Plasma or LCD? It’s a question many TV buyers are posing these days, and it’s a battle that will play out through the end of the decade—and likely beyond.
LCD supporters tout the brightness of their displays, which allows an image to be viewed even in ambient light. The pictures don’t wash out in bright light, which makes LCDs good for Sunday afternoon football games. LCD images are also known for crisp edges and sharp text.
Plasma proponents tout the deep blacks and gradations of blacks and grays in low-light scenes. Colors on a plasma screen tend to be richer. And viewing angles are wider and truer with plasma as well, although the viewing angles on LCD are improving.
Consumers aren’t used to weighing these virtues. In the first few years of the flat-panel era, the two types of displays played on different turfs. Plasma held court at 42 inches and above, while LCD owned screen sizes 37 inches and below. It was simple: You picked a flat TV based on the screen size that fit your space.
But the playing field changed when LCD makers including Samsung, Sharp, Philips and Sony began to manufacture LCD glass panels in larger sizes. No longer was the 40-inch-and-up market the sole possession of plasma TV.
By the second quarter of 2007, LCD sales for sets 40 inches and larger jumped 358 percent and overtook plasma TVs by more than 100,000 units, according to figures from market research firm NPD Group.
If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.
— John Lennon
LCD makers also led the leap to “Full HD” 1080p resolution, which virtually doubled the amount of pixels on screen. Plasma makers followed, but with sets at higher prices. Now plasma has a cost-per-inch advantage in displays 50 inches and larger, as the production of larger LCD panels continues to ramp up.
Plasma TVs range in size from the popular 42 inches to whopping 103-inch models from Panasonic ($70,000) and Runco ($99,995). While 42-inch models represented 80 percent of plasma sales in 2007, plasmas will skew toward larger, more profitable screen sizes in coming years. Fifty- and 60-inch screen sizes are expected to represent the lion’s share of plasma sales as LCD muscles its way into the 40- and 50-inch space.
Pioneer, for one, hopes to set a plasma performance standard with its 60-inch Elite Kuro PRO-150FD ($7,500). Consumers have a wide choice of size and price options from other name-brand suppliers including the 50-inch Panasonic TH-50PZ700U HDTV ($3,500), Hitachi’s 60-inch P60X901 ($7,000), Samsung’s 58-inch FP-T5884 ($4,200) and LG’s behemoth 71-inch 71PY1M ($15,000).
The lower 720p resolution isn’t dead. Not only can these sets display fine HD pictures if you sit farther from the screen (so you won’t see the pixilation, or “screen-door” effect); they are also more affordable. For example, Vizio’s 720p 50-inch plasma has a retail price of just $1,499.
Low-cost suppliers are driving pricing in the LCD market as well. Vizio’s GV52LF 52-inch 1080p LCD HDTV currently lists for $2,300, a couple of thousand dollars less than comparable models from Sharp, Samsung and others.
And you can expect this battle to grow in coming years—in more ways than one. LCD manufacturer Sharp’s is already at work on a facility, due to go online in 2010, which will produce glass substrates that can be cut into 65-, 57- and 42-inch LCD panels. The company has already shown a working model of a 108-inch LCD, though it isn’t available for sale.
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