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So Which Display Technology is Best?


LCD vs. Plasma Screen TVs: The Flat Picture

As I mentioned above, the Plasma TV has the edge in terms of cost per size and black levels. While refresh rates used to be better in plasma displays, LCD panels are now fast enough to really turn this into a non-issue. Plasma also remains a less expensive option for larger display sizes though we see this cost-crossover size increase with every new LCD manufacturing plant that opens. LCD displays continue to drop in price as they increase in terms of quality and black level reproduction and contrast. Once this happens, Plasma may lose its edge and LCD technology could win out - at least in terms of mass market appeal. Note: "could", "might", "may"... you get the idea... We might be going back and forth a long time - which is only to our advantage. As many of the CRT manufacturing plants are slated to close or convert over to LCD (Sony announced the closing of two more CRT plants in the first quarter of 2006 alone), you can imagine that the technology as a whole will benefit from smarter, more efficient manufacturing processes. Add to this the en-mass entry of Korean manufacturers who are willing to lose money on panels in order to gain market share (being subsidized by your government is a good thing) and you've got a wild commodity environment for LCD. As this goes on, prices will continue to drop and the LCD market will likely drive even larger flat panel display products into the homes of consumers. 50-inch LCD displays are now quite affordable whereas 30 inch versions were expensive just a couple years ago.

DLP vs. LCD vs. LCOS Rear Projection Televisions

This is where the competition gets interesting. This is essentially a battle between Texas Instruments and all of the LCD manufacturers (Sony, Philips, Toshiba, Samsung). Many companies are hedging their bets on this one (Samsung manufactures all 3), however the real winner will be the one who can produce the best picture at the lowest cost. My bet is on DLP. DLP is releasing its 1080p chips and has increased black levels and contrast ratios with its new DC3 (Dark Chip 3) technology. The advances in DLP both current and forthcoming are exceptional, but so is LCOS which is essentially a densely-packed LCD - creating a finer picture without any of the "screen door" artifacts found in many LCD displays. Still, DLP's reluctance to allow 3-chip pricing to hit "mere mortals" means that rainbow effect is still a concern for many.

3LCD rear projection does have some advantages, however. It is being developed further and further and will benefit from rapid price drops as manufacturing ramps up and technologies improve. Right now you can find large, HD-ready LCD-based RPTVs for under $1500. A similar DLP or LCOS version (currently) will tend to cost you around $500 - $1000 more. 3LCD front projection is fantastic at the proper viewing distances, however DLP seems to be quickly eating up the entry level projector market (Optoma's HD70 brings 720p DLP into the sub-$1000 price category for the first time). The emerging LED backlight technology, replacing color wheels on DLP and bulbs on all of the rear projection sets will only enhance the color reproduction and shelf life of all three technologies.

The Cost Factor: How Much Do I Spend?

How much do you have? Seriously, though, budget and intended use will determine the direction you take in what technology you choose. Those with the strictest budgets will want to break into HDTV via LCD rear-projection or DLP/LCD front projection. We really no longer recommend CRT-based RPTVs as they represent a dying technology and we feel the advantages they once had are now far outweighed by the digital competition (die, convergence, DIE!)

If you are desperate for a flat panel, it's going to be a question of size. LCDs cost more than Plasma TVs at the larger sizes (50-inches and up). The reason for this is production yields and undersupply. There is currently a condition of undersupply for many sizes of LCD displays due to the number of manufacturing plants available and the current configuration of those plants. Couple this with lower yields on larger display sizes due to burned out pixels and quality control, and you have a demand situation which forces LCD prices way up for displays over 42-50". A fair estimate would be that at and above 50" an LCD TV could cost 20-30% more than a comparable Plasma display. If you want the benefits of LCD above this size you will have to pay for it - and you thought Plasma was expensive!

If you are made of money and want the biggest flat panel around, Samsung and LG have been battling it out for years. I used to give the models and sizes of these TVs, but it's become such a joke (they almost never ship - at least not in quantity) that we'll just say they make big TVs. In addition, these oversized flat panels are priced at… well, more than you want to know.

So, as always, the choice is up to you. Spend your money wisely, and keep your eyes peeled for the new technologies as they break into the marketplace. Competition is always good and should do well to make all the technologies strive for better performance and lower costs to the consumer.

Contrast Ratio very high very high medium high
Typ. Brightness 600+ cd/m2 750+
Longevity (hours) TBD 2-4k
30k** 30k**
Burn-in No No No† Yes
Viewing Angle 160°+ 170° 160°+ 170°
Fully Digital Display Yes Yes Yes Yes
Refresh Rate < 6ms NA < 12ms* < 8ms
Max Resolution 1080p 1080p* 1080p 1080p*
Weight (lbs) lightest medium light medium
Set Depth < 1-2" 6.5" - 24" 2"+ 3" - 7"
Screen Size < 10" 43" - 73"* < 82"* < 103"*
Power consumption Very Low Medium Low Medium
*Fairly new development noticed at CES 2006
** Expected LCD backlight lifespan or plasma half-life; note: differs from manufacturer claims
†† Plasma "real-world" measurements after calibration are considerably lower

Contrast Ratio medium medium highest highest
Typ. Brightness 750+
Longevity (hours) 2-4k
TBD 20k+
Burn-in No No No No†
Viewing Angle 180° 170° 180° 180°
Fully Digital Display Yes Yes Yes No
Refresh Rate < 8ms* < 8ms* < 2ms NA
Max Resolution 1080p 1080p 1080p 1080i
Weight (lbs) medium medium medium heavy
Set Depth 24" - 30" 13" - 20" < 4" 16" - 30"
Screen Size < 82" < 70" TBD < 42"
Power consumption Medium Low Low High
*Fairly new development noticed at CEDIA 2006
† Fixed images can result in burn-in over long-term (unusual)


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