Which TV to watch?


32 LCD

When buying a new TV one is confronted by a barrage of technical jargon, abbreviations, acronyms and other technical lexicon, leaving many of us asking the question, what does this all mean?

This guide sets out to explain some of the nuances of buying a new TV and to simply explain the terms and phrases commonly used in the TV business. A quick browse through the TV & Projector category reveals that use of these terms has become ubiquitous in our modern society.

When it comes to TVs, most of the time bigger is better. The size of a TV is expressed as the diagonal length of the screen area and is given in inches. This measurement is used predominantly with new, flat-panel televisions, compared to older CRT Sets which were often sized in centimetres. It is recommended that a screen of at least 40″ is used in large entertainment rooms, with smaller 24″-32″ sets being recommended for use in smaller rooms and bedrooms.

Anyone buying or browsing televisions recently will have noticed that modern high definition televisions either support 1080p or 720p. The number refers to the number of horizontal lines of resolution the TV is capable of displaying, with 1080p being the maximum resolution of modern TVs. The 720p, also referred to as HD Ready or half HD, is the current high definition broadcasting format in South Africa and has slightly less resolution than a full HD 1080p. Devices such as the Sony PS3, Xbox 360 or a Blu-ray player can play media in 1080p format, although the Xbox 360 makes use of upscaling to achieve this.

The next lot of jargon to decipher is plasma, LED & LCD – and the advantages and disadvantages of each type of flat panel TV.


First up: Plasma TVs. Plasma TVs were the first in the breed of flat panel, high definition TVs. Plasma TVs run on the same principles as CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) TVs where electrons hitting red, blue and green phosphors illuminate to produce the TV picture. In plasma TVs though, the electron is replaced by a gas. The use of gas allows for a much greater density of pixels to be displayed on the screen, creating a much clearer, more defined picture than CRT TVs. This technology makes plasma TVs the clear winner in terms of the quality of black colours produced, with the blacks being deep, inky and uniform. The disadvantage of plasma TVs are that they are only available in larger sizes making them rather expensive. Furthermore, plasma TVs are much heavier than their LCD and LED counterparts as a result of the electronics needed to ionize the plasma gases. Additionally  early models of plasma TVs were susceptible to screen burn-in, if left displaying a static image for an extended period of time, which is something to be wary of in the second-hand market.

Next we move to the move advanced technology found in LCD and LED TVs. LCD and LED TVs are much more similar than most people will imagine. In fact, both LED and LCD TVs make use of an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) to create images. The main difference is found in the way each of these types of TV produce the back-lighting for the images being displayed.

LCD TVs make use of CCFL (Cold-Cathode Fluorescent Lamps) to illuminate the image being produced by the LCD display. This is the main difference between LCD & LED TVs, which as the name suggests make use of an array of LEDs to back-light the image. The advantages of LED back lit TVs have over standard LCD TVs stem from the superior black levels  given by LED TVs, as well as energy efficiency improvements.

Samsung-UN55D8000 LED TV

Choosing a new or secondhand TV can be a daunting challenge. It is important to take into consideration the room the TV will be placed in and the angle you and your family will be viewing it from as these all affect the quality of the picture our eye perceives.  For a large room, where there’s a possibility of people viewing the TV from an angle, a plasma TV is best, because of the high contrast ratio, high black levels and the fact that image’s colouring will not be different when viewing the TV from the sides. It is important to remember that Plasma TVs are a minimum of 42″ in size and that the technology was designed for large applications from it’s inception.

In smaller rooms, LCD TVs will in most instances perform better, whether LED backlit or CCFL backlit, due to the smaller screen size diminishing the likelihood of motion blur becoming a problem.  Overall, plasmas may be slightly more expensive, due to the fact that they are only made in large sizes and can only be placed in rooms large enough to accommodate them but will provide a high quality picture for years to come. So, the next time you’re in the market for a television remember that while the TV itself impacts on the picture quality, factors such as viewing distance, screen size and whether or not your broadcaster makes use of full 1080p HD also impact substantially on the eventual picture quality.