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What is the Difference Between Plasma and LCD?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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One of the greatest confusions in the television market today comes from the two major types of newer television display technologies competing against each other, plasma and LCD. While, on the surface, it may not look like there is much of a difference between plasma and LCD, looks can be deceiving. Each has its own technology and its own pros and cons.

The main difference between plasma and LCD monitors and televisions is how the pixels are lighted up. In plasma screens, plasma gas is used to excite visible light photons, which produce color on the screen through the lighting of the pixels into different colors. Thus, it is actually a gas that is responsible for the images one sees on a plasma televisions.

The technology for LCD screens is somewhat different. Each pixel has three colors: red, green and blue. LCD televisions require a backlight. However, the liquid crystals, when energized, block certain colors in the pixels from showing, or at least showing as much. This produces the desired color. The main difference with LCD televisions is the backlight is always on.

The decision between plasma and LCD comes down to a matter of personal preference. LCD, which was never meant for video displays, has a slower refresh rate than plasma. Thus, the criticism is that fast-moving images can sometimes show what are referred to as ghosts, images that have not cleared themselves completely from vision. However, the technology has improved over the years to refresh rates that are very comparable to plasma.

Some prefer LCD televisions because they weigh less and use less energy than do plasma screens. However, both types of display technologies weigh less than conventional televisions, so there is always a net gain when going from traditional to the newer technology. However, for wall mounting, LCDs are usually much simpler.

Plasma televisions, because there is no competing backlight for distorting any of the colors, produce much truer colors. For those who are truly interested in getting the most lifelike colors possible, the plasma technology is nearly comparable to the old CRT technology. Plus, there is an additional benefit of having a sharp, clean picture to view, much more so than a traditional television display can deliver.

For those living at higher altitudes, there are also considerations when considering plasma and LCD. The gas in a plasma set acts somewhat differently at higher altitudes and could produce a distorted view. The LCD television does not have this problem. Therefore, LCD sets may be preferred in mountainous areas.

In the end, for most viewers, the differences between plasma and LCD are a matter of academic debate. Most will find the difference between traditional displays and these newer displays to be so much greater that the differences between plasma and LCD pale in comparison. However, doing a little research before buying will help ensure the consumer gets the best product they can afford, and one especially suited to their purposes.

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Discussion Comments
By anon146158 — On Jan 25, 2011

LCD televisions are very impressive, and look amazing.

I'm not sure about in the US, but in the UK, LCD televisions are a lot cheaper.

By anon136125 — On Dec 21, 2010

@cinder- i am not sure how correct your information is, I bought an LCD a few years ago because i was told the same things you mentioned above. Well less than four years after i bought it, it had the "turning off tv" words that come up when powering off burnt into the screen. So LEDs do very easily get images burnt in. And also from what I've seen LCDs are quite a bit more expensive than Plasmas are. Not the opposite.

I'm not sure if I'll buy another LCD. Also since you have a small child, I'm pretty sure plasmas have glass screens and LCD's don't and while this first appears to be a drawback, after my two year old son scratched our LCD with a pen, I'm starting to reconsider that assumption.

By submariner — On Jul 16, 2010

@ Cinder- When I upgraded my television I had to decide if I would buy a plasma or LCD TV. I weighed the pros and cons of energy consumption, picture quality, and maintenance expenses. In the end, I decided to buy an LED LCD TV.

LED LCD's use about a third less energy than an equivalent plasma. The screen door effect (pixilation at extreme angles) that is so common on LCDs is less prevalent on the LED LCD TVs. LCDs also do not suffer from the rainbowing effect that afflicts plasmas when viewing at an angle.

The fragile nature of plasma TVs, as you pointed out, were also a big turn off. I have a small child, and I could just picture her throwing something into the screen during a tantrum.

By cinder — On Feb 21, 2010

Another con for Plasma is that an image can get "burned in", whereas the LCD doesn't have that problem. And price! A plasma costs tons more than an LCD tv!

Also not mentioned is that the plasma screen is very fragile, a fair bump on the screen can damage hundreds of the tubes which usually requires the entire screen to be replaced.

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