Should I Buy an LCD TV or a Plasma TV?

Can you still find a Plasma TV?

Young couple holding hands, shopping for TV
Young couple holding hands, shopping for TV. Getty Images - Credit: Juice Images Ltd, 535190890

Plasma TVs are no longer being made for consumers, but there are still some Plasma TV fans out there, and millions of Plasma TVs are still in use.

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 retailers, auction sites (such as eBay), or other sources such as Amazon.com.

What LCD and Plasma Have In Common

Although they use different technologies to display images on a screen, LCD and Plasma do share some things in common, including:

  • Flat panel designs that allow them to be table or wall mounted.
  • The same types of connection options are provided.
  • Can provide a 3D viewing option at the discretion of the TV manufacturers (more on that later).
  • Smart TV features can also be provided on both as that is independent of the technology used to display images on the screen.

Plasma TV Advantages

Plasma TVs have advantages over LCD in the following areas:

Plasma TV Disadvantages

The disadvantages of Plasma vs LCD include:

  • More susceptibility to burn-in (This is not as much of a factor on more recent models due to 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 (when comparing equivalent screen sizes), and more delicate to ship.
  • Not available with 4K resolution.

LCD TV Advantages

LCD TVs have advantages over Plasma TVs in the following areas:

  • No pixel burn-in susceptibility, although non-permanent image persistence is sometimes observed if the same image in on the screen for extended periods.
  • Cooler running temperature.
  • Typically has less screen glare unless the screen is curved.
  • 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 (which also allows for the implementation of HDR).
  • Lower power consumption.
  • Typically lighter weight when comparing same screen sizes.
  • Although Plasma and LCD TVs have been quite commonly available with 1080p native display resolution, unlike LCD TVs, no Plasma TVs were introduced with 4K display capability, other than sets designated for the custom and professional markets.
  • LCD and Plasma TVs support a variety of screen sizes, but Plasma TV models with a screen size less than 42-inches were very rare, and on the other side of the equation, rarely larger than 65-inches. With LCD TVs widely available in screen sizes as small as 19-inches and as large as 85-inches, Plasma TV appeal is further limited.

    LCD TV Disadvantages

    Even though the LCD TV platform edges out Plasma in a variety of areas, there are some key aspects that LCD has struggled with in comparison with Plasma TVs, such as:

    • Lower contrast ratio.
    • Not as good displaying deep blacks.
    • Narrower side-to-side viewing angle.
    • Not as good at tracking motion. However, this has improved with the implementation of 120Hz and 240Hz refresh rates and additional motion processing. However, this also results in an artifact referred to as "The Soap Opera" effect in which film-based content looks more like video than film.
    • LCD TVs do not suffer from burn-in, but individual pixels can burn out, causing small, visible, black or white dots to appear on the screen. Individual pixels cannot be repaired. Depending on the degree of the problem, the whole screen may need to be replaced.
    • Up to the end of Plasma TV production, large screen LCD TVs were usually more expensive than an equivalent-sized Plasma TV.

    The Mercury Issue

    One argument that Plasma TV manufacturers made about LCD TV in earlier years was that LCD TVs used traditional florescent backlight technology to illuminate the screen surface, and, as such, employ Mercury as part of the chemical makeup of the fluorescent backlight system.

    However, the amount of Mercury used in some LCD TVs is not only small, it never comes in contact with the user. Also, most common high-efficiency fluorescent 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.

    However, beginning in 2012 LED backlighting began to be implemented into LCD TVs, which is a Mercury-free light source. Almost all LCD TVs now use LEDs as the light source. These are often referred to as "LED TVs", but the correct term is LED/LCD TV.

    Quantum Dots

    Another advance incorporated into some LCD TVs is Quantum Dots. Samsung and TCL offer this technology under the label "QLED" on select high-end models. Quantum Dots allow LED/LCD TVs to produce more saturated, accurate colors than was previously possible.

    3D

    Although 3D LCD and Plasma TVs are no longer being made, there are many still in use and some available on clearance or used. Some 3D LCD TVs use the Active Shutter viewing system, while other sets use the Passive Polarized viewing system, giving the consumer a choice when considering the preferred 3D viewing option. However, for 3D Plasma TVs, only the Active Shutter system is used.

    The OLED TV Alternative

    In addition to LCD, TVs using "OLED" technology are also now available. In the U.S. market, OLED TVs are offered by LG and Sony.

    OLED TVs blend the advantages of both Plasma and LCD. OLED TV pixels 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 exhibit burn-in or image persistence and have a shorter lifespan than LCD TVs.

    The Bottom Line

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

    For any TV purchase, go to a dealer and really take a look carefully at the types of TVs that are available and compare performance, features, ease of use, and connectivity, 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.

    LCD and OLED are the only viable options for home theater viewing that includes a TV (video projectors are another option). Unfortunately, unless you go used, Plasma TVs are no longer available.