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Plasma TV vs LCD TV - Which is Better?

Updated on July 29, 2011
52-inch Sharp Aquos LCD TV
52-inch Sharp Aquos LCD TV

An Interesting Question with a Really Bad Answer

Bad Answer? Yes. In fact the answer is simply this. It depends. I imagine that at least half of my readers jumped to a different page by now but I like to be upfront. Here's the good news...

A potential buyer can be better informed before making what turns out to be a pretty sizable investment on what could be the wrong television. That is exactly the purpose of this article.

This is the unadulterated, unbiased truth behind both of these wonders of technology to answer the question: "Plasma TV vs LCD TV - Which is Better"

It lays out the the pros and cons of each, taking into consideration the latest developments in both technologies which incidentally alters many beliefs behind this question that have now become myth surrounding these sets.

In fact, that seems like a great starting point. Let's dispel the myths.

  • Myth #1 - Plasma TVs Have a Small Life Span- Not true. Today's Plasma Manufacturers claim a half life of up to 60,000 hours. You would have to watch TV for about 8 hours a day for 20 straight years to reach this number. Even then your picture won't disappear. In fact, the Manufacturer's claim a 50% decrease in brightness when this number is reached. Keep in mind my 32" Sony Tube TV is going on it's 14th year (and I don't watch TV for 8 hours a day) outlasting all my other standard tube televisions. In other words, Plasma TVs last as long as any other TV you ever had. And in most cases far longer.
  • Myth #2 - LCD TVs Don't Come in Large Screen Sizes - This used to be the case. But is not really true anymore. 52-inch screens seem to be the sweet spot before a large jump in price but that doesn't mean you can't get a 65-inch LCD TV. Also large screen Plasmas in some cases (or in at least the models I recommend) are not cheap at this size either.
  • Myth #3 - I Can't Play Video Games on a Plasma Because the Images Will Burn Into the Screen - This an interesting myth. The quick and easy answer is that this is not true. The longer answer pertains to the misuse of the word "burn-in" which is actually pretty rare and results from some pretty extreme abuse. There are ways to virtually guarantee that it won't happen. That is to "break-in" the plasma display. We'll discuss it further later on.
  • Myth #4 - Plasmas Look Better than LCDs- Not true. This depends on your viewing environment and the models you have selected. I can take a top of the line plasma and make it look bad next to a low end LCD simply by putting the plasma in the "wrong" environment.

Plasma TV vs LCD TV


Most LCD Displays get their illumination from a CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp). This light has within it all of the color spectrum that will be visible in the display. That is to say that if the light does not offer the wavelength to produce a certain color it will not be available on the screen. This can sometimes be one of the causes of what is called a color "push" or shift of a certain color within a certain color space. For instance, a green push usually effects the grey color space whereas red push usually effects flesh tones. This can usually be minimized through proper calibration of the picture.

2 "flashlights" on a blank screen.
2 "flashlights" on a blank screen.

Another issue caused by the backlight is the fact that as light travels from it's source it disperses. That is, the screen can potentially get brighter as you get closer to each individual lamp behind the set. LCD Televisions mask this by diffusing the light through the panel, but as you could imagine this is quite a challenge and therefore, some displays can seem to be slightly uneven in terms of brightness or may even display a bright portion of the backlight "leaking" out of the frame of the picture. This is called "flashlighting".

Most of the time this is not visible during normal viewing (you don't watch blank screens do you?), but it is something to look for when looking at movies and tv shows to see if it is visible on the set you are considering.

To combat some of the above problems with CCFL backlights some manufacturers are moving to LED backlights. However, so far this has led to a different set of problems. Once this LED technology is perfected it may be the answer that the LCD world has been looking for.

To confuse matters even further, there now appears to be an LCD technology that uses Lasers as a backlight. As of this writing I don't have enough data to comment on it's effectiveness.

LCD Bashing Complete

After ripping into LCD Technology let me say that it is not all doom and gloom. First of all the top tier manufacturers (Sharp, Sony, Samsung, LG, Philips) spend a great deal of time, effort and money eliminating color push and uneven screen brightness. And many of them have come pretty darn close to being perfect in these regards. In fact, Sharp's Kameyama (K1) Plant in Japan has been elevated to legendary status for the panels they create. Each panel is seemingly void of defects.

There are lots of reasons to get an LCD:

  1. Non Reflective Screens - most LCD TV Panels have matte finishes meaning far less environmental reflections. There are some LCD TVs which use a specially filtered glass to produce more contrast. These sets do have reflective screens. This is an important distinction when purchasing your set. Be sure you know the answer.
  2. Brighter Picture - LCD Televisions commonly display a much brighter picture. Again this gives them a clear advantage in a room with a good deal of ambient light, and makes them an absolute necessity in any brightly lit environment.
  3. No Image Retention - When the image is gone, it's gone. There is never any trailing remnants or "ghosting" of an image.
  4. No Burn-In- The chances of you leaving an image on screen which would remain on the display permanently even when it is off is non-existent.
  5. Great for PC Applications - Reasons 2, 3 and 4 make it ideal for PC use.

Who Said LCDs Don't Come Big?

65-inch Sharp Aquos LCD TV
65-inch Sharp Aquos LCD TV

So I Should Pass on Plasma Then?

Wait a sec, don't do anything rash.....there's more.

Plasma TV:

The nature of Plasma technology creates its own set of challenges to engineers. Plasma Televisions work by exciting phosphorus gases sealed in the display. These gases are packed into the display in configurations of 3 "cells". Each of these cells burn in one of 3 primary colors; Red, Green and Blue. As you may already know these 3 colors make up all of the visible colors in the spectrum. This is not to say that a Plasma TV can reproduce every color perceptible to the human eye. The color of the excited gases would have to be pretty accurate not only in wavelength but in configuration for that to be a possiblity. However, you can already tell why Plasmas tend to have better color accuracy than LCDs.

Quick disclaimer:Note the use of the word "tend". There is no hard and fast rule that a Plasma will have better color than an LCD. However, chances are that statement will be true when you put the respective top-of-the-line models next to each other.

Since Plasmas have to excite gases to produce color there is a real challenge in making the gases respond quickly to changes in the picture. This can cause the cells to lag behind causing what some people call burn-in, though it is actually image retention. These images are not burned into the display they just linger for a split second after being displayed. This actually occurs naturally in the human eye. If you ever stared at the sun for too long you know what I am talking about. This can and does happen on plasma displays. However, it has been much improved upon and becomes inperceivable after what is called a break-in period.

The break-in period is considered to be the first 300 hours or so of a Plasmas life. Within this timeframe it is recommended that still images, and programs with "tickers" on the bottom of the image, or programs with static opaque logos not be displayed. During this time in a Plasmas life the gases need to be conditioned to respond rapidly. If the same image is displayed too long and the gases cannot change quickly enough there is a potential of burn-in.

After the break-in period the potential of burn-in is very unlikley. Also many new plasmas such as the Pioneer Kuro displays combat this by slightly moving the image at a very, very slow rate (way too slow and small for the human eye to see- Pretty smart). I know some Plasma junkie is jumping up and down shouting, "Plasma don't burn-in anymore! Heck you said yourself it's a myth." This is true. The potential is extremely small and would require some considerate abuse which is why so many people say it isn't even possible. But if you download any manual to any plasma the warning is right there. That's enough for me to take notice.

In short, I wouldn't watch ESPN or Bloomberg or play Video Games on my Plasma for the first 300 hours. After that I would watch anything I want and play anything I want without worry. I would just be careful not to leave paused games on the screen for several hours or fall asleep with ESPN on.

Last, Plasmas tend to make a small buzing sound and run a little hotter than LCDs. They also generally use more electricity.

Reasons to get a Plasma:

  1. Fantastic Color Reproduction - An ISF Calibrated Pioneer Kuro is truly a thing of beauty.
  2. Fantastic Contrast with Minimal Crush - Because of the nature of the technology it is easier to produce several shades of black making details visible in very dark scenes.

Pioneer Performance in Different Lightings

Your Viewing Environment

I was recently at an outdoor hotel bar and they had 2 Pioneer Kuro displays hanging on the wall. I looked at them and saw the reflection of the pool behind me. It wasn't incredibly bad but it was definitely reflective and washed out. Actually it was this moment that inspired this article. All I could think of was the large amounts of money the owner spent with a custom installer (who clearly didn't know what he was doing) and the net result was ultimately disappointing. Too many people get caught up in the latest craze. Even some Certified Installers clamour over the Kuro Displays without ever admitting that they don't fit in certain situations. Pioneer has reduced the glare considerably but hard direct light still reflects on the display. This makes the Kuro a candidate in some situations that was previously strictly for LCDs. However, there are still situations that the Kuro can't handle.

This is true of technology in general. You have to use the proper tool for the job.

I saw the same 2 displays at the bar as I walked past it that evening and they were gorgeous. Deep rich natural colors, blacks that were black yet the finest details were visible in the darkest scenes. I'm telling you it stopped me in my tracks. The problem? The bar was more than half empty. It's a Bar that is full during the day not at night. The owner of this establishment was actually done a disservice by this installer who sold him or her one of the most beautiful displays available. Clearly the situation called for an LCD TV.

So Which is Better?

I told you it was a bad answer.

In short, I would say that placing a Plasma Display such as the Pioneer Kuro or Panasonic PZ800U series in a room with some light control or in a room that is mostly used at night is visual bliss.

On the other hand, LCD technology is catching on in popularity and is closing in on the color and contrast of Plasma Televisions. In a room with environmental light, such as direct sunlight, it simply can not be beat. Hook up your Home Theater PC and Video Games without a care in the world. (don't abuse your display though- everything has consequences). What's more is, some LCD Displays like the Sharp D82U series (I'm biased because I own this one) comes pretty darn close to the picture quality of some top end plasmas and is even better than some of the lower end models.

So there you have it. Know you're environment. Know the primary uses of the display. Go hunting with an open mind...You're TV will find you.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great blog! I was referred to it by a coworker of mine here at DISH. I’ve been having trouble learning the pros and cons of plasma vs. LCD, and you site has helped me make a more informed decision. A coworker of mine here at DISH actually sent me the link to it, to try and help me out, and it was just what I had been looking for. A few weeks ago I upgraded to the Hopper by DISH, which lets me get full HD and DVR to four different sets. I only had three TVs at the time, so I decided to pick up a fourth set and use the Hopper to its full potential. Best of all, now everyone can see everything in HD and no one misses a show due to timer conflicts anymore. Thanks again for the info!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Philips provides the best result with pixel plus chips

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      i have both but i seem to like the lcd picture better then the plazma.

      also there is no way a lcd or a plazma will outlast a crt tube TV !!!!!!

      i have a 31 inch rca tv that has 60,000 hours on it .

      it has been running 24 hours a day since 1999 with a perfect bright picture still.

      there is no way a new tv would last that long

      because of the cheap solder and parts they use .

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am visually impaired and have to sit close to see TV. I have set up my livingroom with my chair very close (14") to the side of the TV (so that my head is not blocking other who are also watching TV).. My question, we are looking for a new TV to replace our old-tube, looking at plasma, LCD and LED TVs and wonder if one is better for side-view viewing..I know some are best straight ahead. Any help would be appreciated.

    • profile imageAUTHOR

      Pete The Geek 

      7 years ago

      Wow. Thanks everyone. Yes this article is pretty old. Should have dated it. LCD has definitely narrowed the gap though some of the excessive signal processing has led to some control lag for gamers. If I was in the market I would go with an LED LCD from either Sharp or Samsung (with some sort of Gamer mode or method to turn all the processing off)and I would skip the 3D. The best thing about 3D is it pushed down the prices on "better" non-3D TVs.

    • profile image

      CRT for now 

      7 years ago

      So, this article was written two years ago.

      (I hate it when "writers" don't date their articles.)

      I was looking at TV's today (March, 2011).

      I saw some $700 LCD's that had color banding in certain cases (like an over-compressed JPEG image). I was thinking that this one looks pretty good, that one looks artificial, that has good deep color. Then I stepped outside and thought this looks like a CRT or plasma.

      While LCDs have narrowed the gap very rapidly, plasmas still rule.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Considering the special outdoor environment, the design of kinytech outdoor TV Outdoor TV add special anti-reflective glass on the TV panel, so when there’s direct sunlight on the TV, there won’t be strong reflection on the TV screen, and you can enjoy the program outside under the sunlight.

    • AskAshlie3433 profile image


      7 years ago from WEST VIRGINIA

      I like the Panasonic Hi Def. I like my ps3. Games are so much better on this tv. I think it is 1080 or something like that. Pete, appreciate the advice. I didn't know there was that much to choose from. Great tips!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My 240 hz top of the line led cant compete with the motion on my 600hz subfield plasma! the lcd stutters has ghosting, halo effects and pixelation in fast moving scenes. Im a gamin kinda girl and the lcd stutters when Im playin rock band but the plasma holds up just fine! I love me a great plasma and now Panasonic is utilizing the Pioneer Kuro technology which means they are just spectacular. If you get a chance check out the new models: vt20 and the vt25 best black levels currently on the market and hands down best motion (which makes me super happy stupid leds!) and if you happen to buy one well your ganna wanna hug it every time you turn it on! ah

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I know what the manuals say, but I'm wondering if you know how Plasma's actually preform in sub freezing temperatures. Almost all electronics say that you should not use them outside a certain range. I live in northern Canada, and we always have to ignore these warnings.

      I'm not too concerned about lowing the life span. I am concerned about certain and immediate catastrophic damage.

      My TV is a 42 inch plasma and is now outside in an unheated garage. I will be turning it on at temperatures down to -30 Celsius aka down to -22 Fahrenheit.

      Mostly it will be used around -10 C (+14 F)

      Will it certainly be destroyed or is their just some limited worry about condensation and electrical short.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I think I will choose the Plasma TV. But I just picked up the Philips 47PFL7403D, i am impressed, just need a 40' HDMI and wishing i don't suffer too much signal loss with the length. It is digital so i feel i will be having happy eyes. And i still feel the waterproof TV( also be the better choice.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Considering the special outdoor environment, the design of Luxurite outdoor TV add special anti-reflective glass on the TV panel, so when there’s direct sunlight on the TV, there won’t be strong reflection on the TV screen, and you can enjoy the program outside under the sunlight.

    • Compareme profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      In my opinion the biggest advantage of LCDs is: No reflections. It's annoying when you watch TV at daylight and the screen is like a mirror.

    • profile imageAUTHOR

      Pete The Geek 

      8 years ago

      I am sorry guys....I didn't realize that I had to approve comments. Thanks for participating.

      I need to dust this hub off and update it. Check back soon.

    • TV Mount Guy profile image

      TV Mount Guy 

      9 years ago from On the Wall

      Good hub! The anti-reflective coating Panasonic uses on some of their plasmas is good, and gives a good view in brighter rooms almost like an LCD. I prefer plasma, but the latest LCDs are very good.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      the panasonic g series plasmas were voted the best picture by cnet. led lcd was right behind but not quite there.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Now, Lcd tv is top hit ... I see a little plasma tv in market... you do a good hub... thanks so much

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This is an illuminating hub. Many will surely find this useful and helpful pertaining to which is better- plasma tv or lcd tv.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Just bought an lcd tv. Was wondering is power consumption better than a 27 inch tube tv. my lcd is 32 inches? i noticed the color on my new tv is not as vivid until after about 30 seconds after i turn it on is this because of the blacklight taking time to warm up/

    • profile image

      Pioneer avh p3100 dvd 

      9 years ago

      good info about pioneer thank you

    • profile image

      Top TV Brands 

      9 years ago

      More questions about top lcd tv's answered.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I like what i have read thus far. Honestly it is better to have the whole truth even if one does not like what they hear... I worked in the home theatre industry for 10 years and the people will argue with you about what is good and what is bad. With their "guy" from (that big store that has all the smartest guys) as the guru on how it should work. I just picked up the Philips 47PFL7403D, i am impressed, just need a 40' HDMI and wishing i don't suffer too much signal loss with the length. It is digital so i feel i will be having happy eyes.

      Keep up the great writing, looking forward to more great reading.

    • callisto1313 profile image


      9 years ago from Poland

      I use Pioneer PDP lx5090 ( plasma ) .. Amazing quality. Previously, I had the philips lcd tv. Pioneer is much better but more expensive

    • profile imageAUTHOR

      Pete The Geek 

      10 years ago

      The 47PFL7403D turned out to be a really nice value though, I think I would lean more towards the Toshiba Regza 46vx540U currently in that price range. And the Panny Vieras are killer.

    • profile imageAUTHOR

      Pete The Geek 

      10 years ago

      Oh do I know that feeling Jim. It took me 2 years to decide on my Sharp as well. I was thoroughly scared I would have banding on my set, but I went for it and couldn't be happier.

      There are some great sets that are out right now that I think are worth every penny. The Panny PZ80U and PZ85U are pretty sweet as are the new Sharps. The Philips 47PFL7403D looks like it may be a winner when we finally do see it. The 42 inch version is pretty sweet.

      I'll drop a line here when I finally do find it.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      thanks Pete---I game most every day and watch movies, not much tv, so I was looking at the Panasonic TH-65PZ10UK, which is the industrial model, and it now comes with the dual HDMI board capable of FULL HD 1080p 24p. I just don't know if I should wait for the new Panasonic 800 series in the 58" size because the shades of graduation are higher, . . hell, I don't even know what this means, but they make a big deal about it. I have been putting this off for 2 years and I can't take it anymore, . I just want my TV already, but as you know, there is ALWAYS something better coming out on the horizon.


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