Updated: July 24, 2013

Plasma vs. LCD vs. LED TV
Choosing between a plasma TV, an LCD or an LED HDTVs

A Comparative Guide (1): Size and Price Considerations

Are you being faced with the dilemma of choosing between a Plasma television and an LCD or LED TV?

Many think that the issue of plasma vs. LCD is predominantly a technology choice. However, when choosing a flat-panel HDTV for your home entertainment, more important than the display technology are the screen size and your available budget. In this first of a series of comparative guides, we look at these two most basic considerations, screen size and TV price.

In the remaining guides, we discuss the differences between each of these TV display technologies with respect to picture quality and functional considerations. We also present a handy summary and checklist covering all issues raised in this series of TV display technology guides.

Plasma vs. LCD vs. LED TV: Screen Size and Price

As indicated in our introduction, 'Screen size' and 'price' represent the most basic issues to look at before any other consideration when buying an HDTV. Available budget will determine your available buying options, while screen size may eventually determine the technology to opt for. These two considerations are interrelated, with a sharp increase in price for anything larger than 50 to 54-inch. What renders this plasma vs. LCD technology battle interesting is that the increase in price with screen size varies with display technology to the point that what may be prohibitively expensive for one, may turn out to be relatively affordable for the other. 

Plasma vs. LCD: Display Screen Size

Up to not long ago, this Plasma vs. LCD and LED TV would only arise with 40 to 50-inch HDTVs. It was within this range that collision between LCD and plasma used to occur. This is no longer the case; plasma TVs and LCDs—especially LED LCD TVs—are coming out larger than ever. Plasma and LCD prototypes in excess of 100-inch diagonal were first put on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2007 when Sharp presented the first world's largest LCD display at 108-inch screen size. And things did not stop there!

It seems that when comparing plasma vs. LCD TV display technologies, display panel size does not represent a limitation to any of these technologies. Rather, the real major problem for panel makers is to produce the required giant-size glass substrate.

At the same time, one cannot but remark that with CCFL and LED LCD display panels, production calls for more technological challenges. Producing massive 84-inch+ ultra-high definition display panels with 4K by 2K pixel resolution (4096 x 2160 pixels) as presented during CES2012 without defects, implies the production process should ensure that the more than twenty-six million transistors etched onto the surface of the LCD glass substrate are all fully functional and without defects!

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What sizes are available for the home market, and at what price?

Both plasma and LCD HDTVs are readily available in screen sizes up to around 65-inch. Samsung is also planning to release a 75-inch high-end LED TV later during 2012 while LG will be releasing a 72-inch high-end LED TV. However, when it comes to LCD technology, we are seeing a change in trend among TV makers. The traditional CCFL-based LCD TV is fast disappearing at anything larger than 46-inch as the newer and now more affordable LED TVs are starting to take over.

Just look at what is happening with the HDTV lineups from the two largest TV makers in the world, Samsung and LG. For 2012, the new LG HDTV lineup comprises 26 LED TVs, 12 plasma TVs and just 6 CCFL LCD TVs! Screen sizes range from 22-inch to a massive 72-inch for LED TVs, 42-inch to 60-inch for plasma TVs, and 32-inch to 47-inch for the six CCFL LCD TVs.

At this point in time, pricing information is still incomplete but LG's 55-inch 55LM6700 step-up 120-Hz Cinema 3D with Smart TV is selling on amazon at $2,100. This is an interesting mid-range LED TV from LG that is attracting a lot of positive feedback; it comes among others with LG passive 3D complemented by six pairs of 3D TV glasses, LED+ backlight technology, LG's magic remote, built-in Wi-Fi, LG Intelligent sensor to automatically optimizing the picture to the lighting and color conditions in the room, and DLNA-certified network connectivity.

At $2,100, this LG LED TV is set within the same price structure we saw for corresponding models during 2011. This means that as has been the case with 2010 and 2011 pricing, LED HDTVs remain relatively affordable up to around 55-inch. Move further up the screen size and price starts to shot up at a faster rate than the gained screen estate for the increase in price.

The situation with the new Samsung HDTV lineup for 2012 is even more striking with respect to CCFL LCDs. Samsung will be releasing over 40 different LED TVs, including the 75-inch set already referred to above, 16 plasma HDTVs—3 of which being 720p HDTVs—and so far, no mention of any CCFL LCD TV for 2012! Why?

In reality the largest TV maker in the world is considering moving out of the CCFL LCD TV market. Instead, Samsung said it will concentrate on the newer technology. Screen sizes range from 22-inch to 75-inch for its LED TV lineup, and 43-inch to 64-inch for its plasma HDTVs.

Pricing information for Samsung 2012 HDTVs is somewhat more complete, though most of the pricing refers to the estimated selling price rather than the actual selling price.

For example, Samsung's mid range UN55ES6500 featured here is selling at amazon for $1,900, almost $600 less than the estimated selling price given by Samsung.

This Samsung LED TV falls within the same class as the LG 55LM6700 referred to earlier on. It also includes similar features to the LG except that the Samsung includes a built-in web browser and is Skype enabled.

Moving to high-end models yield a significantly much higher price-tag, with the Samsung 55-inch UN55ES8000 selling on amazon for around $2,900 ($850 below the estimated selling price). But at this reduced price, this high-end Samsung HDTV is still $1,000 more expensive than the 55-inch ES6500 model! Move on to the 65-inch ES8000 model and Samsung is indicating an estimated price of $5,100!

This seems to indicate a similar pricing stricture to what we have seen in 2011. If we were to take this pricing as indicative for 2012, then, as indicated earlier on, we are not to expect any significant reduction in HDTV pricing for 2012 over 2011 prices. What we are seeing instead is a more enhanced feature set for the same price.

Worth taking note here that at the bigger screen sizes, LED TVs remain relatively affordable only at up to 55-inch. The larger 65-inch ES8000 HDTV is priced at over $2,000 more than its 55-inch brother. This represents almost 80% increase in price for less than 40% in screen area. Similar pricing applies to sets from other major TV brands. In other words, present HDTV pricing renders LED TVs a viable big screen TV option only up to around 55-inch.

The situation with plasma televisions at the larger end is slightly different in that while both plasma and LED TVs are readily available at up to 65-inch screen size, plasma delivers the larger screen at a substantially lower price.

The Samsung price list for the new 2012 HDTVs indicates an estimated selling price for its 64-inch PN64E8000 high-end plasma that is more than a $1,000 cheaper than the Samsung ES8000 LED TV equivalent.

Move on to the smaller 50-to-55-inch+ screen category and there you will find the Panasonic TC-P55ST50 55" 3D Plasma HDTV is selling at $1,500, almost $400 less than the Samsung ES6500 mid-range LED TV equivalent referred to above.

At anything above 50-inch, 1080p plasma HDTVs remain more affordable than 1080p LED TVs. At 720p, LED TVs are not available at 50-inch screen sizes; this renders plasma as the cheapest 50-inch HDTV option at this screen size, with 720p models such as the LG 50PM4700 50-Inch plasma TV selling on amazon at under $800 while its 43-inch version is selling at just $600. And this is no ordinary budget-class 720p HDTV; it includes LG Smart TV, LG magic motion remote, is Wi-Fi ready, and comes with active 3D.

Some may argue this is a lower resolution HDTV but rest assured that you would not be able to perceive any difference in picture detail between a 720p and a 1080p HDTV at this screen size from what is considered normal TV viewing distance. (More on TV viewing distance can be found in our article here.)

Comparing like with like in terms of features and picture performance, these prices render the bigger plasma TVs even more affordable than corresponding 55-inch premium LED TVs.

Instead, this plasma vs. LCD TV debate takes a totally different direction at the smaller end of the scale; for anything smaller than 42-inch, your only choice is either a CCFL or LED LCD TV. You see, plasma is not made for the small screen!

Plasma vs. LCD - Size ADVANTAGE:

If you were to compare plasma vs. LCD TV sets for available screen sizes, both technologies are playing on level ground, with a few differences...

You have a wider 'affordable' choice of plasma televisions for screen sizes greater than 55-inch. This is partially explained by the fact that plasma still has an edge as far as production cost goes. In addition, at the larger screen sizes, the traditional CCFL-LCD is disappearing fast in favor of the more expensive LED TVs; this makes the plasma price advantage even more pronounced at the larger end of the TV size scale.

On the other hand, for anything smaller than 42-inch, your only option is an LCD or LED TV; plasma HDTVs are no longer available within this size category.

Plasma vs. LCD: Flat-panel TV Pricing

Price is always a big issue when choosing an HDTV, to the point that even when discussing screen size, our discussion had to be seen in the light of the respective HDTV price to make sense.

In general, when comparing plasma vs. LCD pricing, both CCFL and LED LCD televisions tend to be more expensive than their plasma counterpart especially at screen sizes larger than 52-inch. As we have already seen in this discussion, the price difference between these two display technologies shoots upwards as one crosses the 55-inch boundary.

This higher price tag generally associated with LCD TVs is the result of the production process itself. Production processes for plasma displays still support a better yield and thus carries a pricing advantage especially at the larger screen sizes. This contrasts heavily with LCD where some 30% of all manufactured panels have to be discarded because of defects leading to what are known as 'bad-pixels'. This also explains why manufactures never guarantee that an LCD display panel is completely free from bad pixels.

Developments in the manufacturing of LCD displays has led to a substantial drop in the price of LCD panels, this explaining why the latest prices of LCD HDTVs are more in line with those of plasma televisions for the same screen size for anything less than and including 52-inch.

However, plasma still carries a minimal price advantage even at the smaller screen size as long as the TV is a 720p HDTV. Lower resolution displays are cheaper to manufacture, yet while plasma 720p HDTVs are readily available in the 42- to 51-inch size range, 720p LCDs at these screen sizes have practically vanished completely.

Our best advice at this point is to buy with an open mind; opt for a 720p plasma HDTV if it provides the features you need at a cheaper price. Do not underestimate picture detail on a 720p HDTV. While a 1080p display delivers more picture information, at screen sizes less than 52-inch, the eye would not be able to perceive the increased level of picture detail afforded by the higher pixel count of a 1080p display when sitting at the recommended viewing distance away from the TV screen.

Plasma vs. LCD - Price ADVANTAGE:

Up to less than three/four years ago, plasma was the obvious choice in this plasma vs. LCD price comparison for all screen sizes where collision between the two occurred.

This is no longer the case and the price difference between plasma and LCDs for anything up to 52-inch is generally minimal - typically less than 10%. Plasma's minimal price advantage at these screen sizes arises mainly at the 720p HDTV category.

This holds true as long as the LCD is a traditional CCFL type. In the case of plasma vs. LED TVs, plasma display technology still carries a clear price advantage, especially at the larger 52-inch+ category, with the plasma price advantage becoming more pronounced as one crosses the 55-inch TV screen size.

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Article Content

Links to issues discussed in this article:

Blue bullet  Comparative Summary Plasma vs. LCD TVs:
A summary of the pros and cons of the different TV display technologies, together with a convenient checklist in pdf format which you can download from here.

Blue bullet  For additional detailed discussions on this subject, please refer to the following article links:

    Plasma vs. LCD TVs (2): Picture Quality Matters
Which display technology delivers the best picture?

    Plasma vs. LCD TVs (3): Functional Issues
Which is the best display technology when it comes to image retention, computer use, lifetime, bad-pixels, response time, and power requirements?

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