a right or wrong answer here. It's about personal preference. Having said that, I'd probably choose a plasma on grounds of value for money - you can pick up a 50 inch plasma TV for the price of a 40 inch LED TV.
An interesting article by Digital Versus looks into the crystal ball and predicts that plasma will probably be phased out by 2016 and that OLED technology will replace LCD/LED by 2018.
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Comment by Phillip prewitt
on 12th Dec 2013
Very interesting read thanks for the information very helpful