Burn-in: You may have heard that plasma has a couple of drawbacks. One such downside is burn-in, which occurs when an image--such as a stock ticker, a network logo, or letterbox bars--gets etched permanently onto the screen because it sits in one place too long. In our experience, the danger of burn-in has been greatly exaggerated, and people with normal viewing habits have nothing to worry about. The potential for burn-in is greatest during the first 100 or so hours of use, during which time you should keep contrast low (less than 50 percent) and avoid showing static images or letterbox bars on the screen for hours at a time. After this initial phase, plasma should be as durable as any television technology. Many models also have burn-in-reduction features, such as screensavers and pixel orbiting, or settings to treat burn-in once it occurs, such as causing the screen to go all white. Check out our guide to burn-in for more details.
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Plasma life span: The life span of plasma TVs is another area that's improved dramatically with the last few generations of the technology. Partly in response to claims made by LCD TV makers, plasma manufacturers now claim their panels last an extremely long time. Most plasma makers today claim a life span of 60,000 hours before the panel fades to half brightness. That's more than 20 years if the TV is on for 8 hours per day.
Available in a range of sizes; matte screens generally reflect less light; no danger of burn-in.
Home-theater image quality generally not as good as on plasma models; relatively narrow viewing angle.
Flat-panel LCDs will continue to be the most popular HDTV technology, thanks to falling prices and plenty of choices.
The Samsung LN52A650 is a 52-inch LCD with deep black levels, accurate color, 120Hz processing and a shiny screen.
Flat LCDs are extremely popular in all screen sizes these days, thanks to competitive pricing and the fact they can fit just about anywhere. Larger LCDs--as big as 65 inches--remain more expensive than plasma and rear-projection models, but in the popular 40- to 42-inch size range, LCD prices have dropped precipitously. As of fall 2008, flat-panel LCDs in this size range can be had for as little as $750, just a bit more than plasmas.
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The picture quality of LCD TVs has historically suffered from poor black levels, but the latest versions are often much-improved. The best plasmas still surpass the best LCD in terms of delivering a deep black, however, and in general LCD still lags behind. That's because LCDs use a backlight to provide illumination, and there's almost always some light leaking through the pixels. Color saturation is also generally inferior to plasma's, again as a result of the inability to completely blacken (turn off) the pixels. New LCD technologies, including LED backlights, are helping even the playing field, but they're still extremely expensive.
Viewing angle is another weakness of LCD compared with plasma. On every LCD we've reviewed, we witnessed some brightness and color shift visible when we watched from an angle that's more or less removed from the sweet spot right in front of the TV (to either side, and especially above or below). Plasmas look equally good from very wide angles. In addition, LCDs are much more likely to exhibit uniformity problems than plasmas, which can appear as lighter areas on dark screens, clouding, or even color banding on some models. These can be more or less severe from model to model, so check the individual reviews for comments.
On the other hand, LCDs will generally have a higher native resolution than plasmas of the same size. This isn't as big a deal as you might think because, in practice, it's difficult for the average viewer to discern the difference between, say, a 40-inch LCD with 1080p resolution and a 42-inch plasma with 1,024x768 resolution, especially from normal seating distances (more info).
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LCD specification sheets often talk about response time, but in our experience, almost all newer LCDs have adequate response time to deal with fast motion to the satisfaction of most viewers. A related issue is motion blur, which can occur in fast-moving images. LCD TVs with a 120Hz refresh rate can alleviate some of that blurring, but they're generally still not as blur-free as plasmas. It's also worth noting that many people don't notice motion blur at all. 120Hz LCDs often have dejudder processing too, which smoothes out judder in images but can also make some material look more-artificial.
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LCDs also have a reputation for being brighter than plasmas, and while that's technically true, most plasmas are plenty bright for even the most demanding situations. One definite advantage of LCD TVs, however, is that their matte plastic screens reflect less ambient light than plasmas' glass, so they're usually better for very bright rooms with little light control. Note that some LCDs have glossy screens, as opposed to matte.