Best TV Technology? Projector vs OLED vs LED vs LCD vs Plasma

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Person holding TV remote (caption: Best TV Technology)Choosing a new television can be overwhelming since there are so many options and factors to consider. One major decision is whether to go for new technology such as OLED with curved 4K or save $ and go with more proven technologies such as LED or even a projector.

Let’s face it, LCD has been replaced by LED, and plasma, while a great technology, didn’t last very long. It can be tricky to know which to invest in, especially if you aren’t sure what these terms mean. So, to help make shopping for a television a little easier and less daunting with the technical stuff, we’re taking a deeper dive into each of these types of TV technologies and the characteristics to look for in each. We hope this will ultimately help you find the best television technology to suit your needs.

Article Overview

Understanding Television Technology

As quickly as a new television technology is developed, it seems like a new one comes along, making the market ever evolving. The technologies we cover in this article include OLED, plasma, LCD, LED and projector. These television options vary considerably in what they offer the viewer, as well as the price that they fetch. What differs between these television technologies? Just about everything.

LCD

LCD (short for “liquid crystal display“) televisions use a liquid crystal screen. This screen does not illuminate like the phosphors found in plasma televisions. This lack of illumination means that the LCD television requires another light source.

LCD is the shortened version of CCFL-backlit LCD televisions; CCFL stands for cold-cathode fluorescent lamps. The cold-cathode fluorescent lamps are what separate LCD televisions from LED backlit LCD televisions. CCFL’s use charged gas to create light which illuminates the screen.

LED

LED (short for “light-emitting diode“) television technology is similar to LCD television technology. However, rather than using the CCFL’s to illuminate the screen, they use LEDs. LEDs are light emitting diodes.

LED television screens are also referred to as LED-LCD screens. For this reason, the name “LED” is a bit misleading. These TV’s sold on the market are essentially “backlight LCD” screens. Despite this, LED technology is generally considered to be the best affordable flat panel HDTV technology, and has, for the most part usurped LCD technology.

OLED

OLED (short for “organic light-emitting diode“) is not an extension of LED technology, as the name might imply, but rather a groundbreaking evolution in television technology. OLED contains thin flexible sheets of an organic electroluminescent material that emits light in response to an electric current. This means they work without a backlight and can display deep levels of black, similar to plasma’s capabilities.

The technology also allows for ultra-thin displays (think hanging on the wall like a picture frame), and very high contrast ratios. As OLED televisions begin to come down in price, we expect them to dominate the market along with projectors, which we discuss next.

Plasma

Plasma is the oldest available technology, but it is being phased out due to low demand (on Amazon, for example, the newest model we were able to find was from 2013). Plasma technology used to be the most affordable, but given the limited quantity of available plasma TV’s, prices have skyrocketed.

Plasma televisions depend on the phosphors that make up the image on the television screen to light up. This differs from other technology that requires backlighting.

Projector

Projectors and surround sound systems have become more popular in homes during recent years. They are great for watching the big game, having a cozy movie night or watching the latest episode of your favorite show. A video projector is used to display the picture. Television programming can be cast much larger than on the average TV (100″ and larger for outdoor screens, a size that would be prohibitively expensive for a flatscreen TV), giving it the feel that you’re at the cinema.

One thing to note is the bulb for a projector needs replaced every few years (2,000 to 3,000 hours of viewing for older models, 5,000+ for newer ones), and the bulbs are expensive (they run into the hundreds of dollars), so this is an added cost to consider for down the road. The actual bulb price depends on the projector model, although we recommend avoiding third-party bulbs, as they can cause all sorts of problems — this is one thing you’ll want to get straight from the manufacturer.

Read Our Home Theater Projector Reviews

Best Features Of Each Technology

Least Burn Problems

Video game players, in particular, are fond of asking this question when searching for the right television. The answer to this question, however, is that “it depends.” Burn-in is going to be a problem with any video projection technology if you leave a static picture on the screen for long enough. A projector does not suffer from burn-in since the image beams onto a separate screen.

Leave a video game menu, for example, on plasma, LED or LCD screen for long enough and you will discover a lovely burned-in image on the screen. As with the lifespan of a television, the problem of burn-in can be an issue for any television technology, except projectors, based on how you use the TV. When it comes to burn in, LED televisions may have less potential for developing burn-in than LCD or plasma depending upon their use.

Winner: Projector

Brightness

When comparing the overall brightness of televisions, plasma almost always comes out as the loser. That isn’t to say that plasma televisions are not viewable by any means, merely that they are dimmer than LED and LCD. On a positive note, these televisions are still brighter than the older CRT tube televisions. So keep in mind that during the daytime a plasma TV is going to be more difficult to see than an LED or LCD TV. Projector brightness varies depending on the model and your settings. One thing to be cautious of when buying a projector is that you may need the room to be darker to see the picture.

LCD televisions rank in the middle of the field on brightness between plasma and LED-LCDs. CCFL LCDs offer a light output similar to the LED, but not quite equal to it. However, many people opt to go with the midrange LCD given the price difference.

The OLED/LED television screen is going to win every time in the brightness category. Whether you need a significant amount of light depends on your individual needs since dark rooms can make bright televisions a little too bright. OLED television pixels are called emissive, which means brightness can be controlled pixel by pixel.

Winner: OLED/LED

Black Level

The term “black level” refers to the intensity of the color black on the television screen. The black level of the television can be adjusted through the “brightness” setting on the television to compensate for room light levels. When set correctly, the black level improves overall picture quality.

While the plasma television tends to come out as the loser in many aspects of television comparison, black level is one area where it shines (no pun intended). LCD TV’s and projectors place last behind both plasma and LED technology when it comes to the black level of the television. The black level contributes to the overall picture and viewing experience, so if you are a serious movie lover, this may be the deciding factor against a CCFL-LCD television. LED LCD television screens place in the middle of the road when it comes to the black level. OLED TV’s give plasma a run for their money since pixels can be shut off, providing an absolute black level.

Winner: OLED/Plasma

Contrast Ratio

The term “contrast ratio” refers to the contrast that exists between the darkest and brightest parts of the television picture. The majority of what viewers refer to as “picture quality” is dependent upon this contrast ratio. A television with good contrast ratio is not only going to have more depth to the picture, but it is also going to seem more realistic than one with poor contrast ratio.

This is another characteristic where OLED and plasma technologies shine, having a much better contrast ratio than LED, LCD or projectors. As OLED becomes more commonplace and affordable, however, indications reveal that plasma will soon lose ground in this area. New LED LCD television technology with a dimming backlight offers a contrast ratio comparable to that of the plasma, but at this time that technology is cost prohibitive for the average television viewer. There is a correlation between the black level and the contrast ratio of televisions which is why the CCFL-LCD television places in last again. OLED can technically experience an infinite contrast ratio, so they lead the way.

Winner: OLED

Energy Consumption

Plasma televisions might come out ahead in many fields, but energy consumption isn’t one of them. Plasma comes in dead last. Plasmas and projectors are not as energy efficient as the newer LED and LCD technologies. If you have concerns about global warming, then a plasma television isn’t for you.

LCD televisions consume less energy than plasma televisions without a doubt, yet they still consume more energy than LEDs. The backlighting should be reduced to get the most efficiency out of an LCD television.

OLED/LED televisions place at the top of the list when it comes to energy consumption; this is also significantly improved when the backlighting is turned down on the screen. If you are looking for an eco-friendly television, then this is your best bet. If you are looking to save more money in the long run, you would be better waiting until the price of LED LCD technology comes down. At this time the difference in price between LED technology negates any financial benefit from reduced energy consumption.

Winner: OLED/LED

Life Span

When looking to invest in a new television, one of the most important factors to consider is how long that television is going to last. To date, there seems to be no data as to how long plasma televisions last compared to LCD and LED televisions. Many owners of LED will brag about how their television is built to last longer. But the lifespan of a TV is relative to its use. Newer technology in plasma television production is also contributing to much longer life spans than these televisions once had.

As with plasma televisions, the LCD television’s lifespan is dependent upon how you use the TV, how often you use it and the overall brand and quality of the television. There are plenty of individuals who stand by their LCD that has been functional for “years” and others who have a lemon that lasted only a few days before succumbing to the electronics graveyard. There are just too many variables to measure this factor adequately.

Many people will brag that LED televisions are the longest lasting of any other television technology. However, the lifespan of an OLED/LED screen is just as dependent upon mitigating factors as any other television technology is.

The lifespan of projectors is tricky. Depending on your household’s viewing hours, you will need to replace the projector bulb every few years, which can be costly (some bulbs run into the hundreds of dollars). However, the projector itself can last for years and years.

Winner: OLED/LED

Price

As we mentioned, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to find an LCD television, as LED and projector displays dominate the market. OLED TV’s are more affordable, but still, a lot more expensive (think in the thousands vs hundreds of $’s) than an LED TV. Projectors, meanwhile, can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand.

Projector screens (where you beam the image onto, assuming you don’t use just your wall) typically cost only a few hundred dollars or less, depending on the size and style. Where projectors get you is that you will need a new bulb every few years (which can run into the hundreds of dollars). The costs can stack up over the lifespan of the product, but if you want the home theater experience, this is the way to go.

Winner: LED

Size

Size is a matter of preference. Bigger isn’t always better. It just depends on the area where you put your TV. You don’t want something so large it will be overwhelming for the space that it’s in. But at the same time, you want something large enough that you don’t have to squint to see it across the room. A general rule of thumb is to sit away from the screen 3 times the distance of the size of the screen back. So if your screen size is 40″, then three times 40″ = 120″ (or 10 feet). Now let’s talk size specifically as it pertains to each type of TV technology.

Plasmas tend to be the thickest of the three television technology types, generally making them heavier. While plasma is definitely lighter than the older rear projection televisions, they can still be quite heavy and bulky in comparison to the newer and much thinner LED option. When it comes to screen size, there is plenty to choose from. Screen sizes generally range from 42 to 65 inches diagonally and can compete with other television technologies in this aspect.

LCD’s are thinner than most plasma television options and have a wider range of screen sizes. Commonly available LCD screen sizes range all the way up to 80 inches. Since they are thinner, LCD televisions tend to be lighter than plasmas and are more adaptable to smaller living spaces.

LED televisions come in an equally wide range of screen sizes when compared to the LCD television models. However, the thickness of LED is a different story. If you are looking for the thinnest and lightest viewing option available, then LED is always going to be the way to go. The more compact size of these televisions makes them a space-saving high-quality viewing option.

Projector screens take up a large area, but you typically can beam the picture at slight angles if you want the additional wall space. Projectors are easily the largest screen size compared to plasmas, LCD’s and LED’s. The space determines the size you have to work with — the farther back you pull the projector, the larger the image that is beamed onto your screen. The projector screen is thin, and you mount the projector itself from the ceiling, so it’s out of the way.

Winner: Projector

Viewing Angle

Depending upon the television technology that you select, the viewing angle is something that you need to consider. When viewing certain television types from an angle other than straight on, pictures can lose their quality and be difficult to see.

If viewing angle is a concern in your household, then the plasma television is the best option since it offers good picture quality from all angles. Where the plasma TV takes the lead regarding viewing angle of the television, LCD falls behind once again. CCFL LCD televisions require head-on viewing for the best viewing experience. If you have a television room where not everyone can sit immediately in front of the television, then the LCD is one of the worst choices for you. Lost picture quality occurs anytime you view the LCD and projector screens off axis. LED televisions join CCFL LCD screens at the bottom of the list when it comes to the viewing angle of the television. If viewed off axis the picture from a LED screen loses its quality and can be difficult to see overall. An OLED TV, on the other hand, will experience almost no picture degradation up to 160 degrees.

Winner: OLED/Plasma

What’s The Right Television Technology Right For You?

This market changes so quickly! We’re going to provide you with an Amazon search widget that will let you narrow down your preferences in realtime while providing you with the most competitive offer. We are using the keywords “4K curved OLED” as a starting point but feel free to swap out with your own! For example, if you’re looking for a “portable 3D projector,” simply enter those keywords into the box below, hit the “Go” button, and the results will dynamically populate. Have fun!

Video: Plasma vs LCD vs LED

This three-minute video quickly summarizes many of the features mentioned above and explains one bonus type of TV not covered in this article (watch until the end to find out!)

Things You Should Consider Before You Buy

It is always important to research the brand of television you are looking to purchase regardless of the technology you decide on. Different brands offer different screen sizes and different features. Most people tend to have their own brand allegiances. However, it is important to look outside of your “preferred” brand to see how your television of choice compares to others in the same category. It is also important to purchase your television through a reputable distributor.

Regardless of what television brand you purchase, there is always a possibility that your television will be a “lemon” (or faulty). There are many reasons why this might be: it could be a defective part installed during the manufacturing process, or it could be that the TV was dropped before arriving at your residence. Purchasing from a reputable dealer helps to ensure that should anything go wrong with your television purchase within the designated period, you are eligible for a refund or replacement. Many reputable dealers also offer purchasers the option of extended warranties.

Ready To Upgrade Your Home Entertainment System?

Now that you have a better understanding of the types of TVs, learn more about wireless surround sound systems that can work to enhance your entertainment experience. And if you’re ready to go big time, check out these 4K TVs.

What type of TV do you have or recommend?

About The Author:

Alex loves to philosophize, wonder what our purpose is, and travel the world in search of new cultures, ideas, and lifestyles. After a trip to Yogaville several years back outside Charlottesville, VA, he got hooked on yoga and meditation and hasn't looked back. Namaste!

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Jeff Butler (Admin)
Ah! This makes so much sense now, thank you for explaining the differences. I honestly had no idea and always wondered. I haven’t bought a new TV in nearly a decade so am on the market but technology has changes so much in 10 years I was feeling overwhelmed with all the lingo and different types of TVs there are on the market now. I’ll probably go with LED simply because of price though.