TV Technologies Comparison Guide

Plasma vs LCD vs LED vs DLP

TV display on a wall
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Whether you're researching a new TV online or looking at new models in stores, you'll come across several different technologies that manufacturers commonly utilize in modern HDTV sets. All of them have the same goal – pleasing picture quality – but each "recipe" has characteristic pros and cons. These are worth knowing about as you ​shop for a new TV. During your research, keep in mind that it's the destination that counts, not the journey; a good TV picture is a good TV picture no matter which technology is used.

Plasma TVs

Plasma was the first flat-TV technology that could reproduce good quality images at home theater-sized screens of 42" and up. While many experts that plasma produced the absolute best picture, plasma TVs are no longer manufactured because of declining market share in favor of LCD TVs.   

LCD TVs

Though it took a while for LCD (liquid crystal display) to catch up in terms of market acceptance and pricing, this is now the most common TV technology and available in a mind-boggling range of brands, sizes and model choices. Because of this broad range, picture quality can vary greatly, sometimes even between different models from the same brand.

LCD Advantages

LCD TVs are designed to block outside light, meaning that their screens are often non-reflective and light output from the screen is often perceptibly higher than with other technologies. LCD TVs also produce less heat and typically consume less electricity.

ELCD TVs are immune from screen "burn-in" and are a good choice when stationary images are a big part of your viewing needs. Finally, LCD will give you the biggest selection of prices and screen sizes.

LCD Drawbacks

More than other TV technologies, LCD TVs vary greatly in picture quality. This is a natural effect of the huge number of models available, but also because LCD is economical to manufacture and many makers strive to hit lowest possible price points, particularly on entry-level models.

LCD's main technological challenge is fast-moving images; on some sets, you can see a trail of pixels or a "blocky" look in fast motion. Manufacturers try to remedy this with various "motion" enhancements, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. Conventional LCD TVs also don't reproduce the color black as well as other technologies, which results in less detail and contrast than you can get elsewhere. Finally, the picture on many LCD TVs is visibly different when you watch from too far of an angle.

LED TVs

LED (light emitting diode) TVs are actually LCD TVs with a different light-producing method. Every LCD-based display needs to have its pixels "lit up" in order to produce images. On conventional LCD sets, a fluorescent lamp at the rear of the set is used, but on LED sets, smaller and more efficient LED lights replace this. There are two kinds of LED TVs. One of them is called LED "edge lighting" – instead of a big lamp behind the pixels, smaller LED lamps around the edge of the screen are used. This is the less expensive LED method. In the more elaborate (and expensive) "local dimming" LED method, several rows of LED lamps are placed at the rear of the screen and allow nearby "local" pixels to be fully on or off, depending on the momentary needs of the program you're watching.

This results in better contrast.

LED Advantages

Because LED lighting is brighter and more efficient than fluorescent lighting, the picture on a LED TV "pops" more than on a conventional LCD set, with better contrast and detail, often approaching the picture quality of better plasma sets. This is especially true of local dimming LED sets, which are also called "full LED" models. LED sets that use the less costly "edge" lighting technology can be made tremendously thin – often less than an inch thick. While nice on a cosmetic level, this achievement has no effect on picture quality. Both LED TV types are more energy efficient than either plasma or conventional LCD TV, which means lower electricity bills and a greener household.

LED Drawbacks

LED TVs can be more costly than LCD TVs and there are fewer choices in LED TV; you won't find as many brands or screen sizes to choose from. Also, since LED is essentially an LCD technology, viewing angle is an issue; picture quality can vary if you sit at too much of an angle to the TV.

DLP TVs

While most of the market has shifted to flat-screen TVs, several manufacturers continue to offer large "rear-screen projection" TVs based on the Digital Light Processing (DLP) engine developed by Texas Instruments in the early 1990s. This is the same technology used for digital projection in movie theaters and employs a chip with millions of tiny mirrors that reflect light (and pictures) to the screen based on the real-time needs of the program material. While these TVs are not flat, they are not as deep as old-school analog TVs and come in an impressive range of big-screen sizes.

DLP Advantages

DLP is a mature technology that is capable of outstanding picture quality. It performs well in bright or dark rooms and has good off-angle viewing characteristics. In addition to picture quality, DLP's big advantage is bang for the buck – you can get a large size DLP screen for less money than a flat screen model of comparable size, and in the case of the largest screens (60 inches and over), for a lot less money. DLP TVs are also available in 3D models.

DLP Drawbacks

DLP TVs are not flat. You'll need a lot more shelf space (or floor space) for a DLP TV, but if you've got the room for it and don't mind that your TV isn't flat, this isn't a problem.