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Consumer Reports: for 3D, plasma better than LCD

David Hughes's picture

HDTVs continue to gain features, grow in size, and shrink in price. Many analysts expect this holiday shopping season to be the most competitive yet in terms of price. For many consumers, however, the wild card this year are the brand-new 3D-capable HDTV sets appearing in the marketplace. Consumer Reports, the leading consumer magazine, has been testing those models, with some interesting results. Read on for details.

When it comes to 3D capability, plasma "rules" over LCD

Many questions surround the adoption of 3D displays, such as mutually exclusive (and expensive) glasses needed to see the 3D effects, the high price of displays, the dearth of content, and the issue of eyestrain or headaches when viewing 3D effects. When it comes to the glasses, third-party solutions are around the corner which will offer a "universal" style of glasses that work with any manufacturer's 3D technology, but they are unfortunately not quite read for market. In terms of the price, 3D televisions are pricey, but the price is comparable to where 'standard' HDTVs of comparable quality were as little as 12 months ago.

In terms of content, 3D video has very limited availability. There are a handful of 3D Blurays (most notably James Cameron's Avatar), a few television broadcasts (ESPN has been doing several experimental sports broadcasts that are receiving very high praise), and gaming. Right now it appears that gaming will be one of the stronger drivers of 3D adoption. PC gamers can use NVIDIA's 3D drivers to power a TV (or 3D monitor), and high-profile console games like the recently released Call of Duty: Black Ops and the upcoming Killzone 3 innovate with 3D.

When it comes to viewing 3D content, unfortunately there is no magic bullet for viewers who get eyestrain or experience headaches. Consumer Reports notes that "researchers are still studying the potential effects of long-term viewing," but no answers are available right now. If possible, try the effect in a store before buying a set, but at least rest assured that all 3D-capable HDTVs are more than capable at displaying 2D content.

Those issues aside, the main thing you need to know about 3D HDTVs is that plasma produces a more realistic 3D effect than LCD (regardless of backlight technology). Consumer Reports' lab testing attributes this to two factors: plasmas have less ghosting because of their much higher refresh/scan rate. The benefits of plasma (unlimited viewing angle and deeper blacks) also aid "the sense of depth and dimension." They do, however, note that the brighter screens of LCD displays can be a plus for some viewers, because auto-shutter glasses dim the image produced by the screen when viewing 3D content.

Especially over the past 18 months, LCD displays (whether CCFL or LED-backlit) have come to dominate the consumer market. Consumer Reports notes, however, that even with 2D content, plasma TVs are the better bet. One problem with early plasma sets that gave them a bad reputation in the public was screen burn-in. Panasonic, however, has implemented a number of interesting technologies to mitigate this effect--most notably their 'orbiting pixel technology'. A second problem was the much higher energy consumption of a plasma TV. Consumer Reports, however, notes that with Energy Star 4.0 in effect a 54-inch plasma TV costs only $10 more a year in energy usage versus even the most efficient 55-inch LCD display. The slightly darker displays (and their glossiness) is also less of an issue than in the past. If these findings continue, the adoption of 3D could lead to a resurgence in plasma HDTV sales.

Source: Consumer Reports December 2010 issue. On newsstands now!

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