If you're preparing to blow a chunk of your paycheck on a Super Bowl party this weekend, be sure you choose the right HDTV between LED, LCD or plasma technology. We walk you through the basic differences and help you make the right decision for the big game.
Apartment Therapy's Jeff Heaton explains the basic differences between LED, LCD and plasma television technology:
Display Technology: LCD, LED, Plasma
LED TVs are actually a type of LCD TV. LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are a more energy efficient method of backlighting the LCD, or liquid crystal display, than the older CCFL, or cold cathode flourecent lighting, method. So all LEDs are LCDs, but not all LCDs are LEDs. plasmas contain phosphors that create the image and light themselves. When HDTVs first came out Plasma was the TV of choice for its rich blacks and display quality. But over the years there has been a transition as LCD quality got better, especially with the addition of LED backlighting. LEDs are generally the best TV when you consider energy efficiency, thickness and picture quality together. However, you will pay the most for them -- often a few hundred more than a CCFL LCD of the same size.
Aside from the technical differences between the technology types, we offer the following practical considerations in making a decision when buying a new HDTV, especially in time for this weekend's Super Bowl.
It's amazing what you can get for your money these days. No matter the technology type, a 60" flat screen TV for under $1,000 is quite incredible considering the early pricing of flat panel TVs. Not all 60" TVs are under $1,000 though, and you can easily get into the high thousands for a set with different features and technologies. Generally speaking, plasma TVs are the least expensive, then LCDs, and then LEDs. Of course this isn't always the case given brands, quality, features, sales, and such. The highest priced marketed flagship model TV sets are generally LEDs.
One thing to consider if you're looking at plasma technology is that these TV sets generally use quite a bit more energy than LCDs or LEDs. Plasmas can easily consume several hundred watts of power per hour while a lean LCD or LED often sneaks by with under 100. According to Nielson, the average person spends up to a hard to believe five hours per day camped out in front of their television set. If our power company charges us around $.10 per Kilowatt hour, that power usage difference amounts to quite a difference on our bill. This extra power consumption from plasmas also makes these units put out quite a bit of noticeable heat.
Nowadays you can get any screen size TV in any flavor you want. While TVs are all getting lighter and slimmer, not all TVs are created equal. Plasmas generally weight quite a bit more than LCDs or LEDs and due to the way the technology works are often thicker in depth. So if you want that slimmest of TVs to mount tight against your wall, LED is the way to go - but you'll pay a premium for that slimness.
Videophiles might wonder why it's taken us so long to get to the main event - the picture quality, all other considerations be damned! But seriously, there are quite a few differences in each of the TV technologies in perceived quality. We'll stay away from a technical discussion on picture quality and discuss practical perceived differences. One of the qualities of plasma technology has historically been its abilities to produce the best black levels. Think of movies with dark shadowy scenes and then consider if you can actually see the details within the lack of light, and if those black images are actually black or kind of brightly grey. Plasmas typically are best at displaying these deep gorgeous black levels but LEDs are quickly catching up, albeit at much higher prices. LCDs and LED-backlit LCDs are generally known to display a much brighter and colorful picture. It's a matter of preference what you prefer, but also consider a practical difference we previously highlighted on Apartment Therapy:
What's your viewing pleasure? Do you prefer super bright, super sharp content? Or do you prefer more subtle moody viewing with clear dark blacks. It used to be a big battle between plasma and LCD (and now LED) technology but the technology gap has closed quite a bit. Plasmas are giving way to LCD, but there's still plenty of case for buying them. For those watching in rooms that are fairly dark, plasmas might not be as bright as their LCD counterparts but they sure do make up for it with extreme black contrast levels. If you're watching television in an extremely bright room with no way of closing the blinds, then an LCD with its superior brightness may be for you. Learn your environment and your preferences and it will help guide you in making an educated choice on more than just bran, pricetag, and size.
While much better than early sets, plasma TVs are unfortunately still susceptible to burn-in. If you're worried about damaging your TV with a stagnant image, we'd shy away from plasma. LCDs and LEDs generally speaking do not experience this problem. plasmatvbuyingguide.com kindly describes burn-in for us.
...burn in, simply put, is a damaged pixel, whose phosphors have been prematurely aged and therefore glow less intensely than those of surrounding pixels on the plasma TV screen. The damaged or "burned in" pixel has developed a "memory" of the color information that was repeatedly fed to it in a static manner over a period of time. And that phosphor color information has actually become seared or etched into the plasma TV glass. Hence the term, "burn-in." Once these phosphors are damaged, they cannot give the same output as the other phosphors around them do. But pixels do not suffer burn-in singly. Burn-in occurs in the shape of a static image that persists on TV screens -- things like network logos, computer icons, Internet browser frames, or an entire image that has been displayed in a static manner etc. Network logos were a problem initially but they have now become sensitive to the problem and have also adapted a motion logo technology which prevents burn in.
So What To Buy?
A lot of the differences depend on your preferences, environment and situation. Plasmas tend to be the budget buy but also in nicer models offer incredible black levels for your dollar. LCDs offer weight, depth, and energy savings as well as a brighter picture in rooms with a lot of light. LEDs often cost more but take the advantages of LCDs to an even higher level. Now that you're armed with all of this info, get out there and go get yourself a new HDTV before the game starts!
MORE HDTV SHOPPING ADVICE ON APARTMENT THERAPY
• The Buyer's Guide to HDTV Terminology
HDTV Shopping: Navigating Nonsensical Selling Points
• The New HDTV Owner's Gift Guide (2012 Apartment Therapy Tech Gift Guide)
• How Big is Too Big? Finding the Right TV, Not Just Biggest
(Images: Shutterstock/Igor Zh, Shutterstock/doodle, Shutterstock/Pavel L, Shutterstock/Feng Yu)