Sound Advice: The differences between plasma and LED-LCD TVs

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Question: If plasma TVs provide superior viewing quality, why are they consistently $300 to $500 less expensive than LED-LCD TVs of similar size and brand names? That doesn't make sense.

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Answer: Plasma is less expensive to manufacture in larger screen sizes, which is where you find plasma since they typically start around 42 inches. I know it seems paradoxical that plasma is better than LED-LCD as well as less expensive, but that's simply the way it is.

If you do some research beyond my column, you will see that the opinion "plasma is the best" is near universal among home theater buffs and in home theater magazines. Even Consumer Reports is on the plasma bandwagon, especially for 3D HDTVs.

Not many companies stuck with plasma to master the technology the way Panasonic, Samsung and LG have. It's a bit of a shame because modern plasma is so very good. Part of plasma technology is actually rather mature. Plasma uses phosphors to create the image, just like our old CRT tube TVs. The phosphors emit light themselves, which provides a wide viewing angle and create very accurate color and contrast. Once you are used to plasma, many LCD and LED-LCD sets can look kind of cartoonish and artificial.

Discussing CRT and phosphors reminds me of a recent experience illustrating how far along HDTV has come, and how quickly. A few months ago I upgraded to a 55-inch Panasonic ST50 plasma in my bedroom. Soon after it was installed, I realized that my first HDTV was also a 55-inch, a Mitsubishi WS-55859 projection set with a built-in tuner. I purchased it in 2002 for $4,600. It was huge, weighed 300 pounds and had to be wheeled around on the casters on the bottom of the cabinet,

I looked at my 55-inch ST50 and marveled. The 55-inch ST50 can be purchased for less than $1,300, about a fourth of what my Mitsubishi sold for 10 years ago. It weighs less than 100 pounds, has 3D and wireless Internet, and is thin and light enough that two people can move it around easily. It can be mounted on a wall so it conserves room space and the picture quality is also better than my old Mitsubishi. It will also last much longer, almost 30 years to have brightness on the screen. One of my Mitsubishi tubes went out in seven years and the TV was scrapped.

In perhaps what is a sign of the times, there is one desirable feature on my old Mitsubishi that is no longer available. The Mitsubishi had a FireWire connection that allows for the recording of high definition TV on D-VHS tapes. (D-VHS is digital VHS, which looks just like a regular VHS tape but records four hours of HD video.)

The content providers (at least in the United States) don't like home viewers to be able to record and archive on their own media, and as a result you don't find FireWire any longer. Compare this to Japan, where home Blu-ray recording in high definition is common.

Hopefully one day we will have the same abilities as our friends overseas, but in the words of an industry rep I discussed this with, "Don't hold your breath."

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Read product reviews by Don Lindich at soundadviceblog.com.


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