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LCD vs. DLP - Which is Better?

written by: David Braun•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 6/22/2009

Choices, choices! With so many different kinds and sizes of televisions out there, how do we ever know which one is better for what we need? Here we delve into the pros and cons of DLP and LCD and offer some scenarios in which one style would be "better" than the other.

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    Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

    LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) televisions have gained huge popularity in recent years. It seems like everyone has an LCD screen, from cell phones to in-car DVD players to the video screen on your iPod. As advances in video technology created bigger and wider computer screens, the transition to LCD televisions was natural. LCD provides an extremely sharp, high-definition display in a very compact body. Gone are the days of the huge, bulky old televisions we knew as CRT screens.

    LCD televisions are by far the most popular type in the world today, with dozens of different sizes and a wide range of quality. The main draw of LCD is its thin, elegant design. For someone who has a large space on the wall and is looking to mount a flat screen TV, LCD is an outstanding option. Many manufacturers even offer various types of ambient and effect lighting designed to enhance the aesthetics in just such a scenario. LCDs weigh less than plasma, run cooler, and use significantly less power. In addition, in a brightly lit room, LCD has an advantage over plasma in that there is significantly less glare from the screen.

    If you are not planning to mount your TV on the wall, however, there is another, often less expensive option. Since we have ruled out plasma, in comparison to LCD, let's move on to discuss DLP.

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    Digital Light Projection (DLP)

    DLP, often called "rear-projection," is not necessarily a new technology. Most of the humungous, boxy, "big screen" TVs that were in production before the flat screen craze came into popularity were of DLP design. Simply put, DLP uses a bulb, projection lens, and a system of mirrors to create the image you see on the screen. Because of the simple design and the pre-existence of the technology, DLP TVs often do not come at quite the premium in price that one tends to find with LCD and Plasma screens. In most cases, with DLP you tend to get more screen for your dollar.

    In the past, DLP TVs were usually massive affairs. Generally coming in a full entertainment center-style enclosure, sometimes the size of a refrigerator, DLP TVs could be extremely heavy and consume huge amounts of power. However, many of the same technological advances that led to the popularity of LCD also applied to DLP. Nowadays, DLP screens are often lighter and sometimes even more slender than an LCD or plasma screen. Compare the 11" footprint on a "slim design" Samsung DLP to the same size and brand LCD screen (on its stand, as opposed to wall mounted) and you will find that the DLP actually requires a full inch less space. Of course, you cannot mount a DLP screen on the wall, but a 50" DLP TV will cost, on average, about $200 less than a 50" LCD screen.

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    Pros and Cons

    LCD usually boasts a high contrast ratio and very fast refresh rates, which makes for easy-on-the-eyes viewing and very little blur when watching high-speed events such as sports. With less glare than plasma, these make for great looking home televisions. However, LCD design creates what can sometimes be a limited viewing angle. The quality of the picture will decrease as you move around to the side of the TV. This is a fundamental issue with all LCD screens and while it may not affect some users, it is nonetheless important to note depending on your needs.

    In a DLP TV, the core component is the bulb. While the bulbs have a limited lifespan (usually about 10,000 to 20,000 hours), and cost about $300 to replace, there is no such thing as "burn-in" with a DLP TV. When the image starts to dim and the picture gets blurry or faded, replacing the bulb will rejuvenate the image. With LCD, burn-in is a significant issue, which occurs when the TV is left on too long or sometimes even just from extended use. When that happens with an LCD, the only option is to replace the entire screen. With DLP, a new bulb is like getting a new TV. In addition, with DLP, dead pixels are much less of an issue, as the individual pixels are not turned on and off the way they are with an LCD screen.

    As previously mentioned, one major pro of buying DLP is the screen size for the money. A 50" DLP capable of 1080p resolution may cost less than $1000, whereas an LCD with the same specifications is almost certainly going to exceed that price. Therefore, while LCD may be trendy and popular, do your homework and look into DLP. You may just save yourself enough money to buy that PS3, too.