LCD, Plasma, and LED Televisions Compared

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LCD, Plasma, and LED Televisions Compared

Staff Writer · Oct 4, 2010

Most televisions sold today fall into one of three types: LCD, LED televisions, or plasma. Before choosing a new television set to purchase, it is important to understand the differences in these technologies.

LCD Televisions

LED and LCD televisions use similar technologies. Both types use a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen—technically, they are both LCD units. The difference lies in the method of backlighting, which can dramatically change the quality and performance of the set.

An LCD television uses some sort of non-LED backlighting, such as fluorescent tubes or flat arrays of lights, that provide a relatively even light source across the entirety of the screen. This light is always on, so long as the television is on.

To create areas of black in the picture, the screen must switch off the LCD pixels on the screen to block the light source. For this reason, LCD screens often do not have as great a contrast ratio, and the blacks are not as deep, as with other types of screens. The technology also suffers from a loss of contrast if the screen is viewed at an angle.

LED Televisions

Although an LED television (also known as a “LED-lit LCD TV”) shares the same screen technology as its LCD cousin, it uses a different lighting technology. With most LED sets, the screen is lit by a bank of light emitting diodes behind the screen. This is the same type of lighting used in LED flashlights and LED traffic lights.

Unlike with conventional LCD televisions, the television can independently control the backlight level at different areas of the screen. In a dark area of the picture (say, a night sky) the backlight can be turned down, to create a much deeper black. As a result, LED televisions with this “local dimming technology” can achieve very high contrast ratios.

LED televisions also tend to perform better at a sharp viewing angle than traditional LCD televisions. Some (but not all) are even able to change the color of the backlighting, which allows for better color accuracy.

Plasma Televisions

Plasma televisions seem quite similar to LCD/LED televisions, at first glance. Both are similarly priced, and both are physically flat and wide. However, the technology inside could not be more different.

Plasma screens contain thousands of tiny pixels containing gases that glow when electrically charged, much like a fluorescent light. Because of this, they are able to control the light power at every pixel, like LED televisions, which create very deep blacks and rich contrast ratios.

Plasma screens can display these levels of contrast at almost any angle, unlike LCD/LED screens, so that a viewer at the end of the couch sees the same picture as the viewer in front-and-center. The individual pixel control also allows plasma screens to create the broadest, most accurate color spectrum. Additionally, plasma screens respond better than LCD/LED screens to moving images, with fewer artifacts.

Unlike LCD/LED screens, however, plasma screens are not intensely bright This can be important if considering a television for brightly-lit rooms.

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