Buying guide: TVs

We show you the differences between LCD, plasma and LED televisions

It's time to buy a new TV; the old one has finally packed it in, but when you go to the store there are so many choices and it's hard to know what to get. This guide will show you what to look out for so that you take home the TV that's right for you.

If you're picking out a new television and want to work out what's best for you, read through our LCD vs LED vs plasma TV buying guide.

Want to learn about 3D TV? Take a look at our 3D TV buying guide.

Confused about the difference between HDMI and DVI, component and composite? Our giant cable buying guide will set you straight.

Plasma vs LCD vs LED

The biggest choice you will have to make is the type of TV you want to buy: plasma, LCD or LED. In previous years if you wanted a large TV, plasma was your only option but now LCD and LED televisions are available in similar sizes to plasma for around the same price. The main thing that now separates them is how well each can display certain types of content.

LCD televisions use fluorescent lights behind the panel to make images appear on-screen. This makes colours look great, but blacks can end up looking a little grey, especially on cheaper televisions. Plasma TVs don't use these lights and so the black levels on a plasma screen will always look better than an LCD, making them ideal for movies.

A few years ago plasma TVs suffered from a burn-in or image persistence problem that occurred when a still image or logo appeared on the screen for a long period of time (for example a paused console game screen, or a network logo). Plasma screens released in recent years no longer suffer from this problem, so if you want to watch a lot of TV or play games you can consider both plasma and LCD TV screens.

If you watch lots of fast video, such as sports, you'll be happy with either a plasma or LCD. A few years ago LCD screens suffered from slow response times, meaning anything fast left a trail across the screen. These days, however, better technology and the invention of things like 100Hz and 200Hz playback have removed this problem. Even faster 400Hz screens will soon be released and they will offer better, smoother video. Plasma screens are still better for fast motion, however, as their display technology allows them to refresh three times as fast as a 200Hz LCD screen.

Some LCD televisions on the market have LED backlighting - using a sheet of tiny individual lights spread across the entire panel rather than large fluorescent tubes. This allows for more consistent lighting and the lights can be individually switched off, creating a much better contrast ratio and deeper colours. These types of televisions are often called LED televisions. Some LED sets arrange the lighting around the edge of the television panel, allowing them to be very slim and light. LED televisions also consume less power than LCD or plasma televisions, with a smaller environmental impact over a long running period.

If you want the best, your choice should be made between LED and plasma televisions. Generally LED televisions are slimmer and more attractive and consume less power, but plasma panels have a slight edge in overall image quality. LCD televisions are a good choice for budget buyers as they are usually significantly cheaper than plasma or LED.

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Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

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