LED vs LCD vs plasma TVby Andrew Laughlin
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The current state of play
New LCD and plasma TVs used to come out each year, but big advances in LED technology have meant its rivals are no longer in production. This means that if you purchase one our latest Best Buy TVs in the shops or online, the chances are that it will be an LED type.
Next-generation OLED TVs are hitting the market, including both high-definition and 4K Ultra HD models. However, they're expensive to buy and so won't suit everybody. For more on this, see our What is OLED TV? guide.
LED vs LCD TVs
Liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs come to life when light from behind the screen is shone through a matrix of tiny, coloured liquid crystal cells. Signals control each cell, letting varying amounts of colour through to build up the picture.
LED (light-emitting diode) TVs actually use the same LCD screen technology, but with one crucial difference – the handful of backlight lamps that traditionally illuminate LCD TVs are replaced by a larger number of tiny LEDs. This enables LED TVs to be much slimmer than their LCD counterparts.
Edge-lit LED vs back-lit LED
These are the two types of LED TV:
- Edge-lit: These models have LED lamps just around the edge of the screen, enabling them to be super-slim. Early edge-lit models had problems with inconsistent lighting of the screen and patchy colour accuracy. While you can still find a bad one, the technology behind edge-lit panels has improved significantly in recent years, and most new LED TVs are now edge-lit.
- Back-lit: Also referred to as direct-lit, this involves LED lamps being spread across the entire rear of the screen. They don't tend to be as slim as edge-lit LEDs, but the consistency of lighting should, in theory at least, be much better.
Some LED TVs employ a technique called 'local dimming' or 'micro dimming', which varies the backlight in different parts of the screen to give darker, richer blacks and brighter whites where required. This technology started out on direct-lit sets, but manufacturers have now found ways to incorporate similar technology into their edge-lit models, meaning you're not necessarily missing out by buying one.
LED vs plasma TVs
Plasma TVs use completely different technology and principles to LCD and LED sets. A plasma display is an array of tiny gas cells sandwiched between two sheets of glass. Each cell acts like a mini fluorescent tube, emitting ultraviolet light which then strikes red, green and blue spots on the screen. These spots glow to build up the picture.
Home-cinema enthusiasts would claim that the best plasma TVs still boast better blacks and more natural colours than the market-leading LED TVs, making them a better choice if you want spectacular picture quality.
However, in recent years the difference between LED and plasma is not so marked, while the poor energy efficiency of plasma TVs means they can be costly to run. Plus, the big manufacturers, such as Panasonic and Samsung, have now ceased production of plasma TVs in favour of LED and newer screen types, such as OLED.
Modern TV sound quality
While the picture quality of TVs has steadily improved over recent years, sound quality of modern flatscreen TVs has failed to reach such heights. The desire for ever-slimmer televisions means there is physically less space to include a good set of built-in speakers.
We know from our testing that modern TVs just can’t match the old 'big box' CRT televisions for sound quality, but some top-end models are slowly catching up. We've even tested a couple of TVs in recent years that have sound quality so good it compares favourably with a home hi-fi (although these are rare).
LED and plasma TVs differ in terms how much they'll cost you to run. For example, with a typical 50-inch TV from each type, the LED set would cost £23 on average to run each year, based on around four hours switched on and the rest of the day in stand-by.
By contrast, the typical plasma 50-inch television would cost more than double that, at £48 per year. It was initially thought that new OLED TVs would be even more energy efficient than LED models, but our testing suggests that the difference in power use isn't so great.
"LED TVs are typically energy efficient, while plasma sets will add the most to your electricity bills."
LED vs LCD vs Plasma: which should you buy?
Given the dwindling availability of both LCD and plasma TVs, you'll most likely go for an LED set when you make your purchase, and that's no bad thing considering how good they are these days.
Best Buy LED TVs are slim, energy-efficient televisions that have stunning picture quality. However, always check our TV reviews first to ensure you get the best possible LED TV for your money.