Plasma vs LCD - The Next Format War?

Ever noticed this seems to be Format War II? People post inquiries on forums about LCD sets and within minutes they get a reply suggesting the poster should get a plasmas instead. Then the threads are deluged with posts about why plasma is superior to LCDs. They quote how misleading statements and facts have tainted the plasmas. LCD proponents don’t seem to jump on plasma inquiries in the same manner. Maybe since LCDs are selling so well they don’t feel they have to proselytize like plasma proponents do.

Just some things about the proselytizing by plasma fanatics… er enthusiasts. First I would say as far as picture quality they rule. I would even go so far to say of the current technology available plasmas produce the most pleasing picture. They are far better in terms of black levels and contrast than even movie theaters. I always get a chuckle when I read about the plasmas giving a theater like picture when in truth they give a far better picture than the theater. At least any theater I’ve been in recently. To me the blacks in my local theater are more like my LCD display than they are a good plasma. Next time you go to a theater notice the blacks and you will see what I mean.

However, the majority of plasma enthusiasts seem to pretty much completely dismiss the use of LCD panels. Truth is there are many more applications for LCD panels than there are for plasmas. As far as I am concerned there is one perfect application for plasma and that is a home theater room where walls and ceiling are darkened and light is controlled to eliminate reflections. Any place where there is a lot of ambient light the use of a LCD is going to be preferred in my opinion. I can not stand seeing the reflections in the “perfect blacks” of the highly reflective plasmas. Now I know there are some plasmas that have a “non-reflective’ coating, but really they are about as effective as the same coatings on CRTs and they tend to reduce the blacks to less than perfect anyway.

Plasmas can not be beat for picture quality in the right locations and with the right source. Period. But in my opinion these locations are not found in many homes. Wifes tend to like lightly colored walls and a lot of sunlight. I know some will say not, but in the majority of cases this is true. Women generally like bright and airy spaces, men tend to like caves. Thus I would say that LCDs would be better suited for many of the dens and living rooms than plasmas. The enthusiasts will say they have no problems with reflections by the use of heavy drapes and light control. In other words turn the room into a cave. Or, as in my ex-partner’s case convince himself the reflections are not that bad and for some this is true. To them they are not that bad and in my opinion minimize this issue.

Applications where there is no contest in favor of LCDs are airports, waiting rooms, mall displays and other public areas. I would even go to say if the display is to be connected to a computer for use as a computer monitor, plasmas should be avoided in favor of LCDs.

Before I retired recently, we did a large home that ended up with 8 plasmas ranging from 50 inch (6) to 60 inch (2) and the two 60 in plasmas were replaced with 65 inch Sharp LCDs at the owners request due to the reflections. The plasmas were relocated to other areas of the home. We also did the A/V work at his place of business where we used 50 inch plasmas in the waiting rooms. On his second store he insisted on non-glare TVs, so we used LCDs and I must say they are a much better solution. There have been other cases where we were asked to replace a plasma with some display that was non-reflective and is how my ex business partner ended up with his 50 inch panny.

This got to be such an issue that I ordered a sheet (4′x8′) of museum grade ACRYLITE® Anti-Reflective acrylic to cover the screens. From http://www.regal-plastics.com/acrylic-perform.html:
ACRYLITE® Anti-Reflective acrylic sheet is an ideal glazing material for optical displays, improving screen clarity with more than 97% light transmission. It cuts glare to less than 2% total light reflectance allowing displays to be easily viewed from any angle regardless of lighting conditions. With many times the impact strength of glass and greater mar resistance than uncoated sheet, it provides added protection and increased durability for front panel displays, i.e. PDA, LCD, CRT, PDP and instrument clusters.

I have a sheet of this stuff on my living room RP HDTV that has a finger guard that is as reflective as a plasma and it really works well to get rid of the glare. I have another sheet cut for a 60 inch plasma left over behind my couch in case I get a deal on a plasma sometimes in the future. The stuff is not cheap, but better than eating a plasma.

LCDs are a better solution for airport schedule displays, kiosks, big screen video games in sports bars and the list goes on and on. That’s why I think LCDs are selling in such big numbers, not the hyping of LCD by uninformed sales personnel at the big box stores so much. One airport can have more 50 inch, or so, flat panels than a small town. Then throw in all of the other high volume applications and it should be evident there is a lot more market driving force for LCDs than plasmas. It was not too long ago when they would use plasmas in airports. Here in Houston I remember seeing row after row and drooling at that contract. Year later they were completely ruined for anything but flight schedules due to burn in and were even getting dim.

The point I make, I guess, is the issue of reflections should not be minimized nor should the burn in issues. Neither are gone although they are greatly improved, at least the burn in has been. It seems to me that the plasma proponents do slant the facts a bit in these areas.

Another area where there is much to do about is motion blur of LCDs. This phenomenon is largely overblown in my opinion. Motion blur is actually better called pixel response blur, in my opinion. Pixel response blur comes from two sources. One is the actual pixel response which when slow enough will cause trailers to objects in motion. The other is the twisting/untwisting of the pixel elements vs the virtually instantaneous change of state for the phosphor based pixels of plasmas. The faster the pixel response the less noticeable this is. The new LCDs with pixel response below 8ms are in the range where many people no longer notice the effect. There is motion blur as well for sure. I have watched several live sports and other events frame by frame from recordings to isolate this in the source. Blurring due to slow cameras and macroblocking due to low broadcast bitrates to me is far more annoying than the pixel response blur.

While some people notice the pixel response blur in the modern LCDs, many, and I think most, do not. People here fall into three categories; 1) people who actually notice the LCD motion blur and find it objectionable, 2) people who notice the blur, but don’t find it objectionable and 3) people that don’t notice it at all. I guess I fall into the last category at least as far as my LCD is concerned. I would say if you notice it and it bothers you, you would be better off with a plasma.

Then there is the issue of better colors on plasmas. Not necessarily true. If you look at the color gamut graph (color temperature graph) for LCDs you will find several models are not very different from the ATSC standard spec. The Pioneer Kuros are dead on the ATSC standard. Panasonic plasmas, Sharp LCDs and Vizio LCDs vary quite a bit as can be seen in the following illustrations:

The above illustrations were compiled from several Home Theater Magazine articles where they did reviews and testing of various flat panels. What you should take from the above graphs is any display that does not match the ATSC standard color gamut is not going to be able to faithfully reproduce the entire color spectrum. You can read more about their thoughts on this in their complete reviews. But one excerpt from the Panasonic plasma review, The color gamut is shown by the white triangle in the CIE chart and the Rec. 709 HD standard by the black triangle. Both green and red are oversaturated. I got a better (but not perfect) gamut plot (not shown) when I dramatically reduced the Color control. But this resulted in unacceptably washed-out colors. The only way to fix the color gamut, apart from a more accurate setting at the factory, is with a good color- management system, which the Panasonic lacks. Fortunately, the visible effects of the wider gamut shown here are much less obvious than you might expect. In fact, very few viewers will find the Panasonic’s color less than superb. Still, the curmudgeon in me can’t help saying that exceeding the standard HD color gamut at least subtly distorts the colors on today’s consumer program material.

The current index to Home Theater Magazine flat panel reviews is here:
http://www.hometheatermag.com/flat-panels/
If you are considering the purchase of a flat panel in the near future, I would recommend a trip through their reviews.

Viewing angles are also brought up stating plasma off axis viewing is far superior to LCDs.  While this is true, once you get at an angle sufficient enough to be an issue with the newer LCDs, the image is distorted anyway, even on a plasma.  Sort of like what you would see squeezing the width of the display.  Most people won’t be viewing their flat screen at angles where this is an issue, in my opinion.

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