LCD vs. Plasma: Which HDTV Is Right for You?

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Looking to buy a flat-panel HDTV? Most people want big, of course--the bigger the better. But a 50-inch set could set you back a pretty penny. While a 40- or 42-inch display won't give you the 50-inch home movie theater sensation, it will provide a good-size screen at a considerably lower price. About as high as standard-shape 34-inch sets, but considerably wider, TVs in this category don't feel like much of a compromise.

We examined twelve of the latest 40- to 42-inch flat-panel TVs we could find to determine which ones give you the most for your money. Our test group consisted of five plasma sets (Hewlett-Packard's PL4272N, Panasonic's TH-42PZ700U, Pioneer's PDP-4280HD, Samsung's HP-T4264, and Vizio's VP42) and seven LCD sets (HP's LC4276N, LG's 42LB5D, Philips's 42PFL7432D/37, Samsung's LN-T4061, Sony's KDL-40V3000, Toshiba's 42HL167, and Vizio's GV42LF).

Our jury watched recorded television broadcasts as well as clips from DVD, Blu-ray, and HD DVD discs. We found that most of the the sets produced superb pictures most of the time. Because the sets' image-quality scores didn't vary much, the word "Good" appears frequently in our Top 10 chart for HDTVs.

But we also considered design, setup, on-screen menus, inputs, and extra features such as picture-in-picture and USB or memory card support. And of course, price is a significant variable: TVs have become an extremely competitive market. And since image quality wasn't a major point of differentiation with the sets in our roundup, price and features were much bigger factors in determining the sets' overall scores; those elements caused some low-priced sets to land high on the chart.

There were no standout winners, but Samsung's sets--one an LCD and one a plasma--captured the top two spots on our chart. They didn't give us the best pictures, but their sensible design, variety of options, and reasonable prices lifted them above the rest.

But if you're looking for the best picture regardless of cost, Panasonic's TH-42PV700U is the set to get; it's the first 42-inch 1080p plasma set. Still, Vizio's VP42 finished a very close second in image quality, and it costs just over half as much as the Panasonic.

It may well be that calibrating the sets using professional equipment connected to their RS232 or USB ports would have improved their output quality substantially. But who wants to pay $400 to calibrate a $1000 set? Most people won't do it--and that's why we adjusted the sets for our tests using only their on-screen controls.

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