Should I Buy an LCD TV or a Plasma TV?

Teenager (15 years) sitting in chair shot from behind in studio playing video game on flat screen TV New York USA.
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UPDATE: In 2015, Plasma TV was discontinued in the consumer market. This article is being retained for archive purposes. 

The final decision as to what type of TV to purchase is really up you. However, where once we had the choice of CRT, Rear-Projection, LCD, and Plasma, there are only two choices available now: LCD and OLED

However, not surprisingly, there are still some Plasma TV fans out there, and, of course, there are millions of Plasma TVs still in use.

This means that for the near future, those that own Plasma TVs can continue to use them, but those seeking to purchase a Plasma TV will have to settle for any clearance, refurbished, or used units that may still be available through major retailers, auction sites (such as eBay), or (refer to link at bottom of article).

What LCD and Plasma Have In Common

Although they use different technologies to display images on a screen, LCD and Plasma do share one major thing - they both feature flat panel designs that allow them to be table or wall mounted. Also, both technologies feature the same types of connection options, and, at the discretion of TV manufacturers, can provide a 3D viewing option. Also, Smart TV features can also be provided in both platforms as that is independent of the technology used to display images on the screen.

Plasma TV Advantages

Also, Plasma TVs have advantages over LCD, in the following areas:have been discontinued, there are still some advantages that they have over LCD TVs in following areas: Better contrast ratio, better ability to render deep blacks, more color depth, better motion tracking response time) due to the implementation of Sub Field Drive technology, and wider viewing angles.

Plasma TV Disadvantages

However, the disadvantages of Plasma vs LCD include: more susceptible to burn-in (although this is not as much of a factor on more recent models to technology improvements, such as "pixel orbiting"), more heat generation (as well as more power consumption), does not perform as well at higher altitudes, naturally darker image and screen glare in brightly lit rooms, heavier weight, and more delicate to ship.

Also, Plasma TVs (when taking equivalent screen sizes into consideration, are heavier than their LCD counter parts.

LCD TV Advantages

LCD TVs have advantages over Plasma TVs in the following areas: no burn-in susceptibility, cooler running temperature, less screen glare, more functional at high altitudes, longer display life (although the gap closed on more recent models of Plasma TVs), looks better in brightly lit rooms due to the ability to produce a naturally brighter image, and less power consumption than Plasma, and, as mentioned above, LCD TVs are usually lighter than their same-screen size Plasma TV counterparts..

Also, LCD TVs also made great strides in upping-the-ante in native pixel resolution, as although both Plasma and LCD TVs have been quite commonly available with 1080p native display resolution, with the advent of 4K, no via Plasma TVs were introduced with 4K display capability (other than sets designated for the very high-end consumer and professional markets).

Also, another factor to consider in favor of LCD over Plasma is that although they can be made in small screen sizes, models with screen sizes less than 42-inches were very rare, and on the other size of the equation, rarely larger than 65-inches.

So, with LCD TVs widely available in screen sizes as small as 19-inches and as large as 90-inches, that further limits Plasma TV appeal.

LCD TV Disadvantages

However, even though the LCD TV platform edges about Plasma in a variety of areas, there are some key aspects that LCD has struggled with in comparison, such as Plasma televisions: Lower contrast ratio, not as good rendering deep blacks, has a narrower side-to-side viewing angle, and not as good at tracking motion. Although has improved great, especially with the implementation of 120Hz refresh rates (and some now offer 240Hz refresh rates and additional motion processing, but that also results in an artifact referred to as "The Soap Opera" effect in which film-based content looks more like video than film.

Also, although LCD TVs do not suffer from burn-in susceptibility, it is possible that individual pixels on an LCD televisions can burn out, causing small, visible, black or white dots to appear on the screen. Individual pixels cannot be repaired, the whole screen would need to be replaced at that point, if the individual pixel burnout becomes annoying to you. Finally, in the recent years up to end of Plasma TV production, large screen LCD televisions were usually more expensive than an equivalent-sized Plasma television.

The Mercury Issue

One argument that Plasma TV manufacturers made about LCD TV in earlier years is that the LCD platform relied on use traditional florescent backlight technology to illuminate the screen surface, and, as such, employ Mercury as part of the chemical makeup of the florescent backlight system.

However, this is a "red herring" with regards to choosing a Plasma TV over an LCD Television. The amount of Mercury used in some LCD TVs is not only small, it never comes in contact with the user. Also, keep in mind that most common high-efficiency florescent lamps, such as many used in video projectors, and the "green" lamps we are all supposed to be replacing our traditional light bulbs with also use Mercury.

You are probably in more danger eating fish, that may contain traces of Mercury, a couple of times a week, than watching, touching, or using an LCD TV. On the other hand, with the increased use of LED lighting sources in most LCD TVs made since 2012 (in fact, as of 2016 almost all LCD TVs using LED backlighting), which is a Mercury-free light source, this is quickly becoming a non-issue.

For more details on the use of mercury-free LED technology in LCD TVs, refer to my article: The Truth About "LED" Televisions.

Quantum Dots

Another advance incorporated into the LCD TV platform is the implementation of Quantum Dots. Also not commonly used (yet - as of 2016), this technology allows LCD TVs to produced more saturated, accurate colors than was previously possible, and with adding a lot to price). For full details on how this technology works, read my article: Quantum Dots: Enhancing LCD TV Performance


One additional aspect of LCD and Plasma TVs that may be a factor in some purchases, is that some 3D LCD TVs use the Active Shutter viewing system, while other 3D LCD TVs use the Passive Polarized viewing system, giving the consumer a choice when considering your preferred 3D viewing option. However, for 3D Plasma TVs, only the Active Shutter system is used. For more details on what this means a purchase or use decision, read my reference article: All About 3D Glasses - Active vs Passive.

Enter OLED

At the top of this article, I mentioned something called "OLED". This technology has been available to consumers as another TV purchasing choice, but is very limited in selection and availability, as well as price. As of 2016, LG is the only TV maker that manufacturers OLED TVs destined for the U.S. market.

What is interesting about OLED TV technology is that it blends the advantages of both Plasma and LCD. For example, the pixels of an OLED TV are self-emissive, like the phosphors used in Plasma TVs, and can produce vivid color, and the TVs can be made very thin, like LCD TVs (only even thinner!).

OLED TVs were also the first TVs to be made with both flat and curved screen designs - although some manufacturers have followed suit one some LCD TVs. On the negative side, OLED TVs can experience burn-in, and can have a shorter lifespan than LCD TVs.

For more OLED TV technology, read my article: OLED TV Basics

More Info

My recommendation for any TV purchase is to go to a dealer and really take a look carefully at the types of TVs that are available (as of 2016 that mean LCD and OLED, and compare the performance based on the above factors and narrow down your choices to one or two of both types and make your decision based on what type will give you the most pleasing image, connection flexibility, and fits your overall budget expectations.

As of 2016, LCD and OLED are really the only viable options for home theater viewing that includes a TV (video projectors are another option), and, with prices continuing to come down and features and quality continuing to go up, both types, depending on the features and performance desired, are a good value for consumers

IMPORTANT NOTE: An "LED TV" is a type of LCD TV that utilizes an LED light source to light up the LCD pixels that are displayed on the TV screen.

TV Buying Suggestions

4K Ultra HD TVs

LCD TVs 40-inches and Larger

LCD TVs 32-to-39-inches

LCD TVs 26-to-29-inches

LCD TVs 24-inches and Smaller

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