Skip Navigation

Comparing TV Types: A Chart

Steve Kindig has been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. He has written extensively about home and car A/V gear for Crutchfield since 1985. Steve is also a volunteer DJ at community radio station WTJU, where he is a regular host of the American folk show "Atlantic Weekly," as well as the world music program "Radio Tropicale."

More from Steve Kindig

(side to side)
Contrast Ratio
& Black Level
Pros & Cons

Flat-panel TVs

flat-panel TV
Plasma42"-65"YesExcellentVery good

Pros: screen's phosphor coating creates lifelike color that is closest to conventional tube TVs

Cons: vulnerable to burn-in, but it rarely happens with newer models; screen tends to reflect room lights

LCD19"-70"YesGood to Very good

Good: standard-backlit models

Excellent: LED-backlit models

Pros: panels weigh less than plasma and use less energy; burn-in not an issue

Cons: picture slightly less natural than top plasmas

Projection TVs

big-screen TV
DLP50"-73"No (most models)GoodVery Good

Pros: typically has best blacks and shadow detail among digital big-screens; smooth motion handling

Cons: a few viewers sensitive to "rainbows"

Quick tips

Picture quality
One thing absent from the chart above is a comparison of picture quality. People often have different ideas about what looks "best." Plus, picture quality is more often determined by construction quality and internal processing than by TV type. And finally, various space and budgetary constraints may affect how much importance you place on small differences in picture quality. The bottom line? To get the best possible picture quality, look for TVs from reliable brands, and don't give up better engineering in order to get a bargain basement price.

Viewing angle
The wider the viewing angle, the better the picture will look to people sitting to the extreme left or right of the TV. If you regularly cram a host of friends and family into your living room for event viewing, you want the widest viewing angle possible. (Of course, specs aren't everything; for example, although LCD TVs have a wider viewing angle on paper, our A/V experts have repeatedly confirmed that plasmas actually look better when viewed at extreme angles.)

Contrast ratio and black level
Good black levels deliver rich shadows and excellent shadow detail, so you can easily follow the action in dark scenes. Good contrast gives the picture more punch and 3-D impact.

Some folks have stayed away from plasma TVs over the last few years because of the risk of "burn in" — that is, when a faint outline of an image stays visible on the TV's screen, even when you're watching something else. This was particularly a problem for folks who watched programs with news tickers on the bottom part of the screen, or played video games with health bars and other displays on the screen for long time. But today's plasma TVs are much more resistant to burn in, and in the rare event that it does happen, it's generally an easy-to-fix problem.

Although most people can't see it, a few have observed something called "the rainbow effect" when watching DLP TVs. This momentary effect is due to the unique way most DLP TVs re-create the image on screen. Many of today's DLPs include technologies to prevent rainbows, such as a faster color wheel. But if you find you're one of small number of folks who are bothered by this effect, you may want to consider a DLP set that uses colored LEDs, rather than a color wheel. These sets can also offer more vibrant, accurate colors.

Front-projection TVs
Although they are not TVs in the most obvious sense (they don't have a built-in screen or any kind of tuner, for example), front projectors can be a great way to experience big-screen viewing in your home theater. Most often, these projectors use LCD or LCoS technology. And be sure to get a projector designed for home theater, rather than the kind built for business presentations; there are surprising differences in performance. For more info, check out our article about front-projection TVs.

Want to learn more? Start with our introduction to HDTV.

Ask an expert advisor

No pressure, no commission — just lots of good advice from our highly trained staff.