LCD vs. plasma TVs, HDTV standards and 1080p silliness

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich
Week 2, 2007

Q: What is the difference between LCD and plasma flat-panel TVs? Also, has an HDTV standard for the US been officially adopted? I am thinking about purchasing a new TV set and am not sure whether it’s wise to do now or wait.

-Frank Humphries, Minneapolis, MN

A: LCD TVs use an LCD panel to create the picture. It’s the same LCD screen technology you find on laptop computerS and digital cameras. Plasma TVs use gas suspended within glass panels and stimulated by an electrical field to create the picture.

Each technology has its advantages. Plasmas tend to have a better picture than LCD TVs, while LCD TVs promise better long-term reliability and freedom from screen burn-in worries. This is not absolute, though. A good LCD TV will have a better picture than a mediocre or poor plasma TV, and a poor quality LCD TV will be less reliable than a good quality plasma.

LCD is available in small sizes such as 15 inches and go up from there, while plasma sets start over 30 inches in size. LCD tends to be more expensive than plasma TVs of the same size. If I was buying one for myself, I would lean plasma because of the better picture quality- the new Panasonics are especially good. In LCD sets Sony, Sharp and Toshiba are all very good, as is Samsung. Bargain shoppers should check out the LCD sets from Westinghouse- they have excellent pictures and are a great value at the asking price.

An HDTV standard has been in place in the United States for years. The new digital television specifications have many different available resuloutions, not all of them HDTV. To be considered HDTV broadcasts must be either 720p (720progressively-scanned lines) or 1080i (1080 interlaced lines).

Readers, take note that I did not list 1080p, the much ballyhooed marketing buzzword these days. That’s because there is no such thing as a 1080p broadcast. The recent marketing blitz by manufacturers with terms such as “1080p True HD” or “1080p Full HD” make me want to send the marketing gurus to the penalty box for a marketing foul that is definitely confusing the public. 1080i is also “Full HD” and “True HD”. 720p is also “Full HD” and “True HD”. All 1080p means is it has 1080 progressively scanned lines. It has the potential to be better than 720p or 1080i, but a well-produced 1080i or 720p signal will look better than a mediocre 1080p signal. And a great 1080i TV will look better than a mediocre 1080p TV. Even will all things being equal, unless you have a very high quality TV or video rojector with a screen bigger than 70 inches it is very unlikely you will see the difference between a 1080i, 720p, or 1080p signal.

Speaking of signals, the only way to get a 1080p signal is with a HD DVD player, Blu-ray player or an expensive outboard video processor. And as some of my readers have started to notice, their 1080p TVs only have 1080i inputs so they can’t even use a 1080p signal with their 1080p TV!   If it is starting to sound like this 1080p buzz is overblown- you are right. Buy a TV by the way it looks to your eyes, not because it has a 1080p sticker.

As for buying a TV now or later- go for it now. Quality is great and prices are not likely to drop much more. Whatever you choose, enjoy your new TV!

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