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LCD or plasma? What’s better for watching sports?

Consumer Reports News: August 01, 2008 09:08 AM

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If you're buying a new flat-panel TV to watch the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing this month, you might be wrestling with what size and type to get.

We recommend at least a 40-inch or 42-inch set for a main TV used in an average-sized living room. You might want to go larger if you’ll be hosting a crowd or simply prefer a bigger screen. Many rooms can comfortably accommodate a 46- to 50-inch set, and spacious family rooms can handle a 50-plus-inch set.

Both LCD and plasma TVs come in all those sizes, so take your pick. Each has pros and cons. Plasma TVs are better than LCDs at displaying fast-moving images without blurring, a big plus if you watch a lot of sports.

Our video experts can clearly detect motion blur on most LCD sets with test patterns designed to pinpoint the problem, and you might see it when you watch soccer, basketball, and other sports where the cameraman does a lot of fast panning. Blurring is also evident when the camera focuses on a swinging tennis racket or a moving ball. You're less likely to see it on movies and TV shows where there is little camera motion. Some newer LCD models include 120 Hz technology, which essentially doubles the TV's frame rate to help improve motion-handling. We've seen a visible reduction in motion blur on those TVs.

The viewing angle is another major consideration. With most LCD TVs, the picture degrades to some extent if you sit off to the side or on the floor—a likely scenario if you have a bunch of people rooting on their favorite athletes. A few new LCD sets have addressed this problem—several Panasonic models we've tested for example, have a viewing angle that rivals a plasma set's—but most still have limitations.

Plasma sets are also better than LCD screens at displaying deep blacks, and they tend to have better contrast, which makes for rich, natural-looking images.

On the other hand, LCD TVs are generally a bit brighter than plasma, and their screens are less reflective, so many look better in bright rooms. Some plasma TVs can look a bit dim in bright lighting when set to the normal or standard mode, which we recommend for home use. You can switch to the vivid mode or raise the brightness control to compensate, but the picture quality might suffer.

Another issue with many plasmas is that the glass screens are subject to reflections and glare. If you have the lights on while watching dark scenes, you might see mirror-like reflections, though the anti-reflective coating on some new plasma sets can reduce glare.

Still, you can’t go too far wrong with either type as long as you buy one of the better sets. Our Ratings of LCD and plasma sets (available to subscribers) highlight specific models that make the most of each display technology, while minimizing the limitations.

—Eileen McCooey

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