Chesapeake Home Theatre & Hi-Fi

Larry Dent is the owner of Chesapeake Home Theatre & Hi-Fi.

These articles were written for the Islander Weekly.

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Larry's Tech Talk

LCD vs. Plasma vs. DLP, get the picture?

I get asked this question a lot. “What is the best TV in the marketplace these days? The answer is not as black and white as you might think (that was a joke!). Let’s start with DLP technology.

DLP stands for “digital light processing” which is a chipset designed by Texas Instruments and can be found in TVs and front projectors and probably other consumer electronics. DLP sets are actually rear projection TVs that are about 15” deep depending on the actual unit. They’re not as deep as older tube TVs, but not as slim as LCDs and Plasmas. If you bought a DLP set a few years ago you have a large TV and saved money compared to the other technologies back then. You also have a bulb to change every couple of years. A DLP bulb lasts around 3000 hours and costs between $200 and $300. The biggest advantage of a DLP TV is size vs. price. If you see a 73” hi-def TV advertised for a very low price, you can bet it is a DLP. Since the prices of plasmas and LCDs have dropped significantly in the past few years, so has the DLP marketshare. Only a few manufacturers still make DLPs.

Liquid Crystal Display TVs have been around longer than you may think. The technology is mature and reliable. They weigh very little (remember what a 32” tube TV weighed?) and can be only a couple of inches deep. Their images are bright, sharp and very nice. They are perfect for your teenager’s Wii, Xbox, or Playstation video games because they are immune to “burn-in”. The video snobs complained that LCDs were weak in their ability to display blacks. That makes sense because how do you create black with light? But really, to the human eye this technology creates a great picture. And if money is no object take a look at the new LED/LCD sets. These are the brightest, thinnest, and sharpest TVs and will make you do a double take. They are so rich in image, they can look almost artificial. Think of an LED/LCD TV as an LCD on steroids. The larger sets, say 42” and above been known to display artifacts or trails. But this was corrected by increasing the re-fresh rate. So if you see a spec that reads 240Hz, that is the increased re-fresh rate while 60Hz would be slowest.

Plasma is a gas technology that has been around for a while. When these TVs first hit the market, they had a short life-span and were ridiculously expensive. But the manufacturers corrected the issues and lowered the costs. Today a Plasma TV has the same life expectancy as an LCD which is about 40 years. Yes, I said 40 years! That is if you have stable power and don’t get surged by a lightening storm. Price wise, a plasma TV costs less than a comparable LCD (LESS, and that is NOT a misprint!). The newer plasmas are even energy star rated. You will get the deepest blacks, sharp images and realistic bright colors. Plasmas inherently have a very fast re-fresh rate (native 600Hz) and are immune to displaying trails. Some people complain about glare, which is due to plasma technology utilizing glass on the front of the TV. Of course glass will reflect light like a mirror where a glass-less LCD TV won’t. But the newer Plasmas have a non-glare coating embedded in the glass to reduce that objection. And while they could develop “burn-in”, there are safeguards built in such as auto shut-off to reduce this possibility. And there are ways to correct burn-in in that unlikely event. There used to be rumors circulating that plasmas needed to be re-charged every couple of years. NOT TRUE! No re-charging necessary.

So which is the best TV to buy these days? While DLP TVs had success, I think we can eliminate that technology for now. And the smallest plasma is 42”, so if you want a TV smaller than that, you are getting an LCD. If you’re looking for an average sized TV, maybe 50” (did I say 50” was average?), you will save money going with plasma. If you really want to show off to your friends, go with an LED/LCD. But understand you will pay a lot more for it. Personally, I like the price/performance of plasma. The images are realistic and prices are at all-time lows. But really, get the TV that looks good to you and is the best deal of the day! Prices can change day to day. If you stick with a known name manufacturer, ultimately you almost can’t go wrong. Get the picture?