Picking between LCD vs. Plasma vs. Projection

A frequent question I receive is “which HDTV should I buy?” The answer is not simple and represents a significant monetary investment. Sure, a bunch of future displays were probably just announced and there is always something better on the horizon, but at some point it’s time to pick a technology and pull the trigger. Due to my price and space considerations, most people focused on HDTV displays ranging from 42″-50″ that are available at most local big box retailers. This write-up summarizes the general recommendation I give when someone asks me the question.

Flat Panel or Rear Projection or Front Projection?
This is a decision you have to make based on how much space you want to devote to the display, how much time you want to devote to installation, and how much budget you have.

  • In general, I recommend Flat Panels. I generally lean toward these because a flat panel has the smallest footprint possible (actually, zero footprint since it’s installed on the wall) and the highest spouse acceptance factor.
  • On the other hand, Rear Projection offers a larger screen for a lower price and screen size is important if you’re going to have an appropriately wide field-of-view. The installation is easier than front projectors but the footprint (floor space requirement) is much higher than other options and larger models can be difficult to get into a basement.
  • Front projection offers a giant screen size for a very reasonable price. However, you must have total light control and you must be willing to perform an intensive install.

Assuming you chose a Flat Panel: LCD or Plasma?
I must admit, I’ve always been a plasma purist. I’ve always admired their extremely black blacks and unequaled ANSI contrast ratio. If you’re going to be watching your TV exclusively in a dark room, plasma is definitely the way to go. But I already have a dedicated home theater with a front projection system. When I want to watch TV outside of my home theater isolation chamber, I want to do it with the lights on and in the daylight. These lighting conditions are the downfall of plasma. All plasmas have a glass front panel on them. When they produce those amazing black levels for which they are famous, the front panel becomes extremely mirror-like. So you can easily see reflections from your windows and any lamp that is beside or behind you (when you’re in front of the TV.) LCDs, on the other hand, have a matte finish on the front. This results in great diffusion and almost total elimination of glare. LCDs are also brighter than plasmas. This combination of features makes LCD the much better choice if you aren’t going to darken your room every time you watch. Summary:

  • LCD is better if there are windows or lights in the room because of the matte screen finish. New models, especially the 120Hz models released in mid-2007, have much fewer problems with blurring when viewing sports or video games. If you want to connect to a computer, an LCD with direct pixel mapping is your best bet (search AVSforum for details.)
  • Plasma offers amazing black levels and, in general, a slightly better picture than LCD. If you are in a completely dark room with no potential for screen reflections, plasma is a great choice. Burn-in is not really a problem anymore unless you watch Home Shopping Network (with a single-color bar across the bottom) 100% of the time. (Most network icons in the lower corner are semi-transparent and don’t cause burn-in.)

This is the best advice I have to offer on digital flat panels — but be sure to go the stores and look at these displays yourself with your own eyes — and let me know if you come to a different conclusion. Also, one you’ve picked a model or two, be sure to spend and hour or two reading owner feedback on AVSforum.

If you’re wondering how large a screen you should purchase, bigger is always better. See my home theater calculator for details.

Written by in: Home Theater | Last updated on: 2014-May-27 |


  • ram says:

    Thank you Carlton for all the information, but as a beginner the information you provided is little bit overwhelming. I am currently using a 27 inch crt tv and planning to buy a new one. And as everybody else, i am confused with the wide array of different technologies, and options in the market. I have decided to either go for 46 inch LCD or PLASMA and I am not able to decide on the resolution, whether I should go for 720p or 1080P. I don’t play video games and just use my tv to watch movies and other tv programs. I saw some questions in this forum about there are not enough movies or tv programs coming in 1080P. Would it be waste if i go for 1080p at this point? Or if i buy 720p, am i going for an old technology?

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Ram: All digital displays use progressive output, so every input (whether is it 480i or 1080i) is deinterlaced and displayed progressively. This is true for all digital panels. Also, 1080i inputs can be perfectly deinterlaced to produce the original 1080p signal. Since there is a large amount of 1080i content available, have a 1080 panel is worth it. Don’t get confused by the p/i because everything comes out 1080p on flat panels.

    In regards to which resolution to pick, higher resolution is always better. But if you sit far, far away from your TV, there is no need to waste money on higher resolutions. Look at my 1080p Does Matter – Here’s When (Screen Size vs. Viewing Distance vs. Resolution) article to figure out the seating distance/resolution/screen size recommendation.

  • Devon K says:

    Got to disagree with the statement that there are no motion artifacts with the 120hz LCDs. I have been viewing a lot of sets lately at the stores and while the 120hz LCDS are better than the 60hz versions they are still way behind the better plasmas in this regard. I looked at 120hz LCDs from LG, Sony, etc and none came close to Pioneer’s 5080 plasma for motion accuracy. If you watch sports or action movies – stay away from LCD, you get a nasty smearing effect with rapicd motion.

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Devon: Thanks for that info; I’d written this prior to the 120 Hz sets being available and hadn’t had a chance to review one. I’ve updated the post based on your feedback.

  • Musky Hunter says:

    Just Purchased a Panasonic TH50PZ85U and the glare from my rear windows/sliding door is very noticable on both the screen and black piano finish.

    Once you get caught up in a show you don’t notice it. No one in my family notices it except me.

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