LCD & Plasma TVs
Both are better than ever
Bigger, better, cheaper—those three words sum up the major trends in LCD and Plasma TVs this year.
The super sizing of flat-panel screens is hard to miss. More LCD sets are sporting bigger screens, so we’ve added a new size category (46- to 52-inch models) to our Ratings. In plasma TVs, 50 are the new 40. Forty-two-inch screens are still going strong, but 50-inch and even 60-inch screens have become the star attractions in many electronics stores.
More new TVs of both types can display excellent picture quality with high- definition programming, though lower- scoring models fall short of that to varying degrees. That gives you more reason than ever to use our Ratings (pages 30 to 33).
The best sets are better than ever. One of the new breed of 1080p plasma sets now hitting stores, it combines “full HD” - 1920x1080 native resolution, the highest currently available with the characteristic strengths of plasma technology Its ability to reproduce the finest detail, plus its rich, vibrant colors and deep blacks, lend an almost three- dimensional look to images.
LCD TVs outsold plasmas by about three to one last year, in part because they come in more, and smaller, sizes than plasmas, which start at 42 inches. But if you’re buying a bigger TV, don’t blindly follow the crowd down the LCD path. In some cases, a plasma display can give you a more satisfying TV-watching experience, for the reasons discussed below
Whichever TV type you ultimately decide on, don’t skimp on screen size. In our surveys, many consumers said they would buy a bigger set if they could do it over. A 40- to 42- inch screen is a sensible choice for an average-sized room. A 46- to 50-inch or larger TV requires greater distance between you and the screen to ensure optimal picture quality
WHY BUY A PLASMA TV?
To get more screen for your money. Inch for inch, plasma offers more bangs for the buck than an LCD TV so the same budget can buy you a bigger screen.
To enjoy a movie theater experience
A good plasma TV’s deep black levels and high contrast can do justice to almost anything you watch, including movies and TV programs with dark scenes. The strong contrast and realistic, accurate colors can result in rich, natural looking images, especially in dim lighting. Most LCD sets have trouble displaying the same strong, dark blacks as plasma sets. On certain LCD sets, uneven brightness from the backlight can create cloudy areas that can be distracting in dark scenes.
Wide viewing angle
With a plasma TV as with the familiar picture- tube set, the images onscreen look the same from almost any angle. That’s a big plus if a TV will be watched by a number of people sifting around a room.
It’s a different story with LCD TVs. Though some newer models have gotten better, most LCD’s still look their best only from a limited sweet spot in front of the screen. As you move off to the side, the picture quality deteriorates, appearing increasingly washed out or dim. Vertical position also matters; say if you’re sitting on the floor or watching an LCD set that’s mounted above a mantelpiece.
On some TV sets, those problems can be obvious, especially with indoor scenes and flesh tones. The degradation is less noticeable with bright images and vivid colors such as those you’d see in a football game. Because TVs in retail showrooms often display sporting events, you might not notice a problem with viewing angle when looking at a TV in a store. Picture settings also minimize the effect of viewing angle on picture quality TVs are usually set to vivid or dynamic mode, which pumps up brightness and color to a level that looks great under fluorescent lights but unnatural in a typical home. Ask a salesperson to reset a TV to normal or standard mode and tune in non-sports programming to get a better idea of how a TV might look at home, especially from any angle.
WHY BUY AN LCD TV?
You have a very bright room. LCD’s are generally brighter than plasma TVs, and their screens are less reflective. That makes them better for daytime viewing in rooms with lots of windows or for night time use in rooms with bright lighting. Some plasma TVs can look a bit dim in bright lighting when set to the normal or standard mode, which we generally recommend for home use. You can switch to the vivid mode or raise the brightness control to compensate, but the picture quality might suffer. Another issue with most plasma’s is that the glass screens are subject to reflections and glare. If you have the lights on while watching dark scenes, you might see mirror like reflections on a plasma set.
For heavy use with video games or as a PC monitor
Both types of flat panels can do the job, but with an LCD, there’s no chance static images will burn in. With a plasma TV burn-in is a concern with video games, computer programs, and TV programming that has fixed images on- screen for a long time. That includes station logos, news tickers, even the bars alongside standard-def pictures. Many plasma sets have screen-saver features to minimize risk, but burn-in is still possible.
With either an LCD or plasma TV consider a screen with lO8Op resolution for use with a computer. The higher resolution will let you see more content on- screen with greater clarity and finer detail than on a 720p set. (You might have to connect your computer to the TV via an HDMI input to get 1080p resolution and to avoid having outer edges of the image cut off, otherwise known as overscan.)
For somewhat lower electric bills
LCD’s tend to use less power than comparably sized plasma TVs. It doesn’t appear that the differences would affect your electric bills by more than a few dollars a month in many cases, so that might not be a major factor in your decision. But there is obviously an environmental advantage to using a less power-hungry TV
WHEN EITHER TYPE IS FINE
In some situations, either an LCD or plasma TV should do almost equally well:
For sports and action movies
It’s true that plasma sets are better than LCD TVs at displaying fast motion, but it’s not likely you’d notice much of a problem on an LCD. Our video experts can clearly detect motion blur with test patterns de signed to pinpoint the problem. However, you might not notice any blur, or might not be bothered by it, when watching sports and movies. Some newer LCD models have high refresh rates (120 Hz) designed to improve motion-handling, but we haven’t noticed much improvement on those we’ve seen.
For a long, useful life
Another point that needn’t concern you is any difference in longevity between the two technologies. Despite reports you might have read about plasma’s allegedly short life span, both LCD and plasma sets should last a good 10 years or more in normal use.
Both LCD and plasma panels can be mounted on the wall, but you should attach mounts to wall studs to ensure adequate support. That’s especially important with larger plasma TVs, which tend to be heavier than comparably sized LCD sets. A 50 or 60-inch screen can weigh more than 100 pounds.
You have a lot of fine TV choices, as our Ratings indicate. Excellent picture quality is the gold standard, and you’ll find more sets that hit this high mark, some at modest prices. You might also want to consider sets with very good picture quality It can be hard to detect the sometimes subtle differences between excellent and very good pictures, especially when you’re watching typical cable and satellite programming, which doesn’t al ways provide the best signals. Discerning the differences is even more challenging when you’re not comparing two TVs side by side as we do in our labs. If you find a TV with very good picture quality at a low price, it’s worth considering.
NOVEMBER 2007 www.ConsumerReports.org Pg. 27