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Plasma vs LED: Picture Quality

Updated Jul 24, 2013 By Cedric Demers

The quality of the picture should be one your main concern when buying a television. There are many components to a good picture quality: a wide viewing angle, very dark blacks, very bright whites, accurate colors and no motion blur. Which technology (Plasma or LED) has the best picture quality? This article compares each technology in each component of a good picture quality.

Viewing angle

Average Viewing Angle
LCD/LED37°
Plasma70°

A plasma screen has a better viewing angle than an LED screen. But by how much? The following picture shows you the average angle where the contrast start to be less than 50% of the maximum contrast. This is the average of viewing angles of TVs that we tested. The actual viewing angle varies per model and brand. As you can see in the video, the picture quality starts to decrease a lot earlier for an LED panel.

Average viewing angle
Average viewing angle
Viewing angle of television top view
Top view of viewing zone
Viewing angle of television side view
Side view of viewing zone
If you want to know which LED or Plasma TV has the best viewing angle, check out our full list of 2014 models viewing angle here.

Do not trust the advertised viewing angle in the manufacturer specifications. Nowadays, every LED televisions will list a viewing angle of 178 degrees. While it is true that you can see the color from that angle, the picture quality will not be good, as shown in the following picture.

Do you need a good viewing angle? It depends on your room layout and your usage. You do not need a very wide viewing angle if you are watching the television alone or if your couch is directly in front of the television. However, if you have multiple sofas and a large audience, it might affect the experience of the people sitting at an angle. Also, if you hang your television very high (like above your fireplace), you will need to be far enough from the television to see the best picture.

An LED screen has a worst viewing angle than a plasma because the LCD screen is composed of a backlight and an LCD layer acting as a filter (learn more about how they work here). Due to the depth of the filter, the light (coming from behind that layer) cannot pass the LCD at an extreme angle. Plasma does not have that problem because each cell emits its own light.
Winner: Plasma

Black level

Black Luminance
(Smaller is better)
LCD/LED0.15 cd/m2
Plasma0.05 cd/m2

This is where a plasma TV really shine. When a pixel in a plasma TV is off, it emits almost no light, only 0.05 cd/m2, compared to an average of 0.15 cd/m2 for an LED. In a plasma TV, each color of a pixel is individually controlled and do not depend on the neighbours pixels. In an LCD screen, they all share the same backlight. The backlight always stays on for all the pixels (but a region can dim if the television is equipped with local dimming). The pixels are merely a filter applied on top of that light. In theory, it could still produce a real black if the pixel can block all the light, but even today's best LCD screen have a little amount of leakage. The black will appear slightly gray.

The following picture compares an LED screen to a plasma in a black scene. The LED looks more washed out because the blacks are more gray (if you do not see a difference, close the lights in your room).

Bad contrast ratio television
LG LN5400 LED TV
Good contrast ratio television
Samsung F5300 Plasma TV
Check out our full list of dark scene pictures and measured contrast ratio for 2014 models here.

If you are watching television in a somewhat lighted room, it does not matter. The LED screen will produce a black good enough you will not notice it. However, if you are in a complete dark room, you will appreciate plasma's true black.

Winner: Plasma

Brightness

White Luminance
LCD/LED250 cd/m2
Plasma100 cd/m2

An LED can produce an image a lot brighter than a plasma. The average maximum luminance for a plasma is 100 cd/m2 compared to 250 cd/m2 for an LCD. In an LCD screen, the source of light is separate than the color of the pixel. The source of light behind the screen, just needs to be white and has no real size constraint. This enables the uses of very bright sources of light, like CCFL or LEDs. In a plasma screen, each color of a pixel emits their own light. The gas inside a cell is excited to produce an ultraviolet light, which then excites a phosphor. This method has a lot less potential to produce a strong light.

If you have a room with a lot of windows and lights in it, or if you normally prefer to watch television with the lights on, you will appreciate the brighter image that an LCD or LED can produce.

We take pictures of all TVs that we reviewed in a bright room. Check them out.
Winner: LED

Colors

There is no major differences between the main technologies in the accuracy of the hue of the color (the actual color, not the intensity of it). It will mostly depends on the actual model and brand of the television. Since a few years, most TVs are really good in that aspect.

Calibrated correctly, 99% of the people will not be able to say if the colors are slightly off compared to another television. The eye of humans are sensible a lot more to the intensity of the color or the clarity of the picture than the accuracy of the color.

A few televisions claims to have more colors than the others, some even add a fourth yellow pixel to the normal 3 colors (red, green and blue). The truth is, you will not see a difference. This is why the fourth yellow component always stayed as a novelty instead of becoming mainstream on all TVs; it is not worth it.

Winner: Tie

Motion Blur

LCD television with motion blur

Motion blur is a problem usually found on lower end LCD televisions. It happens when an image stays on the screen longer than intended, superposing the next image. The pixels do not change fast enough to keep up with the video, making it look blurry.

A plasma TV does not have a motion blur problem because the pixels stop emitting light as soon as the electricity ceased to be applied on them. In an LCD screen, the pixels take some time to adjust its opacity based on their polarization. If the pixels do not switch fast enough, motion blur will happen.

In the last few years, LCD screens response time improved a lot, especially the higher end models and it is not a real issue anymore. Also, manufacturers introduced panels with 120Hz refresh rate (you can learn more about what is a good refresh rate here). A 120Hz refresh rate does not guarantee the absence of motion blur (nothing prevent a pixel from taking more than 1/120 second to switch) but it is a good indication that the response time of this panel is better. Also, a 120Hz televisions will create new interpolated frames between the real frames to further prevent any motion blur.

Check out all the motion blur pictures that we took for the 2014 models here.
Winner: Plasma

Picture Quality Conclusion

There is no doubt that Plasma wins here. Even a cheap Plasma will beat the best LED TVs in term of picture quality. Plasma televisions have a wider viewing angle, deeper blacks and no motion blur. The only point where LED beats Plasma in this category is for the brightness of the screen. An LED television can be almost three times as bright as a Plasma. This makes LED TVs more suitable for very bright rooms, like rooms with a lot of windows or open rooms.

Questions

Jul 31 2013
I am looking for a 50" - 55" Plasma TV. What would be your best choice in terms of picture quality and hardware reliability?
It depends on your budget of course, but the Panasonic S60 and ST60 have a very good price/quality ratio.
18
Jan 27 2013
I recently purchased a Samsung UE40ES5500 this has a motion rate of 100, but I experience motion blur. Would this be improved by the next model up the Samsung UE40ES6300 or are they about the same? The picture is clear when static but no good on motion.
The UE40ES5500 has a real panel refresh rate of 50Hz; the motion rate of 100 is a made up number by Samsung (you can learn more here). The UE40ES6300 is a 100Hz panel, so yes it will improve a bit especially with Auto Motion Plus turned on. It isn't perfect though.
14
Nov 21 2013
So what is a good plasma? I need brightness, 50" and good picture. I want the best.
The brightest plasma by far is the Samsung F8500, which is Samsung's best plasma this year.
13
Mar 23 2013
What is the best contrast ratio or other spec should I be looking at to get a fantastic picture quality? When in a showroom nearly all the TV pictures look good and no difference.
Unfortunately, there is no good spec to look at because manufacturers always try to trick them. The contrast ratio means nothing now. The refresh rate is the closest you will get to an indication of the quality, but it is largely overblown. We measure the contrast ratio on all TVs that we test: here is the full list.
8
Nov 03 2013
Why do plasma tv's turn to a grayish background when white becomes the dominate color on screen? I have returned 2 plasmas of different brand (samsung and panasonic) because i just hated that. The picture of a movie or tv show would be fine, but when a commercial came on everything would turn to crap. A bright vibrant Apple commercial for example would immediately turn to a grayish background with not so colorful phones. I see white just fine on lettering or small amounts on screen. It only happens when white is supposed to be the majority color all over the screen.
This is somewhat normal with plasmas. The luminosity of the pixels varies depending on the overall luminosity. This feature is called Automatic Brightness Limiters (ABL). All plasma have that feature and it can't be turned on. Some models are worst than others though, and it also depends on your configuration settings (it is less of an issue in the Movie setting). You either have to accept that feature or go for an LED unfortunately...
4
Dec 07 2013
I am about at 10.5 feet viewing distance. Would you recommend 50 or 55 inch plasma?
55". Check out our distance/size guide here to know why.
4
Aug 04 2013
I live in the basement with no windows. Do you think I will notice the difference in picture quality (S60 compared to ST60). I do play ps3 often and willing to give cod up for picture quality if there is any noticeable difference between the two sets.
There is a difference, but only you can tell if it is worth it depending on how you value your money. Because you have no window and probably won't use the Smart TV interface, it is a close call though and I think a lot of person in your situation would prefer to have the 300$ difference in their pocket, especially that the S60 is a very good TV anyway.
3
Feb 23 2013
Does a blu-ray player increase the quality of regular tv on a plasma 1080/600hz?
No. A Blu-Ray player will not increase your SD videos, even if it has a resolution upscaler technology. Even the best resolution upscaler cannot really increase the quality of a SD video, and the one built-in to your TV is more than enough. A Blu-Ray player is still useful though, but only to watch HD Blu-Ray movies.
2
Nov 19 2013
I am going to buy a top model in 60". Wondering about the new generation LG 4K led vs. top model plasma from Panasonic. They are in about same price. In a normal living room with no big windows, which of them are giving me best picture for money?
Go for a plasma instead. As explain in this article, you won't see any difference between 4k and 1080p at more than 8 feet of distance for a 60" TV (not to mention 4k content is really rare and expensive). Also, given the same blu ray movie, the picture of a plasma TV is better than an LED TV because 4k doesn't matter at all when your content is in a lower resolution.
2
Feb 07 2014
We are looking for a TV with a traditional, film-like picture and will be watching in a relatively dark room. Picture quality is our priority, don't need 3D, smart features, etc. We love the picture on the Samsung plasma F8500 and would get it despite the high cost for features we won't use, but the smallest size is 51", which is too large for our space. What would you recommend in a smaller set, preferably plasma?
You don't have a lot of choices if you want a small plasma. There is only 1-2 models per manufacturer and it is their lowest in term of picture quality. Check out the Samsung F4500. In a dark room, it is still a very good TV.
2
Oct 24 2013
I am looking for a 32" - 39" TV. My room has a lot of windows. What would be your best choice in terms of picture quality and hardware reliability either led or plasma?
You do not have a choice. There is no plasma TV under 40 inch, so you will need to go for an LED.
1
Nov 11 2013
Will the Panasonic 60ST60 get brighter after 100 hours of use? Seems too dim now. I've had it for a week.
Not really. We measured a maximum white luminance of 82 cd/m2, which is average for a plasma. It is of course dimmer than LEDs (which usually gets more than 200 cd/m2). While the anti glare filter is good to remove reflections, it doesn't increase the brightness of the screen. If you want a bright plasma, the Samsung F8500 is a better choice (it goes up to 185 cd/m2). The ST60 should be bright enough for most people, but if you have a room full of windows you are better with an LED or the Samsung F8500.
1
Dec 13 2013
I have narrowed my choice between the 55 inch ST60 for $1,200 or the 55 inch VT60 for $1,500. Is it worth the $300 difference to get the VT60? Based on my research the gap between ST60 vs VT60 was much wider before.
For that price difference, it is definitely worth considering the VT60. Especially if you are a gamer, because the input lag is significantly lower on the VT60. If you do not game much though, and do not care about a fancy remote, it is a harder sell because the picture quality difference is not very big.
1
Jun 26 2014
Can the Samsung F5300 plasma handles 1080p 24p well on Blu-ray movies?
Yes. The picture is darker and has more flickers though. The feature is called Film Mode in the menus.
1
Dec 10 2013
I have two plasma TVs. Both are Samsung and same series but different sizes (51" and 60"). The picture seems a little different in the 51". Is this normal?
All panels are different, which is why a calibration is usually needed to achieve similar picture. Place the TVs next to each others and try changing the settings on one to match the other.
0
Dec 22 2013
I am looking for a 55" plasma tv for my basement. What brand will you recommend?
If you have a dark basement, go for a Panasonic. They have better blacks. Samsung plasmas are also good and can get brighter, but they don't have as good blacks. LG plasmas are not very competitive for their price.
0
Jan 12 2014
I heard that plasma TVs are going to be a thing of the past as of 2015. I own all led tvs and love them. I buy all LG TVs and never have problems with blur. Just don't like the heat and energy usage of a plasma.
Indeed, only 2 manufacturers will still produce plasma TVs for 2014.
0
Jan 22 2014
Is there any flatscreen with both LCD and plasma in one TV?
No. That is an interesting concept. The LCD layer is transparent so it could be place on top of plasma panel (the plasma panel becomes the backlight of the LCD). However, this would produce a worst picture than the plasma alone.
0
Jan 25 2014
Is there any recommendation for an LED or Plasma for use in a moderately lit basement primarily with a Wii U game system? Video games and exercise games will be used. And do the rules on sizing apply? Note, the basement temperature is approximately 54 degrees.
For a moderately lit basement, you could go either way but you would probably prefer an LED. The sizing rules applies, but keep in mind most Wii U games are rendered in 720p, not 1080p.
0
Jan 26 2014
What type of TV is better for a very bright room, led or plasma?
Definitely LED. They can get a lot brighter and usually have less reflections.
0
Jan 30 2014
Do LCD TV's have a better picture depending on the grade of HDMI?
No, the HDMI cable changes nothing in the picture quality.
0
Feb 26 2014
I have an 8 year old 55" Plasma TV (Hitachi 55HDS69) that died on me. The screen went black but the sound was fine. Contacted Hitachi and got a name of a local "authorized" service man to fix the TV. The cost would be roughly $400+ to fix, due to a bad circuit board - so is it worth it to fix this TV or buy a new LED TV instead?
If you get an LED, you will downgrade the picture quality compared to your current plasma, assuming you like your current TV. Instead, you might want to look for a new plasma. The picture quality of most models should be greater than your old plasma. That said, for a 55", you will still spend more than $400. If you are tight on the money, repairing it is the best option.
0
Apr 06 2014
Should I buy a Plasma TV if they will not be produced anymore? If they have better picture quality why are they going away?
Samsung and LG are still producing them. While they have better picture quality in a dark room, most manufacturers were losing money on them. They account for approximately 10% of the total TV sales. LEDs sell more because they are better in a bright room and the picture quality is good enough for the majority, even in a dark room.
0
Jul 02 2014
Which one has the greater brightness: led or plasma?
Definitely LED, by about 4 times.
0
Sep 01 2014
Our Panasonic plasma went on the fritz - had the 7 blinking lights. Took it in and they rang and said they couldn't fix it, and replaced it with a Viera 2014 LED model with "life screen" etc. Was watching it tonight, and notice some artifact/motion blur when people move about onscreen. Is it best to have those smoother and MPEG noise reduction settings etc on or off in the settings? I guess we had been spoiled by the plasma (which it is not possible to buy any more).
You can't expect the same picture quality on an LED. As for the settings, it depends how high quality is the content that you are watching. If the content is pure (like connected to a PC, a console, or a Blu-ray), turn off all settings. For HD channels though, MPEG noise reduction is preferable. If you want even less moving artifacts, turn off motion interpolation (called Intelligent Frame Creation on the Panasonic).
0
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