Plasma vs. LCD Revisited: Screen Glare is Still the Deciding Factor

I just ran across an article on DigtalHome.ca [via Engadget HD] singing the praises of Plasma over LCD. Although I agree with most of the points, there are a couple with which I completely disagree. In fact, both of the posts seem to be overly-biased toward plasma, to the point that it is almost misinformation. Here are the points with which I disagree, which are probably major enough to push most people to pick LCD over Plasma.

Screen Glare and Dealing with Ambient Light

Taken from the article:

LCD superior in brighter rooms – simply speaking plasma is glass with white phosphors behind it. The result is that a mirror effect can take place when extremely bright light shines on plasma. This mirror effect can make it more difficult to see the images on the screen under extremely bright situations. This situation often occurs inside a big box retailer’s showroom which can be as much as five times brighter than a typical living room! In your average living room where the ambient light level is much lower there is little need for a “brighter” panel.

In general, plasmas have better pictures than LCD, as long as your viewing environment doesn’t make the picture unwatchable. If you windows in your room or light on in your room, the glossy glass front surface of a plasma screen will produce mirror-like reflections that compete with the image being displayed. For birght scenes with a lot of colors, it is distracting. For dark scenes with not so much contrast, it makes a plasma unwatchable.

As for “big box retailers being 5x brighter than a typical living room”, this is complete misinformation. Most living rooms have windows and lights; I’ve never been in a Best Buy, Circuit City, Wal-Mart, Target, or any similar store with outside windows, much less with windows close to the TV display area. In fact, the last Best Buy I visited had panels of dark fabric above the entire TV area to prevent direct glare from the overhead lights. How many living rooms have that?

Cost Comparison

Taken from the article:

Lower cost – this one is self explanatory. Visit your local big box retailer and compare the price of a 50” LCD flat panel or 50” plasma from a major manufacturer and you will find that plasma is less expensive. Why pay more when you don’t need to!

A search of BestBuy.com 50″-59″ 1080p panels showed the lowest priced Plasma and LCD being the same at $2999. Of the 6 lowest priced panels, 3 were plasma and 3 were LCD. At 40″-49″, there were 34 LCDs on only 1 Plasma, and it wasn’t the least expensive. At 58″, however, Plasma was less expensive.

Viewing Angle

Taken from the article:

Better viewing angles – when buying LCD televisions’, buyers often encounter the term viewing angle. With LCD televisions, as you move off centre, the contrast levels fall. At a 45 degree angle, contast ratios for an LCD televisions drop 80%. To witness this phenomenon, simply stand in front of an LCD television and slowly move to the side of the room. As you move away from the center the image will appear more washed out because more light is spilling through the plastic shutters. With plasma, the contrast ratio is constant regardless of the viewing angles so the picture looks great regardless of where you are sitting in the room.

This is true for older LCDs, but not with newer panels. I just looked at my Mitsubishi LT-46131 straight-on and at 85 degrees off axis. There was a very slight drop in color accuracy and no noticeable drop in contrast ratio. I fail to see how plasma are greatly superior in this area. If you care about picture quality, sit in front of the screen. But if you do have to sit off-axis, you probably will not notice much, if any, difference for either plasma or LCD.

Conclusion

The recommendations from my previous post stand. If you have windows or a lot of lights in your room, an LCD (almost all have a matte screen finish) is much better than a plasma. Plus, LCDs are generally brighter, giving even more advantage in bright situations. An LCD will give a better picture in bright rooms.

If you have a completely light-controlled room, go for plasma and enjoy the better picture quality that a plasma will yeild in that environment.

Exceptions to this rule: the newest Samsung 71/81 Series LCDs have a glossy glass finish to enhance contrast ratios. Just as with Plasma, this is great for dark rooms and terrible for bright rooms.

Buying Advice: Be sure to turn a display off and evaluate/compare a blank screens for reflections and glare before making a final purchase decision.

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

36 Comments »

  • Ross says:

    I took your suggestions when I was shopping for my new TV. I looked at the room and location it was going into, and decided there was too much ambient light for me to feel happy buying a plasma – I tend to get bothered by glossy reflections and didn’t think I wanted to spend the next few years cursing the sun whenever I tried to watch TV during the day.

    I tested and my viewing angle is good to about 70-75 degrees off the perpendicular on my flat panel LCD with no real loss of quality in color/contrast. Plenty for my space, since the TV is located in the corner of the room and you can’t even get to a 75 degree angle without busting a hole in the wall (or turning the TV).

    The only thing slightly unsatisfactory with my final choice is the black levels sometimes are a little washed out, especially with regular standard definition programming…but I knew I was going to get that when I bought the LCD over the plasma, and I’m not too bothered by it.

  • chris says:

    I’ve been trying to evaluate my old plasma ( panasonic TH-42PD60U ) since these debates have been circulating.

    Here is what I have found in my plasma based non-HT environment:

    x Direct sunlight on the plasma screen results in near washout. I remember this being true of CRT’s. Is this not the case for lcd? Regardless if a mirror effect happens, I refuse to watch video while direct sunlight is pouring on a screen.

    x Indirect/ambient sunlight in room cause contrast ratio reduced, especially in blacks. Watchable video but not great for movie viewings. I suspect if I closed all eight(!) blinds in my living room that viewings would be a little better, but I’m too lazy. 🙂

    x Evening viewings provided best contrast and colors. If viewer was off-axis and some bright lights were on in another room, glare could be detected. This situation would normally not exist and on-axis viewer would not see this glare.

    The tales of burn-in and half-life have not come true for the last 2 years so I assume that is all first generation rumor. My next upgrade will look more carefully how the current technology deals with these environments.

  • chris says:

    *sigh* Sorry about the strikes. 🙂

  • Carlton Bale says:

    No problem, I fixed your comment formatting. 🙂

    You are correct, direct sunlight on the screen makes it almost completely washed-out. Since LCDs are a bit brighter than plasmas, it is not quite as bad, but there is no solution for direct sunlight on the screen either way.

    With Plasma (and CRT), if you have movable lights, you position them so that they don’t produce screen glare for the choice seating positions. For LCD, it really doesn’t matter where the lights are positioned, because the matte screen finish will pretty much eliminate the glare. In my family room (not the home theater), there are a bunch of recessed lights in the ceiling, lights along the bar, and 3 very large windows along one side. No matter where I positioned my old CRT TV, it was either annoying or unwatchable, depending on the time of day. The LCD I have now has eliminated all but the most sever direct sunlight problem, and I can still watch the LCD even with sunlight shining on it because it is only on a portion of the screen.

    I agree that in a dark room, a plasma can’t be beat and the LCD makers have generated a lot of misinformation regarding burn-in, power consumption, etc. If you can control the lighting in the room, plasma is ideal. Otherwise, LCD has the fewest distractions.

  • Peter Varinsky says:

    Are the reflections on a CRT screen comparable to a plasma screen? Glass vs. glass, or does plasma have a different reflection layer?

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Peter: Based on CRTs I’ve owned and Plasmas I’ve evaluated, the two are very similar in terms of reflections on the front glass. The only difference I noticed was that plasma glass is flat and most CRTs have curved glass, making the CRT just a bit more likely to have glare.

  • David says:

    I recently picked up a new Panasonic 50″ plasma at Costco. I was returning to Costco a defective 50″ Panasonic 50″ plasma bought in early 2006. The old plasma was sitting in a room with a lot of ambient light and, like you say, the screen reflections could be distracting especially in dark scenes. But the new Panasonic plasma (at least the one I bought at Costco a few weeks ago) has a matte finish that looks significantly better in the same ambient-light environment.

    Are you aware of these new matte plasmas? How do you think they compare to LCDs? Thanks…

  • Carlton Bale says:

    David: I did not know that the new Panasonic models had a matte finish on the screen. This is definitely an improvement for bright rooms. When I last compared models was last February, and the only company with a matte finish on a Plasma screen was Samsung. I compared it to an LCD, and I would say it was about 10% better than a standard glossy plasma (the Pioneer next to it) but not where near as matte as any of the LCD screen. A matte finish does degrade the image slightly in a perfect viewing environment (completely dark room) but makes the image much more watchable in bright rooms. Hopefully I’ll be able to check-out the new Panasonic plasmas and compare the new matte finishes they offer. Thanks for the info!

  • David says:

    Carlton, if you go to Costco you should be able to see the exact model(s) that I am talking about. I think you are probably right that the LCD matte is better, but in my experience (from my old glossy Panasonic to the new glossy Panasonic, both Costco models), I would have to say that the improvement is much better than 10%. Someone told me that matte plasmas cost about $200 more in cases where they are optional–I have not confirmed that, but it is what I heard. In any case, the Panasonic model at Costco which I recently got was matte and there was no glossy “option” (being Costco, the selection is limited). Thanks for your excellent site.

  • MTG says:

    Carlton….first of all….you are incorrect in saying that the article was “incorrect”. In general, LCD’s DO in fact have a distortion of image qualit when viewing from angles. All depends on the certain panel technology being used, but the point is…is that aside from “some”, many lcd’s do in fact suffer from this problem still. Fact. So you are wrong in saying that the article was wrong in their generalization, which they were not wrong.

    Secondly, you were also incorrect in your input about the brightness of being in a store. IN GENERAL, my friend, the brightness IS much brighter in a store. You…seem to suffer from using a pin-pointed “one example” to complete your comments, and this is just elementary for you to do. Stores are brighter in general than any given living room. Period. You were wrong here, as well.

    Lastly, according to the Imaging Science Foundation, who negotiate with Home Theater companies, and who train professional video calibrators, list the three most important aspects to picture quality.

    1. Contrast Ratio.
    2. Color Saturation.
    3. Color Accuracy.

    Distant fourth is…believe it or not…resolution. So, in my honest opinion, plasma IS in fact superior in terms of picture quality, for they do display better colors, and deeper blacks…IN GENERAL.

    geez….feel like i gotta say “in general” all the time to this guy who CONCLUDES on just one example out of tons of examples.

  • Jeremy says:

    I’m definitely no expert in the LCD vs Plasma debate but I can state with 100% accuracy that my local Best Buy and Circuit City have significantly dimmed the TV sections. Very noticeable and obvious. Common sense dictates it’s probably a store by store decision.

    Really though does the “store light” debate even matter? Isn’t the general consensus that LCD performs better in rooms with a lot of light or sunlight? Plus Carlton states several times that Plasma offers the best viewing experience in the ideal setup.

    I guess I’m just a “normal” viewer that wants the best picture in my living room with tons of windows.

  • Ivan says:

    Hi Carlton,

    I just posted in your other post, but this post seems better for the lcd vs plasma argument.. just wondering if I can get your opinion…

    I’m thinking of getting either plasma or LCD… just FYI, I’ll be viewing from about 7 ft from the screen.. I did a bit research and it seems that either 42″ or 46″ screen would be sufficient..

    Also, I will be using the TV mainly for watching blu rays, games (ps3) and watching football (or sports in general)

    I heard that plasma won’t have any blurring problems, since their response time really close to CRT, but prone to burn-in… in another hand, LCD will not have burn in problems, but have slow pixel response time..

    I guess my question is, for my current viewing distance (abt 7 ft), would the blurring in LCD be a problem? Is it really significant compared to plasma? I’m planning to get last year’s Samsung model (refurb) with 8ms response time… would this be good enough for fast moving actions? is there a big difference compared to plasma (also samsung)? last thing, would 46″ gives me a headache from 7ft? or would I be better off with 42″?

    I’m not really concerned with 720p or 1080p, I just don’t want to get headaches because of the blurriness…esp when watching fast action sports..

    just wondering if anyone that has the similar setup are willing to share their experience… any help would be appreciated…

    Thank you beforehand!

  • Carlton Bale says:

    Ivan, there’s a lot of person-to-person variation. To know for you, you should test the LCD itself and see if it is acceptable. I know that JVC is known to be the most gamer-friendly model and generally has the fastest response time. As for the screen size, bigger is better. I’d recommend going 50″ if possible.

  • Ivan says:

    Hey Carlton thanks for the quick response!

    What do you think about the 8ms pixel response time then? Do you think that’s fast enough for fast actions? I meant, newer models have 5ms and 2ms response time, but they cost thousand of dollars more.. just wondering if the result’s really significant to upgrade (from 8ms to 5ms per say)

    Also, from your standpoint, how would you compare lcds with 8ms response time to plasma?

    Sorry to be a nag..

  • Carlton Bale says:

    8ms is technically fast enough that you should notice any blurring, but I think that is a best-case number. I’ve read a couple of different reviews talking about blurring and/or the “triple football effect” on current-model Samsung displays. For gaming and sports, plasma or a new and faster LCD is probably a better option. Price is always the trade-off, but a larger size (50″+) and 1080p resolution are also great to have for gaming as well.

  • Ivan says:

    thanks a lot…

    my set’s gonna arrive tomorrow… I’m gonna play around with it for a week or two, and if it doesn’t look right I’m just gonna return in for a plasma…

  • Kettie says:

    Its a great post and useful also because today everybody want to buy shopping goods online.
    Thanks for such an helpful post.

  • Sam Jones says:

    hi, i don’t know if anyones still reading this post but i wandered…
    With LCD tv’s do they appear dark if you watch them from a lower angle. So say watching it while lieing in bed?

  • Carlton Bale says:

    It depends on the LCD TV, but in general slight off axis viewing like you are describing is not a problem with even worst LCD TV.

  • Bruce Hillberry says:

    I purchased a 40 inch LCD 3 years ago, with a matte finish on the screen, no glare at all. The sun can shine right on the scree and no glare. It’s impossible to find a matte finish LCD screen now. They all have a glossy finish, some more glare than others. Please bring back the matte screens. I upgraded to a 52 inch and now have glare to deal with.

    • Carlton Bale says:

      It is unfortunate that most LCDs are now glossy. The LG LCDs are an exception; they still have the matte finish as well as great picture quality, LED-backlight options, and very reasonable prices. I highly recommend LGsto anyone in the market for a new flat panel.

  • Jeffrey says:

    I am trying to decide between a plasma and LCD-LED. I would get a 40-42 inch set, unless I go with the Mitsubishi, in which case I can get the 46 inch due to its smaller edging and thus lower width (needs to fit into a certain space). The set is in a living room where we do not have curtains. TV is watched in daytime on weekend, nights otherwise. Also, one of our couches is at a 45-60 degree angle to the set. Can’t figure out if I should go with plasma and suffer the glare or LCD-LED and suffer the clarity with viewing from the side.

    Is there a good 42″ or so plasma with a good matte covering to cut down on glare? Likewise, is there a good 42″ LCD-LED with some sort of compensation to allow for side viewing? Specifics would be much appreciated. Thank you.

  • Dave says:

    Do any of the LCD 2010 models have matte screens? The reviews on the new LG Infinia line talk about a glossy screen.

    • Carlton Bale says:

      I don’t know of any specific 2010 models that have matte screens. Thin is in, and sticking a sheet of (highly reflective) glass across the front seems to facilitate a thinner profile.

  • Dave says:

    Thanks. Looks like I’ll have to grab an LG LH90 before they disappear. I’m tired of looking at my reflection in my Mitsu Plasma while watching TV.

  • nick chan says:

    wow old article but informative. glare is definitely the deciding factor. how i wish I could watch movies on a Pioneer Kuro plasma. but anyhow, majority LCD TV buyers are satisfied with their purchase. Good enough for everything including fast gaming. LCD is a “safer” buy. the colors are good enough.

    buy a cheap 42″ 720p LCD TV and be content with it people !!

  • buy Cheap Samsung HDTV 1080p TVs deals says:

    Thanks you for sharing..

  • Ken says:

    My wife bought me a new Sony 46″ 3D LED TV for Christmas. Beautiful setup w. beautifully clear screen. Problem: glare. After shutting all the shades in our family room, we were still left w. terrible glare from our sliding glass doors that have no shade. In the end, I returned the Sony and replaced it with a 47″ LG LED panel w. matte finish. Incredible improvement! For me, the Sony high gloss TV was a disaster

    • Carlton Bale says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I can’t believe how many manufacturers are going away from matte screens. I guess maybe the look better in the store, and maybe keep the display a few mm thinner.

  • Ping Jing says:

    Great info here! Most appreciated. I am deciding between LED and PLASMA. I am putting the 55″ TV at the north end of a 25 foot room. At the far south end and far south/east end of the room there are big windows. However, I don’t expect any direct sunlight on the TV. But the room will be reasonably light during the day. Would you recommend LED or PLASMA? Thanks in advance!!!

  • Bobby orr says:

    Great blog. I’m really want a plasma TV but I’m concerned about the glare — I have an old CRT TV in the room and I can’t say I’ve ever had any problems with glare. Does this mean I should be okay with plasma?

    • Carlton Bale says:

      Yes, you will probably be OK. Both have similar front glass.

    • Richard says:

      Bobby & Carlton
      Just this morning, I looked at some plasma TVs in a retail home theater setting. The Panasonic 58VT25 had minimal reflections, comparable to what the old LCDs had. The reflections seen on the metal frame next to the screen were not evident at all on the screen. Store guy said it was due to Panasonic technology engineered into the set. Didn’t have time to get into details with him. But it sure seemed that the reflectivity of the screen was much less than other plasmas that I have seen.

      BTW, the Sony 60-inch LED (last years model on close-out, Model No.??) has a non-glare screen. It’s the only low-glare one I saw on display. Best way to check for glare (without asking to have the set turned off) is to bend down so that the ceiling light reflect on the screen.

  • Smash says:

    Really good info. I went ahead with the plasma ($599 for a Samsung 50″ – comparable LCD was $900+) and am pleased as punch with the picture quality. It’s gorgeous.
    My living room is pretty bright so if I watch during the day, I bought a set of “black out” curtains for the one window that effects the TV glare. Works beautifully. Glare is such that it’s not interfering with picture quality. I watch most of my TV at night so not really an issue.

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