In the cutthroat, deflationary world of consumer electronics, the debate over which flat-panel TV technology is superior is taking a backseat to price.
LCD seems poised to win out over plasma. According to the latest data from research firm DisplaySearch, shipments of cell-type LCD TV panels are forecast to increase by 30 percent in 2011, on top of the 270 million units the top manufacturers shipped this year.
Experts, however, say plasma flat-panel TVs have the superior technology.
“Most video purists prefer plasma for the best picture quality,” says Paul Gagnon, Display Search’s Director of North America TV Research.
While the two sets actually look similar at first glance—both are typically wall-mountable and feature a sleek bezel design—internally the technology is quite different.
Plasma uses a matrix of tiny gas plasma cells charged by precise electrical voltages to create a picture, whereas LCD uses a process that features layers of liquid crystal pushed in the space between two glass plates. Both produce excellent picture quality, but purists note deeper blacks with plasma, and in turn truer colors.
So how did LCD win out as the dominant HDTV format? Big box retailers—Best Buy, Wal MartCostco and Target — could be a big factor.
“Plasma doesn’t look that good on the retail show floor because of the overhead lighting in the stores,” says Greg Tarr, executive editor of the consumer electronics industry trade magazine TWICE. “The retailers should put it in a dark corner.”
This partly explains how plasma won over early adopters when it was carried by specialized retailers with optimized settings, only to lose ground as LCD arrived in the larger stores where the sets were placed side by side.
As Tarr notes, “LCD looks good in rooms with bright lights. And those stores have bright lights.”
The other factor is that LCD has been more aggressively marketed to consumers. Until just a few years ago plasma was also the only game in town for larger-screen sizes in a flat panel format.
LCD Technology was really limited to screen sizes of 37-inches or less, while plasma was also available in the larger sizes of 42-inches and above. Then LCD came on, and the game changed.