HDTV: Plasma vs. LCD

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Dr. Raymond Soneira, President of DisplayMate Technologies, in collaboration with Insight Media took some high-end HDTVs for a spin to figure out what technology offers the best TV-viewing experience. There was one plasma TVs, three LCD TVs and one CRT Sony Professional HD Trinitron Studio Monitor that was used as the reference standard.

Here is the list of models:

Dynamic Off One quick observation was that these HDTVs “delivered their best picture quality with all of their much-hyped advanced features… turned off.” Any function that dynamically processed images were disabled including: dynamic backlight, dynamic contrast, dynamic black, dynamic white, dynamic color. Ugly image artifacts were introduced when these features were used. Also, the specifications that you see are are “actually marketing tools rather than a set of scientifically objective tests and measurements.”

Setup Identical 1080p signals were piped through digital HDMI connections into the HDTVs. All calibrations were completed with DisplayMate Multimedia Edition test patterns. Photometry and colorimetry measurements were conducted via a Konica Minolta CS-200 Spectroradiometer.

Worst Let’s start from the bottom. Sharp: “… including the reference Studio Monitor, it looked significantly worse than all of the other units. The colors, hues, saturations, and intensity scales were way off and there were lots of noticeable ugly artifacts.”

Second Tier Samsung‘s performance came below Sony and Panasonic. What made Samsung stand out was its “… Dynamic LED backlighting together with zoned LED Local Dimming.” DisplayMate turned off these features that led to intensity scale errors and “ugly halos in scenes with dim content”. A great test for these two technologies is Chapter 14 of 2001: A Space Odyssey (Listing at Amazon) that show a trip in hyperspace. Samsung simply showed a black screen, eliminating star fields: not good.

Best Both Panasonic and Sony was easy to calibrate to the HDTV Rec. 709 (ITU-R BT.709) standard: primary chromaticities were accurate, a D6500 White Point was established, intensity scales were accurate and so was the 2.2 Gamma. Both performed very well when viewed from the front but Sony didn’t quite as well when viewed slightly off angle, when there was dark content, and when there was a lot of motion. The 50-inch plasma TV from Panasonic was without question the best.

Wide Color Gamut The wider the color gamut, the better the color. Right? Wrong! According to DisplayMate, “… a larger color gamut will simply make all of the screen colors appear more saturated than they ought to appear on a calibrated standard HDTV. Wider color gamuts decrease color accuracy and should be avoided except in specialized imaging applications… it is a pretty useless feature in current HDTVs.”

Calibration “Sony is the only major HDTV manufacturer that seems to be able to deliver a fairly accurate calibration across most of its product lines once you take the units out of their factory default Vivid mode and set them to a Cinema or Custom mode.” DisplayMate makes a smart observation for the need for accurate color in HDTVs: consumers can view pictures taken from their digital cameras right on the HDTV. With pictures that they have taken, average consumers will know if the colors are off.

For additional information regarding how the LCD TVs compared to the plasma TV in areas such as “Brightness and Contrast Ratio” and “Viewing Angles”, hop on over to DisplayMate.

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