TV Technology Round-Up :: Plasma versus LCD versus DLP

Yesterday, I answered a couple frequently asked questions about high-definition televisions. Now that you know what HDTV is (you know you want one) you’ll need to determine what type of high-def television to buy. There are 3 technologies to choose from:

I’ll describe how each technology works and detail the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Plasma Display

How It Works
Based loosely on the same technology found in fluorescent lights, plasma televisions consist of cells. Inside each cell are two panels of glass with xenon gas, in plasma form, injected between them. This plasma is then electrically charged and strike red, green, and blue phosphors, also called pixels, which together create the final image.

  • Pros

  • Brilliant Picture

    Nothing compares to a plasma display. They are 4 to 5 times brighter than conventional televisions and have superior contrast ratios. Contrast ratios measure how white is white, and how black is black. A ratio of 1000:1 (which is preferable) means white is represented 1,000 times brighter than black.

  • Instant Picture Response

    Unlike LCD and DLP technology, plasma displays react to changes instantly so motion is smooth.

  • 180°Field of Vision

    No matter where you’re sitting, the picture will always look amazing.

  • Thin

    Plasma televisions have slim, wall-mountable designs, which make more efficient use of any space.


  • Cons

  • Burn In

    Imagine you are playing a fighting game on your favorite game console. Each fighter is moving on the screen, but there are some items, such as your life meter, that remain more static, or unchanging. You’ll experience image retention, or “burn in”, when the display finally does change and you see those static areas carry over to the new screen. Some plasma televisions have a “white flash” option that makes the entire screen white, thereby resetting it. Unfortunately, this feature can shorten the television’s life span.

  • Pixel Failure

    With over 983,000 pixels on the screen, the chance of one or two failing is strong. Each manufacturer has a limit to the number of dead pixels they will accept before considering a unit defective. Make sure to buy a name brand to ensure high initial quality. It’s also possible for pixels to fail over time. If enough pixels fail, overall picture quality will suffer.

  • Size

    If you are looking for a television less than 37 inches, plasma isn’t an option since they only come in larger sizes.

  • Heat

    The phosphors that create a plasma’s stunning image are the also what make it generate more heat that other television technologies.

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

How It Works
LCD televisions are made from two transparent, polarized materials bonded together. One layer holds liquid crystals that react to electricity. This current determines whether light can, or cannot pass through a crystal. Because liquid crystals don’t emit light themselves, a secondary light source, such as a fluorescent light, is used to shine through the matrix of activated crystals to display the final image.

  • Pros

  • No Burn In

    Unlike plasma displays, LCD televisions aren’t susceptible to burn in. As a matter of fact, LCDs excel at displaying static images.

  • Dual Purpose

    LCD televisions can also double as a computer monitor. All three technologies are capable of this, but plasma’s burn in make it a poor choice.

  • Longevity

    LCD televisions have a longer life expectancy than plasma with an average lifespan of 60,000 viewing hours. With regular watching habits, around 8 hours a day, your LCD television can last over 20 years!

  • Thin

    Like plasma, LCD televisions have slim, wall-mountable designs.


  • Cons

  • Limited Viewing Angle

    Unlike plasma displays, LCD televisions are the most sensitive to where you’re seated. As you move from the front of the TV and view it from an angle, the image begins to wash out creating a “screen door effect”.

  • Low Contrast Ratio

    Given the nature of liquid crystals, they can’t block 100% of light to create a rich black. Instead, LCDs produce a dark gray.

  • Motion Delay

    Out of all 3 technologies, LCDs have a noticeable lag when there is movement on the screen. This makes it particularly poor for video games as it leaves artifacts, or ghost images, which make each transition appear blurry.

  • Pixel Failure

    Plasma and LCD both hold the potential for pixel failure or burn out.

  • Price

    LCD televisions are typically more expensive than their equivalent-sized counterparts.

Digital Light Projection (DLP)

How It Works
DLP technology is based on a semiconductor chip called a Digital Micromirror Device (DMD). This chip has a matrix of microscopic sized mirrors, each one representing a pixel, which tilt to reflect, or not reflect light. Depending on the how quickly these mirrors reposition themselves, the DMD chip can recreate 1,024 shades of gray.

Color is added by placing a color wheel in front of this microscopic light show that is divided into 4 sectors: red, green, blue, and one clear sector to boost brightness. This color wheel is synchronized with the DMD to display each color so quickly that each color appears to combine and form one composite, full-color image.

  • Pros

  • Price

    Generally, DLP televisions are cheaper than their LCD or plasma counterparts.

  • Longevity

    Also considered a con, DLP televisions use a light source that can be replaced. It’s much easier to replace a DLP bulb than replace an LCD’s backlight. When a plasma television burns out, it’s time to buy a new television.

  • Brightness

    Even in direct sunlight, DLP televisions produce a more vivid picture than an LCD. Under the same conditions, LCDs again fall victim to the “screen door effect” where colors become less saturated, or washed out.


  • Cons

  • The “Rainbow Effect”

    Only present in single DMD chip DLP televisions, the “Rainbow Effect” can best be described as flashes of red, green, and blue. As mentioned above, each color is reflected one after the other so fast that you normally won’t notice a single color. However, you may catch a glimpse of one as you walk by or out of the corner of your eye.

  • Delay

    Though not as pronounced as LCDs, DLP televisions have a small amount of lag when as they display moving objects.

  • Size

    DLP televisions are not available in a size smaller than 42 inches. They also can’t be mounted to the wall like a plasma or LCD.


So which technology is right for you? It all depends on your goal.

For sheer performance, plasma is the obvious choice. If you’re an avid gamer, DLP is your best option. Or, if you want to put a small television in the kitchen or fit a TV into another tight space, choose an LCD.

See… wasn’t that easy? ;-)

  • Help Me Improve!

  • The only way for my posts to get better is to get your opinion! So help me out, and rate this one! Thanks!
    57 Votes | Average: 4.49 out of 557 Votes | Average: 4.49 out of 557 Votes | Average: 4.49 out of 557 Votes | Average: 4.49 out of 557 Votes | Average: 4.49 out of 5
    Avg. Rating: 4.49 - Total Votes: 57
    Loading ... Loading ...

28 Responses to “TV Technology Round-Up :: Plasma versus LCD versus DLP”

  1. mictubis says:

    Great article. I’ve always been curious about the differences between these technologies, but never had the time to sit down and aggregate it myself. Now I can feel more confident throwing down a few grand on a new television that actually fits my needs.

  2. vargo says:

    Thank You! I started looking for a HD tv and started with Plasmas..Then I found out about the burn in, heat they produce, energy they use & weight. Changed my mind. Went to LCD, but can’t get the screen size I can afford. My daughter mentioned DLP and suggested I do more internet research. I have been to consumers report(s) and they were helpful. But your site has been the most informative. The pros and cons in a listed format made it so much easier than reading one article, then another and another and trying to make sense of them when done was quite a challenge.

  3. Brian says:

    Thanks Vargo! I appreciate your comment!

  4. cherubin says:

    And, what do I do with my 32″ CRT ???

  5. Paul A. Laurenzo says:

    Thanks for the comparisons. I found them to be extremely helpful. Relative to burn-in with plasma, I was told that the new Panasonic 9th generation screen does not have a burn-in problem. Is this true? Thanks, Paul.

  6. Brian says:

    No. Burn-in is still a possibility for any type of plasma screen. However, the newer models aren’t as problematic.

    This came straight from Panasonic. I wasn’t sure… so I asked them! :-) (see below)

    Thank you for your inquiry. Burn-in,” or image retention, is an uneven
    aging of the phosphors in a display device, can occur on any display that uses phosphors to generate an image, including tube TVs, projection TVs that use CRTs, and plasma TVs. Such uneven aging happens when bright, static images are left onscreen for an extended period of time, which can leave a visible “shadow” effect.

    Improvements in panel service life to over 60,000 hours have minimized the risk of image retention. In addition, screen savers, pixel shifting, and brightness level adjustments can dramatically reduce any chance of image retention. Use common sense when it comes to your plasma TV; don’t pause video games or watch TV stations with station logos onscreen for long periods of time, and use one of the many display calibration DVDs available today for properly setting brightness and contrast.

  7. Paul A. Laurenzo says:

    I appreciate your searching for an answer from Panasonic. It was very helpful. Thanks, Paul.

  8. anthony longo says:

    Great article! Wraps just about everything you need to know into a quick, concise guide.

  9. Nelson Rivera says:


    Good article. Thanks for putting this together. I found the reply from Panasonic interesting and controversial at the same time. Did anyone else notice when they were listing their “don’t do’s”? In particular, I like the part where they said, “…or watch TV stations with station logos onscreen for long periods of time…”

    Huh? Most stations (at least the popular one’s, i.e. NBC, ABC, etc) who static logos now-a-days. Am I supposed to stop watching these shows or channels? I guess I have to Tivo it and watch in 15-minute increments.

    Any way, thanks for the information.

  10. Lori In Rockville says:

    Thanks for the info. We have a Zenith 42″ Plasma TV 4 years old and love it. We knew about the possible burn in when we purchased it, and we were instructed not to pause for extended amounts of time, but haven’t had any problem with that yet. Even with his son misunderstanding the instructions we gave him and pausing it anyway.

    However, we are starting to experience a warm up period, the first few minutes we can see the gas kinda swirling around while the pidture fills in (may not be what it’s doing but that’s what it looks like). When we bought it, we did get the cheapest one available at the time cause my boyfriend is a little tight in the wallet department sometimes. We are now looking to get a new flat panel and I wasn’t sure what to choose. I’m going to stick with the plasma and get a better brand with longer pixel life this time around.

    By the way, yes Nelson I did notice that. Maybe they should coordinate that with the networks. Maybe they could just have it pop-up every 30-60 seconds like those annoying teasers most networks flash at the bottom of the screen.

  11. Michael says:

    A couple of things which were touched on or not to consider. While DLP is the best in high light and LCD has little or no retention and Plasma has the best picture response. How these items are produced and the improvements in them over the years will sway your decision over the years. 5 Years ago I would not have even considered a Plasma (power consumption)they are comparable now to big LCD’s. Now I’m concerned about LCD (light levels and response time). And I never even considered DLP. I’ve got a few months to make a decision and will keep reading reviews, but I think the price and brand are going to win me over in the end as I use my TV for movies and TV more so than gaming and computing. Currently a Plasma is going to cost my upfront 10-20 % less than LCD for the same size and I have no idea what DLP is at all. If anyone else has something to add I’d love to read up on it as the day is soon coming to upgrade from the old CRT. By the way, the 31″ is going to the rec-room as a gaming slash cartoon TV for the kids. 5 Years old and going strong, till its dead it can be used.

  12. Jacque in Texas says:

    This article is very informative. Our 61″ hd rca rear projection tv (that is only 2.5yrs old) just went out. one of thebulbs is cracked. The repairman came out and said $860 to fix. i wanted to cry. Anyhow, the repairman told me that the dlp is less prone to repairs out of the dlp,lcd, and plasma. He also said if the bulbs need to be replaced they are cheaper and easy to replace. seeing as fixing the old tv would cost more than it is worth .I’m now in the market for a dlp. Not sure what to get, and i really do not want to give up the cash.

  13. Brian says:

    Jacque, thank you for your comment.

    I feel your pain with the cost of any TV. However, it sounds like your leaning towards DLP, which in my opinion, is a great compromise between LCD and Plasma. I also think DLP is the best for general TV viewing. And you’re right, with the ability to change the bulb (even yourself if you read the instructions and are careful) you can get a lot of life out of it.

    With a plasma… once it dies…. time for a new TV. When an LCD bulb finally burns out… it gets pricey to replace.

    Oh the joys of new technology…

  14. Chris says:

    This was the best comparison I found on the net so far. No garb I couldn’t understand and right to the facts for each type. I was looking for a new TV that would let my roommate connect his X-box on the big TV in the living room. He keeps trying to connect it to my Sony rear projection LCD and I want let him because of the burn-in warnings. I am learning a DLP is the way to go. Looking at the Samsung 50″ DLP. Thanks for your help, I’m going shopping now.

  15. Curt says:

    Another thing to consider with DLPs is whether to spring for a set with an LED light engine. The new light engine claims to extend the life of the light engine to over 20,000 hours. Naturally sets with the LED light engine cost more, but if you watch the sales, the difference is only $50 - $100. The only problem I’ve seen is that the only models that contain the LED light engine are 56″ and up. Not long ago Samsung had a 50″ DLP with the LED light engine, but it looks to have been discontinued.

  16. Matt says:

    Thanks for this article. It was helpful to get the rundown from someone who is not trying to sell me an HD TV. I was just in a high end Home Theater store today and saw the latest of all three technologies. I was really impressed with the DLP. The store only carried only Mitsubishis in stock, though they can get Samsungs. I thought the Diamond tier products were pretty amazing for the price. The newest (non-Diamone) Mitsubishi is a 60 inch they’re selling for only 1300 bucks. I was told that in a couple of months there’ll be a new lighting technology that uses laser (as opposed to LED) and this is supposed to be an improvement. I suspect upon release of these newer models the prices on the older models may drop. Looking at the DLP and Plasmas beside each other, let me tell you, if the plasma is more beautiful, it is hard to notice. What is NOT hard to notice is how huge a DLP screen you can get compared to what the same buck will get you in a plamsa!!!

    Questions: 1. Do you have any information to compare these Mitsubishi Diamond series with the best Samsung has to offer? 2. Can you get any info on how the contrast ratio of DLPs (if they have such a thing) compares to Plasma?

    Also, for the readers. The only “con” whatsoever that I noticed regarding the DLP technology is that the screen is a bit darker at the edges than it is in the center. Apparently you can compensate for this by turning up brightness, but of course this will shorten the lifespan of the light source. Replacing it is not terribly expensive and supposedly you can do it yourself if you’re a bit tech savvy.

  17. Anand Dharia says:


    Great article and piece of information. I am in a marekt for 60″ TV as our 52″rear projection Toshiba had FBT failure and no one has the orginal part. Technicians refused to replace the generic which I purchased. What a TV Toshiba makes! It was 14 year old and never gave us a single trouble. I just came back from a major retail electornics store. Sales girls knew nothing except the names of TV ! All of there responses were leaning to sugegst that don’t but DLP as this is the last year they will be sold !! So my first fear was if someone will service DLPs. They did not mention burn-ins of pixcels in LCD and Plasma and told me that it used to be an issue but no more. I was about to consider purchasing 52″ Plasma and thought of doing more research. Thanks to your article. I would not purchase plasma TV. I am still concerned about the eenrgy consumption on DLP. How much is the difference. We are not avid TV users and my son uses it ocassionally for games.

    Your advice is requestesd before we make final decision. In DLP would you pelase recommend which model and brand is better? I am ready to spend few more bucks for durable good.

  18. Gunnar says:

    We recently bought an Ölevia 47 inch LCD TV (247 series). It was great…there was nothing to complain about…until about 80 days later when it simply failed one night. First the picture went, but the backlight kept going and sound and channel changing still worked. then the backlight went and later it stopped responding to anything.
    Since it was within 90 days, we got credit for the full amount and so now we’re looking again and doing research. The one thing that people should be aware of and that is not mentioned here is the lack of reliability that all of these new TVs unfortunately come with. Failure within months is common…
    And this goes for any and all of the brands to judge from testimony one can easily find on the net. So beware…
    Another thing not talked about much is the sound - this Ölevia had great sound! Fantastic picture and great sound…but it didn’t last.
    The next TV will be LCD or plasma. The newest LCDs look so good that it is becoming difficult to tell them apart (in a store setting) from plasmas. At a Best Buy store we visited today it was easy to do side by side comparisons between plasma, LCD and DLP…I’;m sorry but DLP doesn’t stand a chance. But between LCD and plasma - it’s hard….

  19. Gunnar says:

    I hear a new breed is coming soon (heard it first from sister in Stockholm) - a new style of super thin lcd TVs - less than an inch thick. It’s Sharp that is forging ahead with the TVs of the future…
    (a quick google will get you there) - allegedly they’ll appear this fall (08) - but I gotta have a new 1080p before the olympics…

  20. Gerald taylor says:

    Your articles are very good and well written! THANKS One comment I feel I must make is that I have owned two projection tv s over the last few years (the last a DLP) and have found both to be very problimatic! I will not purchas another! Most of the problem was the (in my openion inferior brand-RCA ) !!! The first caught on fire while I was watching it,the second unit had a bulb falure with very low hours of usage and then tne color wheel failed shortly there after. To me this is unexcaptible in a unit in this price range! My solution is NO MORE PROJECTION TV’s & ABSOLUTELY NO MORE RCA PRODUCTS!!!

  21. Brian says:

    Thanks Gerald. I appreciate your feedback. Always good to hear someone enjoys my writing. I’ve been told that I’m, “not a writer” but some, so it’s nice to hear different.

    Anyway, to speak to your experience with DLP and RCA, I completely agree with you on the quality of RCA products.

    Being the good grandson that I am (ha), I’ve helped my grandparent’s shop for electronics (I want to get on the interweb so I can e-mail) ;-)

    Anyway, I had to have the conversation with my grandmother about RCA because they USED TO BE a good brand.

    So yeah… no RCA… ever.

    With DLP, I haven’t had any fire problems ;-) but it is somewhat lacking in the brightness department. This is to be expected as the television begins to lose brightness the instant you start using it.

    I’ve heard whisperings of how plasma technology has improved, especially regarding its lifespan. However, I still have a hang up about a television that you… eventually throw away. (I’m guessing that’s what you do when they burn out?)

    That’s actually something that frustrates me about newer televisions. All three technologies seem to have a disposable feel to them.

    Why do I say this? Because I have a 36″ Magnavox TV that has lastest years and still does to this day with no noticeable degradation.

    It’s been super mobile as I used to take it to my dad’s for the weekend and it survived college.

    Now… it’s in the bedroom… still rockin’.

    Wow… long response.

    Short… RCA sucks! ;-)

  22. Gary says:

    As I read this I realize that technology has changed much in a short time. Plasma these days for most sets has a “pixel shifter” which stops most burn in even using it as a computer monitor on occasion. The average name brand plasma TV will last 50 to 70,000 hours to half life ( brightness is 50% of original, it will still be 2 to 3 times brighter then a regular TV) This is around 20 years at 6 hours per day…so you will not lose much and even so will still be brighter then any tv set. Since Plasmas don’t have any lag to speak of and since they are so much better in most areas then the other 2 types dont worry about throwing them out in 20 years becasue organic LEDs will be the thing to watch by then anyways…..

  23. Jack T. says:

    WOW! This is a great article and highly informative. Don’t listen to any nay sayers as you ARE a good writer. I rather stumbled onto your site and found this article which was exactly what i was looking for. I didn’t realize that the DLP technology was better for gaming purposes. Actually I hadn’t heard much about the DLP TV until I saw an article on ZDnet regarding LCD and Plasma TV’s and it was mostly talking about Blue Ray being dead which I am not so sure of but one of the replies to the article brought up the DLP TV as a better albeit bigger and much cheaper alternative to the Plasma and LCD televisions. There were quite a few replies to the article but this one reply had been stamped “No further replies to this post will be accepted” meaning what this person had said and it made me wonder why at first but after reading your article I believe I can now see why. They don’t want you to know about the DLP being a cheaper and equal alternative. Is that a correct assumption? I just purchased a Playstation 3 with the Blue Ray player on it and also built a gaming pc that cost me more than probably about 5 of the 60″ Mitsubishi DLP televisions that I was looking at prior to finding your informative site and it appears that I have found exactly what I needed for a huge monitor. I see that one of your readers asked which DLP HDTV would be the best one and haven’t looked around yet to see if you replied to that so I will ask again anyway. Thanks again, I’ll certainly tell my friends about your site and of course will come back and check your updates. Sorry I am so verbose! :O)

  24. larry says:

    can someone tell me which would be a better investment dlp vs led dlp? how often do the bulbs on each need to be changed on average? can you change a led bulb yourself, if needed? and lastly how costly are the bulbs for dlp’s vs bulbs for led dlp’s?

  25. wayne says:

    I found your analyses sound, but was disappointed that your didn’t mention energy use: dlp’s use 65% fewer watts/sq inch than do plasmas and 38% fewer watts/sq inch than do lcds. This amounts to billions fewer tons/yr of CO2 into our atmosphere from sets just here in the U S, contributing mightily to the reduction of global warming.

  26. Brian says:

    Great info Wayne. Thank you for taking the time to share it! Makes me feel better about owning a DLP. ;-) For my environment…… and my electric bill!

  27. Terry says:

    We are in the process of getting our DLP 42 inch Toshiba TV fixed. Yea, the bulb is only $100, and can be replaced easily. We just did that, thinking the problem was the Lamp, but it wasn’t, it was the Light Engine. And that is the brain of these types of TVs. We just got our estimate today, $670 to fix it. My husband loves our TV cause of its brightness, clearity, and colors. He thinks we should go ahead and have it fixed. I differ in the matter. First of all, its a lot of money, second who’s to say it will last for year to come??? The color wheel could go next, or the Light Engine could be defected. This is the gamble you have to take when you have a situation like this. When we brought the TV we were told it would out-last a Plasma, 10 yrs or more. Well, we only had it for 3 yrs 9 months when it went out. I feel none of these TVs are long-lasting, sure the picture is awesome, but that’s about the size of it. The technology is improving all the time, but still have a ways to go in my opinion. Is it worth it to fix? That’s the million dollar question. I say we should just buy a new one. Not sure who is going to win this one, my husband or me!

  28. Scott says:

    Hey - great Information. I spent hours today researching LCD’s and Plasma TV’s and this DLP setup sounds perfect for me. my 2003 Panasonic HDTV projection TV died this morning. though I am shopping for a new tv i have decided to have a TV repair dude come out and take a looksee at this 53 inch panasonic 1080I.

    It is worth 60 bucks to me to have it checked out just in case I can get a few more years out of it. I believe it is the power suppy. i am A+ and Network+ certified but have no idea how to work on bigscreen HDTV’s. this older technology HDTV is still awesome to watch football and DVD’s as well as digital satellite tv on despite it being 6 years old. i paid 1800 for it back on january 2003 and 200 for the protective screen cover soooo i am making sure she is dead before junking her!

    Thanks again for your info it has helped me decide which digital TV is best for my family.

    Scott Grow

Leave a Comment

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.
34 queries. 0.504 seconds.