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LCD Vs. LED Vs. Plasma

Arjun Kulkarni Feb 11, 2020
Till just a few years ago, CRT TVs were the best bet when it came to purchasing a TV. However, technology has advanced, and today, CRT TVs are all but obsolete. Replacing them are TVs featuring 3 new technologies - LCD TVs, LED TVs, and Plasma TVs.
This helps you understand the difference between these 3, and give you a few tips on buying the best television set.
While the debate between the three TVs continue, expect to see an upsurge in the latest OLED TVs sales. Most companies have promised that thin-as-a-pencil OLED TVs with brilliant contrast and true blacks will be a feasible option for most consumers within the next few years.
Let's start with taking a brief look at the technologies that are used in these TVs. LCD TVs use liquid crystal to display pictures, hence the name - Liquid Crystal Display. In LCD panels, the liquid crystal gets activated when an electric current is applied to it, but unlike CRT displays, produce no light of their own.

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Hence to see the picture, a light source is needed, which, in LCD TVs, comes in the form of CCFLs, or Cold-Cathode Fluorescent Lamps. In LED TVs, the display panel remains an LCD panel, but the mode of backlighting changes to LEDs or Light Emitting Diodes.
Plasma, on the other hand, uses a sheet of individual plasma cells, which get activated when electric current is applied. Thus if you have noticed, there are only LCD and plasma panels, with LED TVs using LCD panels with LEDs as a light source.

Comparing LCD, LED, and Plasma TVs

If you are looking to buy a new television set, chances are that you will have to choose from LCD, LED, or plasma TVs. These are the most common TV sets in the market these days, and while there is no clear favorite, a few points do put one ahead of the other.

The following paragraphs mention the most important factors that you should take into account to make an informed decision while buying a TV.

1. Contrast Ratio

Plasma TVs rank first. LED TVs rank second. LCD TVs rank third.
Contrast ratio is the difference between the blackest or darkest part of the picture, and the whitest or brightest part of the picture. To display pictures properly, a high contrast ratio is desirable. A good contrast ratio shows the differences between the darker and lighter areas of the screen remarkably well.
It is a well-accepted fact that plasma TVs generally have better contrast ratios than LCD and LED TVs. This is because plasma TVs have individual plasma cells, which automatically turn themselves off on the darker parts of the screen. LCD TVs, on the other hand, have a single liquid crystal, and when the TV has to show dark pictures, the CCFL backlight of the LCD only dims itself, making the blacks very unconvincing. LCD TVs powered with LED backlight have a slight edge as individual LEDs twist themselves into an 'off' position in the dark parts of the screen, thus giving a more convincing black than LCD TVs.

2. Viewing Angle

Plasma TVs rank first. LED TVs rank second. LCD TVs rank third.
Viewing angle refers to the angle from which the image on the TV can be viewed. Since all viewers may not be able to sit right in front of the TV and may have to sit around it, the viewing angle parameter becomes very important.
Plasma screens again take top honors when it comes to viewing angles. In plasma TVs all the pixels are lit, hence the image on the screen can be viewed with same clarity from almost any angle. In LCD screens, the quality of the image drops drastically as the viewing angle increases. LED TVs with local dimming fare slightly better than LCD screens, but come nowhere close to the angles achieved by plasma TVS.

3. Color

Plasma TVs rank first. LCD TVs rank second. LED TVs rank third.
The reproduction of the color in a captured image is also an important parameter that needs to be taken into consideration while comparing these TVs. The goal is to reproduce colors that are as close to original as possible.
In color reproduction, there is a very narrow margin of difference between the three technologies. Plasma TVs hold a slight advantage over LCD and LED TVs, as even though LCD screens reproduce images that are closest to the original, they seem washed out.
Typically, as LED TVs are brighter, thanks to the backlight, they tend to produce images that seem over-saturated.
A point that needs to be taken into consideration is the fact that there are LED TVs with RGB colored backlight systems available, and these are probably the best of the lot. However, they are not very common, and tend to be very expensive as well.

4. Motion

Plasma TVs rank first. LED TVs rank second. LCD TVs rank third.
Motion is how the screen displays fast-moving sequences like an action movie, or fast-paced sports. As video is nothing but still images moving faster than our eye can detect, motion is what determines if the sequence played is smooth or jerky.
Again, plasma TVs excel, with a typically high refresh rate, enabling smoother motion of pictures. While LCD and LED TVs have improved a lot in recent times, plasma TVs have individual cells or sections of cells that can refresh at a much faster rate. Motion is calculated in 'Hz', and higher the number, the smoother the sequence will play out. Typically, LCD and LED TVs both have models that feature refresh rates of almost 200Hz, which is extremely good. However, plasma TVs can have refresh rates higher than 480 Hz.

5. Power Consumption

LED TVs rank first. LCD TVs rank second. Plasma TVs rank third.
This is the amount of electricity that the TV set uses. Obviously the lower this is, the better. While this is often the most ignored point while buying a TV, it should be taken into consideration in the long run, as there is a huge difference in the power consumption of the three technologies.
Since plasma TVs have all of their pixels lit all the time, they consume much more power when compared to LCD and LED TVS. LCD TVs are a little more power efficient, but even in LCD TVs the CCFLs are on all the time. This consumes a lot of power as well, but not as much as plasma screens. In this regard, LEDs are the most power efficient option, as not all the LEDs are on all the time. Individual LEDs are turned off for some sequences, and LEDs are power efficient in any case.

6. Lifespan

LCD TVs rank first. LED TVs rank second. Plasma TVs rank third.
The lifespan of a TV is also an important factor when it comes to buying one. The lifespan of a TV set is measured in hours, and most manufacturers claim about 100,000 hours of use as a standard lifespan.
LCD screens usually last the longest without deterioration in picture quality and brightness. Plasma screens tend to lose brightness and detail relatively faster than other screens, though manufacturers are trying to combat this problem with various options. Plasmas also suffer from burn-in the earliest among the three. Current technology has almost mitigated this problem; you now face burn-in issues only if you leave your plasma TV on for hours on end, with the same image. This refers to the HUDs inside games. While this problem used to be quite a large one before, it isn't too much of a bother now.
LED TVs are the newest of the lot, and a lot of heavy testing has not been done, but there are concerns the life of the LEDs themselves may be short, leading to reduction in the lifespan of the TV set. On an average, most manufacturers have all three types of TVs that they claim last for about 100,000 hours of viewing.

7. Price

Plasma TVs rank first. LCD TVs rank second. LED TVs rank third.
This is often the most important factor that decides which TV to buy. Most TV buyers are ready to compromise on the other factors, if the price is right. That being said, a high price does not always indicate superior quality, but a low price often indicates compromise.
Plasma TVs are the best value for money, but one has to remember that this is because they have been in the market the longest. If you compare the low price of plasmas with the features you get, it soon becomes apparent that you are settling for a compromise.

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Of course, you might get a plasma TV cheaper than an LCD TV, but if you are purchasing a high-end TV, then the difference in the price will not be too great. LED TVs, on the other hand, are the newest entrant in the market and are priced significantly higher than both LCD TVs and plasma TVs.
This is because LED TVs are a newer technology and are not produced at the same volume as LCDs or plasmas.
If price alone is a deciding factor, then you should opt for a plasma TV. At a significantly lower price, you will get the best viewing angles and color reproduction. However, low-priced plasmas are usually not 1080p. Also you run the risk of increased power consumption, burn-in, and shorter lifespan. Also, as LED TVs become mainstream, older technologies might begin to phase out, leaving you with a set that might not be repairable in the future, should anything go wrong.
The best way would be to make your choice on the basis of the other factors, and then consider the price. For example if you are going to place the TV in a very bright room, a plasma will not be suitable, irrespective of the price.
As of writing this, it is really hard to compare the three technologies and choose one as the winner. If seen side by side, LED TVs stand out with superior brightness, clear pictures, and stunning looks. However, the final place of the TV has a huge role play in your decision, among other things. Each of these TVs have positive and negative points, and you really have to decide which of the negatives you are okay with. For a personal recommendation, it sure is hard to beat an LED TV with local dimming.