Monday, May 4, 2009

Large Screen TV? LCD or Plasma?

I posted a message on a distribution list at JCCC and asked the question: Has anyone researched or bought a large screen TV lately and have any advice or caveats to offer? Suggested brands or models? Brands or models to avoid? Plasma vs. LCD? Vendors to use or avoid (Best Buy, Nebraska, Costco, other)?

I received so many inquiries about what my research found that I posted the following summary, which drew heavily (and verbatim) on a message I received from a co-worker (Tracy, Sr. Analyst, Ed Tech Center). I’ve added a few comments (based on other responses from the JCCC community):

Subject: RE: Large Screen TV Advice?

Plasma has a better contrast ratio and may look better, but usually they have glare issues so if you have a lot of reflection in your room you may want to go with LCD instead. Plasma can also have burn-in issues despite what the salesmen will tell you, but not as bad as it used to be. Beware some of the new LCD TV’s that have a shiny coating – it improves the contrast ratio but again, glare becomes an issue if you have a bright room.

Jonathan’s Note: We have a well-lit living room so we opted to not go with plasma. However, I did hear from several staff who purchased a plasma from Nebraska Furniture Mart or elsewhere and loved it. The Samsung and Panasonic were top choices, though some indicated the Samsung has a high repair cost and return rate—though their products are also rated top of the line. Another member of the JCCC community (Derek) also wrote: “If you watch a lot of sports on TV, Plasma is the way to go. If you plan on hooking up a computer to it, and will have static images on the screen, then LCD is where you want to look. It all depends on taste really. Plasma’s can get burn in, and have a glass screen. LCD’s are like computer monitors, hold out longer to static images, and they don’t have the glass to reflect light. I believe Plasma’s use more energy than LCD’s do as well.

Maybe this will help:

Back to Tracy: We have a 47-inch LCD in our family room – a Samsung. We are very happy with it, and it was a good price. We also have a Samsung blu-ray player hooked to it, and there are some special things that they can do because they are both the same brand – like the TV knows when we turn on the blu-ray and can switch inputs to view it without help from us.

Jonathan’s Note: We decided to go with a Sony because of the same compatibility issues. We have a Sony blue-ray player already. Further, my understanding is that if you choose a speaker system/CD player from the same manufacturer (which we’ll do) you gain some auto syncing abilities too. However, several folks mentioned that they avoid Sony because you’re just paying for the name.

We have a 42-inch plasma in the basement, where glare is not an issue. It’s a Panasonic. The plasmas tend to have a faster response time and are therefore better for gaming, and the basement is where my son plays his PS3. There is a bigger risk of burn-in with games, but we have not had any problems (yet), so if you are careful with your TV and don’t leave it paused on the same screen for hours at a time, you should be fine.

Jonathan’s Note: I did follow-up with Derek asking about burn-in and he commented, “I do a pretty good job to make sure I don’t get burn-in on my TV. (To get burn-in) you would have to have a static image up for hours on end. One thing people don’t think about is when you watch a television program that is in standard definition (4x3 aspect ratio) and you don’t stretch your picture out to fit the screen, after a year or two you run the risk of burning the bars on the side into your screen. With a Plasma, after you turn it off, you will see the phosphorus silhouette of the image on the screen for awhile, that isn’t burn in, but is natural and goes away.”

Back to Tracy: My parents bought a Sony 50-inch LCD TV recently for a really good price. The Sony’s are one of the best, but you typically pay a lot more just for the name. We are happy with our Samsung, although I might have bought a Sony if they were the price my parents got theirs for. If you buy a plasma, I would get a Panasonic.

You might want to consider professional calibration. These TV’s throw out a lot of heat, and the efficiency can be improved if they are calibrated properly. Typically you buy the service when you get the TV, but you have to wait several months to put a certain number of hours on the TV and then someone comes to your house to calibrate.

You probably want a 1080p TV, and 120Hz is also an important number. The contrast ratios that are reported can be misleading, because the human eye really can’t see beyond a certain ratio. Also keep in mind that when you get the TV home and calibrated, you won’t be staring at it next to 100 other TV’s and I bet the picture would look great no matter which one you buy.

Also, don’t get taken in by the $100 cables most stores will try to sell you. If you need HDMI cables or any other cables, get them at . You do probably want a good power conditioner/surge protector to plug everything into, and you may want to consider a Logitech Harmony universal remote if you are going to end up with a lot of components. My parents have the Logitech Harmony 670 (around $150) and are very happy with it – my mother hated having a bunch of remotes and could never figure out how to do anything, and now it’s easy. There are more expensive models, but the 670 is sufficient.

Buying these big TV’s was a scary purchase for me and I waited for a couple years and did a lot of research before I finally bit the bullet and bought them – and we love them!

Jonathan’s Final Notes: John (JCCC Librarian) pointed out that the March 2009 Consumer Reports magazine has a feature article on Best TVs, including ratings on 100+ plasma & LCD sets.

That’s a summary of what I heard through the JCCC list and as always, remember the caveat/disclaimer: please do your own research. Use these notes as just a starting point.

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