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Plasma v LED – what TV to buy

01 July 2015

Do you know your plasma from your LED? Your LCD from your OLED? Buying a television is a lot more complicated than it used to be. So before you hand over your credit card, get up to speed on the latest tech and make an informed decision about what TV to buy.

Man shopping for televisions
Your choice should come down to the factors that are most important to you

The ‘plasma’ in a plasma TV is the same gas that you find in a fluorescent light, with a huge number of pixel cells sandwiched between two layers of glass making up the screen. Transistor electrodes mix colours and adjust light intensity to create the image.

LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display. Like plasma, the liquid crystals are spread out as pixels on the screen. Unlike plasma, which emits its own light, the LCD display is backlit.

Read our guide to watching digital TV.

An LED TV is an LCD TV that’s backlit by LED lights. Cool burning LED lights use far less electricity than either incandescent or fluorescent lights. They can also be much smaller than other types of light, allowing for a thinner screen.

Then there’s OLED, the new kid on the TV block. The O stands for organic: when an electric current passes through an organic electroluminescent film, the tiny pixels in the film light up. This improves picture quality and keeps screens thin and flexible.

What TV to buy

Ultimately, your choice should come down to the factors that are most important to you, whether that’s:

  • Cost;

  • Energy use;

  • Picture quality;

  • Screen size; or

  • Longevity.


LCD TVs are the least expensive to buy, but more expensive to operate than LED TVs that consume less energy. Plasma TVs have come down in price, but are the biggest energy consumers. OLED TVs are energy misers, but cost far more than their competitors because the technology is new.

When it comes to picture quality, it’s between plasma and OLED. With both types of screen, each pixel lights up or turns off independently, giving blacker blacks and sharper images than LCD or LED TVs.

If you’re looking for a big screen TV and great picture quality, the biggest OLED currently available is 55 inches (LEDs and LCDs are up to 90 inches). However, you might be taking a chance on the longevity of your TV. Experts warn that OLEDs have some potential bugs that are yet to be properly tested over time.

Find out more about Catch-up TV.

Right now, LED offers the best balance between price and quality, but what TV to buy is up to you. If you’re a casual viewer, you can find some great deals on LCD TVs. If you’re willing to pay more for better picture quality, consider stepping up to an LED. Some home theatre buffs still swear by plasmas, but manufacturers are phasing them out which means fewer to choose from. Will only the latest and greatest do? Then try an OLED TV, but be ready for a hefty price tag. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.