Direct-view, LCD, Plasma, and rear-projection HDTVs

part of materialism by Philip Greenspun; updated October 2005

Site Home : Materialism : One Article

This article is intended to help you choose among LCD, Plasma, and traditional direct-view HDTV televisions.

For all televisions, these are good features:

For any television, "HD-ready" is a bad feature; this means that it has no tuner for receiving HD over-the-air broadcasts from your local TV stations.


As of 2005, the best image quality is delivered by traditional cathode ray tube (CRT) or "direct-view" televisions. The black tones on a CRT will be darker than the black tones on an LCD or Plasma TV. The darkest blacks and the best linearity will be afforded by a Sony XBR model, such as the KD-34XBR960. If you can afford the bulk and 200 lb. weight in your house, and the 34" size is adequate, this is the TV that you want. Cheaper direct-view TVs won't have as good image quality and they won't have as high resolution. Direct-view televisions have a shadow mask with only a certain number of holes in it. No consumer television has a full 1920 slits in its shadow mask and therefore no consumer television can display all 1920 horizontal lines of resolution in the highest quality HD signals. The Sony 34XBR960 comes close, with about 1400 slits.

Another interesting direct-view television is the Samsung SlimFit TX-R3080WH. The image quality isn't quite as good as the better Sony televisions, but the set is inexpensive and only about half as deep as competitive tubes of the same size.

Flat-panel LCD

If you want to hang a television on the wall, the flat-panel LCD offers the lightest weight, lowest power consumption, and highest resolution. Compared to direct-view televisions, an LCD TV will have a narrower viewing angle, blacks that aren't as black, and colors that are not as rich.

Sharp is the traditional leader in this market with its Aquos line. If you're looking for particular features or, in some cases, a lower price, the Philips line can be recommended as well.

LCDs larger than 32" start to get ridiculously expensive and plasma or rear projection will be cheaper.

Here are some links to high-quality LCD TVs in various sizes:


Good LCD TVs with built-in DVD players:


Party like it is 1995. If you want a TV that is larger than 32" in size and will hang on the wall, plasma is a reasonable choice. These are brighter and have wider viewing angles than LCD. Plasmas draw more power and are usually lower resolution than LCD.

Here are some good plasma TVs:



If you want a huge TV and don't mind a little depth, rear-projection is the most reasonable compromise in terms of cost and weight. The standard rear projectors use a digital light projection (DLP) chip from Texas Instruments that provides a standard resolution of 1280x720. The more expensive models use LCDs and offer higher resolution. The $15,000 70" Sony Qualia, not available online, delivers full HDTV resolution of 1920x1080 pixels.


Blu-Ray/DVD Players

You want a Blu-Ray player that will upsample a DVD to HDTV standards (most will). I had an LG BD390 player that failed after playing 20 discs. The company refused to provide any warranty service because I had received the unit as a gift and therefore did not have a receipt (though the back of the unit had a manufacturing date in Indonesia that was only about 5 months prior). The comments on this and other LG players indicate a very high mortality rate and, indeed, the LG customer service folks said that failure after playing 20 discs was well within their expectations. Consumer Reports shows that Panasonic, Sanyo, Sony, Pioneer, Mitsubishi, JVC, Magnavox, Sharp, and Hitachi are all extremely reliable, with a failure rate of less than 5 percent over nearly 10 years.



You need three CCD sensors, one for each color, to get reasonable image quality from a camcorder. You want the new HDV standard for recording in HDTV. This makes it easy because there is only one camcorder on the market, as of October 2005, that has both features: the Sony HDR-FX1. I bought one when it first came out in late 2004 and it is a fabulous device.

Decorate with television

New Yorker magazine did an article some years ago about the porn industry. The writer visited many of the LA houses where the porn stars lived. She claimed that they were all decorated the same, in "porn star modern." White room, white walls, no pictures, big TV.

My dream way to have television in a living room would be a coffee table whose top flips up to reveal an LCD monitor. The smaller LCD televisions have a standard wall-mounting bracket so it should be possible to manufacture a table that could be used for many years with different televisions.

Text and pictures copyright 1996-2005 Philip Greenspun

Reader's Comments

It is probably worth revisiting this page and updating it as the technology has moved on somewhat.

LED TVs have become affordable, although these are just LCD panels with LED backlighting they do have some advantages in terms of energy efficiency and better blacks.

OLED TVs are still very expensive and 3D TV is coming...

I guess this article is almost impossible to keep current : )

-- Tony Bright, January 11, 2010

Phil, as a photographer, you might just be concerned with image quality. When it comes to flat screen digital display devices, there is only one that I would ever wish upon my family and friends for TV and movie watching purposes:


The reasons are numerous. But how about we start with the most important one:

Longevity. Plasma (good ones from Panasonic and Pioneer in particular) have the highest MTBF, more or less equivalent to the older CRT sets, many of which could last as long as 20 years or more with no significant degradation. LCD and DLP cannot even begin to approach this. They suffer dead pixels within only a few years. Their lighting source, when it dies, may not be serviceable. Basically, if an LCD or DLP set dies in any way after 5 years, it becomes landfill because there is no way youıll be able to fix it.

All the other reasons are technical, performance related deficiencies that impact image quality, such as:

-60 Hz refresh limitation saddles you with 3:2 pull down error for ever with film sources. Like judder? -Poor pixel rise time and associated artifacts -high image noise and associated artifacts -poor contrast ratio -fake black levels -cartoonish color accuracy issues -poor viewing angle -physically delicate (easily damaged by probing fingers)

I could go on. NONE of these issues apply to plasma. Plasma is phosphor based. I has the best viewing angle. The best color accuracy. The best black level and gray scale. They can run at either 60 Hz or 72 Hz for video or film based sources. And so on.

And they last 20 years.

There is simply no contest. I would never recommend DLP or LCD to anyone, even those who canıt afford a nice plasma set. Save your money up for the plasma. While certainly uber-high tech, LCD and DLP sets are just so much consumer electronics landfill in the long run.

P.S. Note that for practical purposes, one must choose either LCD or DLP for projection displays, which have largely replaced CRT based sets which reigned supreme (and still do for many aficionados) until just recently. Even then, these digital projectors suffer from very high cost of ownership (expensive light bulbs) and have serious longevity problems of their own. Problems that CRT projection owners happily live without!

-- Stephen Burgess, April 2, 2010

Add a comment | Add a link