LCDs, LEDs, and Plasmas, Oh My!: A Guide to Buying an HDTV
Are you in the market for an HDTV but feel overwhelmed by the current selections available to you? If you are, I’m not surprised. There are a lot of things to consider. Don’t worry; I’m here to help! In this article we’ll cover the types of flat-panel HDTVs and the pros and cons of each.
Let’s start with the basics. There are two types of flat-panel HDTVs: LCD and Plasma. Both display technologies deliver amazing picture quality and have made huge improvements in recent years. Each outperforms the other in certain areas and your viewing situation and preferences will help determine which is more suitable for you.
Wait a second… If there are only two types, what are LEDs? LED TVs are actually LCD displays that are backlit with LED light instead of fluorescent light. Because of the difference in performance between fluorescent-backlit and LED-backlit LCDs, we will point out those differences where appropriate.
Now that we know the different types of flat-panel HDTVs, let’s discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each. We will cover the following topics: viewing angle, picture contrast, and motion clarity.
Any HDTV picture will look great when viewing from front and center. However, if you’re viewing the TV from off to the side, from below, or even if you’re standing and looking down at the screen, the image can appear less clear and bright. This is an issue with LCD displays because of how the display technology works. The LCD pixels act as shutters, opening to allow the backlight through and closing to block it out. The greater the viewing angle, the more the picture brightness is affected, reducing the picture quality and causing picture lag or ghosting. Current models have a very good viewing angle. Plasmas have an excellent viewing angle.
Picture contrast is often considered one of the most important performance specs of an HDTV. This is listed as a contrast ratio and it measures the difference between the deepest black and the brightest whites the TV can produce. The way manufacturers list the contrast ratio can make it difficult for shoppers to understand. Here’s what you need to know: Both Plasmas and LEDs are have excellent contrast ratio. However, it depends on your viewing situation. If the room you will be viewing in is bright and often well lit, the contrast on the LED will look best. If the room is dark or dimly lit, the contrast on the Plasma will look best.
Clearly and crisply displaying an image as it moves across the screen can be difficult. The faster the object moves, as in sports and video games, the more difficult it is to display it clearly. Plasmas excel in this area. Because of the way the Plasma display creates the image, there is no image lag or ghosting. Current LCD/LED TVs are better at handling motion blur than in the past. Look for an LCD/LED TV with a 120 Hz or 240 Hz refresh rate for better motion handling.
A Few More Things to Keep in Mind
- LCDs are generally lighter and thinner than Plasmas.
- LCDs consume less energy and give off less heat than Plasmas, with LED-backlit LCDs being the most energy efficient.
- Plasmas and LED-backlit LCDs have the best color
Vertical resolution is always advertised. Vertical resolution is the number of horizontal lines that can be resolved from the top of the image to the bottom. This is listed as 720i, 1080p, etc. The number refers to the number of horizontal lines and the letter refers to the scan mode. They stand for interlaced or progressive, progressive being the better of the two. Virtually all HDTVs are progressive now. 1080p is also referred to as Full HD or True HD because it is the highest definition possible. The vertical resolution of the TV is the resolution it is capable of handling and it depends on the content your watching. Most programs are transmitted in 1080i, while others may be maxed out at 720p. Blu-ray discs are in 1080p, so to get the full quality of Blu-ray, 1080p is required. However, if you want to save a couple hundred dollars, 720p is perfectly acceptable and still quite clear. It will still display content transmitted in 1080i, or 1080p, with little decrease in quality.