Flat-panel vs. Rear-projection TVs

A quick comparison of plasma, LCD, and big-screen TVs

Digital TVs have improved dramatically in the last two years — it's hard to find a bad one. Ultra-thin flat-panel sets grab all the headlines, but projection TVs have grown slimmer, too (typical depth is 12" to 20"). Both types of TVs look gorgeous, but one may be a better fit for your room and viewing preferences. Use this quick comparison to help narrow down your options, and also see our TV technology comparison chart.

Sony XBR8Plasma and LCD flat-panel TVs both offer a bright, vibrant picture and wide viewing angles. (55" Sony XBR8 pictured)

Plasma and LCD flat-panel TVs

Flat-panel TVs offer some of the best pictures available today. Intense competition among plasma and LCD makers has led to major performance gains over the past few years.

Flat-panel advantages go beyond just hang-on-the-wall slimness:

  • Wider viewing angles: Any high-quality TV has a crisp, colorful picture when viewed head-on, but flat-panel TV images maintain good color and contrast even when viewers are seated off to the sides. Plasma TVs are generally better at this than LCDs.
  • A bright picture to overcome room lights or daylight: If your TV's picture has to compete with high levels of ambient room light, plasma and LCD models have the brightness to remain crisp and clear. LCDs win here with their brighter, glare-resistant screens; plasma screens tend to reflect room lights.
  • Dependable long-life panel and no lamp replacement: In the early days of flat-panel TVs, some questioned plasma's durability. Today, both plasma and LCD panels are routinely rated for 60,000 hours, equivalent to watching 8 hours every day for over 20 years.

For more information and an in-depth comparison of these technologies, see our article LCD and plasma.

Sony XBR8Big-screen rear-projection TVs can deliver outstanding black levels, and offer plenty of affordable 1080p options. (65" Mitsubishi L65-A90 pictured)

Projection TVs

If you want the biggest and best-looking picture for your money, and don't plan to wall-mount your set, consider a rear-projection TV. Most of today's latest digital models use DLP™ image chips to create a bright, stunning picture.

Besides bigger screen sizes, rear-projection TVs offer:

  • More affordable 1080p options: To enjoy maximum picture quality from high-definition sources, especially Blu-ray players, your TV needs the highest HD picture resolution — 1920 x 1080 pixels. Top-brand 50" 1080p projection models now start under $2000. (See our article on Understanding HDTV Resolution for more information about 1080p and other formats.)
  • Outstanding contrast and black level performance: High-quality projection TVs outperform nearly all flat-panel TVs in these areas. Big-screen projection models with a "dynamic iris" have some of the best contrast and black level performance available.
  • A user-replaceable lamp that restores like-new picture quality: The average consumer can easily replace the lamp in just a few minutes. Typical lamp life ranges from 5,000 to 8,000 hours, which translates to many years of normal use.
  • Greater energy efficiency: Rear-projection sets tend to consume less power than flat-panel TVs with the same sized screen.

See our article on about choosing a big-screen projection TV for more information.

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