What is the Difference Between an LCD TV and a Plasma TV?

Man shopping for TV
Man shopping for TV.

Original Publish Date: 10/03/2004

NOTE: As of the end of 2014, Panasonic, Samsung and LG all announced that they have ended Plasma TV production. However, Plasma TVs may still be sold via clearance and in secondary markets for some time, so the following information will remain posted on this site for those seeking information about Plasma TV technology. What is ironic, is that as late as 2014, a Plasma TV still beat out several top LCD TVs in a head-to-head shoot-out

Plasma and LCD TV: The Same, But Different

Outward appearances are definitely deceiving when it comes to LCD and Plasma TVs.

Plasma and LCD TVs are flat and thing, and may also incorporate many of the same features. Both types can be wall mounted, and may offer internet and local network streaming, both offer up the same types of physical connectivity options, and, of course, both allow you to watch TV programs, movies, and other content in a variety of screen sizes and resolutions. However, how they produce and display those images is actually quite different.

Plasma TV Overview

Plasma television technology is based loosely on the fluorescent light bulb. The display itself consists of cells. Within each cell two glass panels are separated by a narrow gap in that includes an insulating layer, address electrode, and display electrode, in which neon-xenon gas is injected and sealed in plasma form during the manufacturing process.

When a Plasma TV is in use, the gas is electrically charged at specific intervals. The charged gas then strikes red, green, and blue phosphors, thus creating an image on the Plasma TV screen. Each group of red, green, and blue phosphors is called a pixel (picture element - the individual red, green, and blue phosphors are referred to as sub-pixels).

Due to the way that Plasma TV technology works, it can be made very thin. However, even thought need for the bulky picture tube and electron beam scanning of those older CRT TV is no longer required, Plasma TVs still employ the burning of phosphors to generate an image. Thus, Plasma TVs still suffer from some of the drawbacks of traditional CRT TVS, such as heat generation and possible screen-burn of static images.

LCD TV Overview

LCD TVs, on the other hand, use a different technology. LCD panels are made of two layers of transparent material, which are polarized, and are "glued" together. One of the layers is coated with a special polymer that holds the individual liquid crystals. Current is then passed through individual crystals, which allow the crystals to pass or block light to create images.

LCD crystals do not produce their own light, so an external light source, such as florescent (CCFL/HCFL) or LEDs are needed for the image created by the LCD to become visible to the viewer. Currently (2014 going forward) almost all LCD TVs use LED lightsources instead of a fluorescent light source.

Unlike standard CRT and Plasma TV, since there are no phosphors that light up, less power is needed for operation and the light source in an LCD TV generates less heat than a Plasma or CRT TV.

Also, because of the nature of LCD technology, there is no radiation emitted from the screen itself.

The ADVANTAGES of Plasma over LCD include:

1. Better contrast ratio and ability to render deeper blacks.

2. Better color accuracy and saturation.

3. Better motion tracking (little or no motion lag in fast moving images due to the use of Sub Field Drive Technology.

4. Wider side-to-side viewing angle.

The DISADVANTAGES of Plasma vs LCD Include:

1. Is not as bright as an LCD TV, better for use in a dimly-lite or darkened room.

2. Screen surface is more reflective than most LCD TVs. More susceptible to glare - screen surface reflects ambient light sources.

3. Plasma TVs are more susceptible to burn-in of static images. However, this problem has diminished greatly in recent years as a result of the incorporation "pixel orbiting" and related technologies.

4. Plasma TVs generate more heat and use more energy than LCD TVs, due to the need to light of phosphors to create the images.

5. Does not perform as well at higher altitudes.

6. Potentially shorter display life span - this used to be the case. Early Plasmas had 30,000 hours or 8 hrs of viewing a day for 9 years, which was less than LCD. However, screen life span has now improved and 60,000 hour life span rating are now common, with some sets rated as high as 100,000 hours, due to technology improvements.

LCD TV ADVANTAGES over Plasma TV include:

1. No burn-in of static images.

2. Cooler running temperature.

3. No high altitude use issues.

4. Increased image brightness over Plasma, which makes LCD TVs better for viewing in brightly lit rooms.

5. Screen surface on most LCD TVs is less reflective than Plasma TV screen surfaces, making it less susceptible to screen glare.

6. Lighter weight (when comparing same screen sizes) than Plasma counterparts.

7. Longer display life used to be a factor, but now

8. For 3D, with LCD you have a choice between units that use Active Shutter and Passive Glasses, whereas 3D Plasma TVs only utilize the Active Shutter Glasses system.

DISADVANTAGES of LCD vs Plasma televisions include:

1. Lower real contrast ratio, not as good rendering deep blacks, although the increasing incorporation of LED backlighting has narrowed this gap.

2. Not as good at tracking motion (fast moving objects may exhibit lag artifacts) - However, this is improving with the recent implementation of 120Hz screen refresh rates and 240Hz processing in most LCD sets, but that can result in the "Soap Opera Effect", in which film-based content sources look more like video tape that film.

3. Narrower effective side-to-side viewing angle than Plasma. On LCD TVs, it is common to notice color fading or color shifting as you move your viewing position farther to either side of center point.

4. 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.

5. LCD TV are typically more expensive than equivalent-sized (and equivalent featured) Plasma TV, although that is no longer a factor, now that Plasma TVs have been discontinued.

The 4K Factor

One additional thing to point out with regards to the difference between LCD and Plasma TVs, is that when 4K Ultra HD TVs were introduced, TV manufacturers made the choice to only make 4K resolution available on LCD TVs, using LED back and edge-lighting, and, in the case of LG, also incorporating 4K into TVs using OLED technology.

Although it is technologically possible to manufacture to incorporate 4K resolution display capability into a Plasma TV, the it is more expensive to do so than on an LCD TV platform, and, with the sales of Plasma TVs continuing to decline over the years, the remaining Plasma TV makers obviously made a business decision not to bring consumer-based 4K Ultra HD Plasma TVs to market. The only 4K Ultra HD Plasma TVs that were/are manufactured are strictly for commercial application use.


For a more detailed look at the LCD and Plasma TV comparison, also read: Should I Buy an LCD or Plasma TV? and watch our video tip: The Difference Between Plasma and LCD TVs.

BONUS FEATURE: 2014: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of The Invention of Plasma TV Technology

Back To LCD TV FAQ Intro Page

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