LCD vs OLED vs Plasma Explained

In competing TV tech; OLED, LCD, and plasma, which one is top of its game? The better question; which one works best for you?

Even though plasma TVs production ended in 2015, they still exist in the secondary market. Only three companies made Plasma TVs. They include LG, Panasonic, and Samsung. Their popularity stemmed from the fact that they were cheap to produce and have true blacks resulting in incredible picture quality.

But with LCDs becoming more price competitive investing in Plasma TVs is no longer a priority for the big fish. All the above technologies can be found in high resolutions with true blacks. But the technology behind each of the displays is what makes all the difference.

Plasma TV vs OLED vs LCD: How they work.  

Plasma TVs 

Plasma TV is a type of flat panel television that has technology similar to that in a fluorescent light bulb. Each pixel on the display gets its illumination from a tiny bit of charged gas called plasma. The plasma is enclosed by two thin sheets of glass and is electrically charged to strike the pixels and create the image.

Coming from its predecessor; Cathode Ray Tube, Plasma is completely different from CRT TV technology which uses a large vacuum tube and an electron beam to rapidly scan the face of the tube to create an image.

Plasma TVs range in size from 42 inches to 65 inches. Although there are large models like Panasonic’s 150-inch TV, most people rarely go above 65 inches in their home TV set.

Plasma TVs are rated for a lifespan of 60,000 to 100,000 hours.

Its brightness will decrease to 50% over its lifetime, but it won’t matter since if you have a TV rated for 100,000 hours and you watch TV for 6 hours every day you will have up to 40 years with the TV- not many people get to keep their TVs that long.

When it comes to picture quality in plasma TVs, you will want to go for Plasma HDTVs over Plasma EDTVs. This is because Plasma HDTVs have a native resolution of 1280 x 720p or higher while Plasma EDTVs have lower resolution like 1024 x 768 pixels or worse 852 x 480 pixels.

Since most content today is at 1080p, Plasma HDTVs that have 1920 x 1080 pixels are what you want for one-to-one point display. You don’t want a situation where your content is downscaled to such that it fits the pixel field count of your TV say 1024 x 768 pixels.

Pros of Plasma TVs

  • Wide viewing angles
  • Wall-mountable
  • Sharp picture quality because of blacks intensity
  • Burn in is rare with newer models
  • High refresh rate

Cons of Plasma TVs

  • Heavier than LCD
  • Consume more power than LCDs
  • Can be reflective if the glass is not treated to be less reflective
  • Not as bright as LCDs

OLED TVs 

OLED TVs have taken over the TV world thanks to their rapid evolution that involves smart TVs, Ultra HD 4K resolutions, and HDR features that are commonplace with the technology. Before LG became the sole producer of OLED TVs as of 2018; Samsung, Panasonic, and even Sony were all in with the technology.

OLED was not going away and now manufacturers are sourcing their OLED panels from LG to use in their TV line ups. We are talking Sony, Philips, Panasonic, Bang & Olufsen, etc.

What is OLED- (Organic Light-Emitting-Diode)

OLED technology works where an organic, carbon-based film is put between two conductors. The film then produces light when an electrical charge is passed through it. An OLED display emits its own light as opposed to LCDs which require LED backlight which lights up the crystals to create an image.

One OLED is the size of a single pixel. And since it is self-emissive, the pixel is capable of turning pitch black when turned off. They can deliver true blacks and high-contrast ratio which results in impeccable picture performance. LG and Panasonic like to call it infinite contrast because OLEDs do not need to rely on backlighting for the pixels to turn on and off.

Other advantages of OLED TVs are that they can be made to be thinner than LCDs. As thin as 2.57mm and are even more flexible. OLED can reduce hotspots and the areas where there is super bright light. This is because they light the screen evenly across the surface.

OLED also enjoys high responsiveness and smooth displays that provide remarkable viewing, and gaming performance. With the capability to reach refresh rates as low 0.001ms it is much faster than any LCD TV you will encounter, and is also superior to Plasma TVs.

The only disadvantage with OLED is that you have to invest a significant amount because the technology is relatively pricey to manufacture.

What about QLED?

While QLED sounds like OLED, the two technologies are on separate lanes, never touching. For one, QLED technology where an LED TV uses quantum dots to enhance performance. Since Samsung is the company behind QLED, their claim is that the technology is much better than any other LED TV on the market.

Samsung should have just called it QLCD-LEDs. Until recently, Samsung’s TVs were selling under SUHD, but the branding did not take off. Thus, the switch to QLED perhaps to bring it a little closer to OLED on the tongue, but it’s entirely different.

QLED TVs do not have pixels that turn themselves on and off. They still rely on LED backlighting to turn the pixels on and off; only that there’s the presence of quantum dots which enhance key picture-quality areas.

When it comes to producing black blacks, OLED wins hands down, but we’ll give brightness to QLED thanks to the quantum dots that are capable of becoming extremely bright. You will find that QLED can reproduce color much better than OLED without showing signs of fading or oversaturation.

As prices of OLED TVs continue to fall in recent times, you can expect OLED to compete effectively with QLED. But again, Samsung is busy perfecting QLED technology and may catch up to the quality of OLED in the near future.

OLED, QLED, and HDR 

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a new technology that is the new buzzword in televisions. In OLED and QLED TVs, it takes picture performance to the next level. It aims at improving the contrast between the darkest blacks and whitest whites. The technology works with 4K content and 4K TVs. An example of a 4K OLED TV is LG’s OLED55C8PLA.

You will encounter different terms of HDR including HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision. What you need to understand is that HDR 10+ is Samsung’s version of HDR10. On the other hand, HDR10 and Dolby Vision can coexist in one panel, but you may not find a TV with HDR10+ and Dolby Vision at the same time.

Winning the HDR argument is neither OLED nor QLED. This is because OLED’s true blacks make HDR viewing impeccable in dark rooms, but is overtaken by QLED in bright rooms. You may want to check out Samsung’s Q8 and Q9 in that regard.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) TVs 

LCD is still a type of flat panel technology commonly used in laptops and smartphones. Older versions of LCDs used cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) to provide backlighting for LCD panels. Today’s LCD screens use LEDs for backlighting. That’s why it’s common to spot someone saying that their TV has an LED-lit LCD panel. And even in LED lighting, some have full array LED lighting while others have LED edge lighting.

LCDs have two layers of polarized glass material that are glued together. One layer has a special polymer coating to hold the liquid crystals. The crystals can block or allow light to pass through them when an electric current is passed through them.

Full Array Backlighting vs Edge Lighting 

Full array backlighting uses an array of LEDs spread over multiple zones of the display. The LEDs are placed at the back of the screen and deliver hundreds of different LEDs. This results in light levels emanating from different zones. As such the LCD screen can produce enhanced blacks because of the independently controlled lighting zones.

Also, full array backlighting delivers lower light bleeds and better shadow details. It can give you superior picture quality with life-like images.

Edge lighting is where LEDs are placed around the perimeter of the LCD. They can sit on top and bottom or just the bottom. Manufacturers who use edge lighting can make thinner panels and are much cheaper to manufacture.

Each zone dims as a group and is able to improve contrast. But since they do not dim individually, they cannot achieve similar color richness like that of full-array backlit LCDs.

What is Local Dimming?

This technology allows the LED light source to be illuminated or dimmed according to the picture needs. It increases picture contrast and works well with full array backlight TVs.

Advantages of LCD TVs include increased screen brightness and the capability to prevent burn-in of static images, but individual pixels can burn out. They are not as reflective as plasma TVs and can range in resolution from as low as 720p up to 8K.

The only thing LCDs are not good at is tracking motion and viewing angles are a bit narrow.

Bottom Line

Seems the race is between OLED and LCDs since not many Plasma TVs are in the market today. For the deepest blacks, you will have to opt for an OLED, but you have to contend with the high price tag. The most realistic option for many people is LCDs as they produce great picture quality without hurting your pocket.

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