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LED/LCD vs. Plasma HDTV: A Side by Side Comparison

By Chris Chiarella

Panasonic embraced CEDIA Expo not only as an opportunity to reveal their new 85-inch plasma, a new Blu-ray home theater system and their prototype 103-inch full HD 3D TV, but also to tout the prowess of plasma in an increasingly LCD world. Plenty of side-by-side demos were set up in their private suite at The Atlanta Hilton, none more compelling than a synchronized playback of The Dark Knight on Blu-ray on both a Panasonic plasma and a competitor's high-end LED-lit LCD TV (aka "LED TV").

We started out in the very specific "sweet spot" of the LCD, and frankly there was little difference between the two displays. But moving just one step to the side exposed significant shifts in the color of the LCD, worsening the further I moved. The motion smoothing applied to the LCD TV's image also imparted an unnatural look like sub-standard video instead of film, and on a solid test pattern the plasma showed even, consistent black (good uniformity) while the LCD, well, didn't.

LCD TVs have made great strides in the past few years, with LED backlighting, 120 Hz and 240 Hz motion processing, but have they displaced plasma as the picture quality leader?

One of the most striking differences between the two was something we tend to take for granted, namely the black bars top and bottom on letterboxed movies. The bars remained a constant black on the plasma while those on the LCD would routinely shift between black and shades of gray depending upon the brightness of the movie scene in the middle! 

Of course, there are advantages of LED-lit LCD TVs over plasma TVs which Panasonic did not dwell on, namely overall performance in brightly lit rooms, as well as overall power efficiency.  But I found myself scratching my head more than once thinking about how many people choose to buy LCD TVs over plasma for their home theater systems, even at higher prices.   

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