Spoutin' Off: Thick, thin, heavy or hot: Which screen is for you?
By Michael E. Rau
March 21 2005
So, you're flipping through the sales fliers in the Sunday paper, and everyone who sells electronics is pitching TVs and computer monitors employing "flat screens." They look pretty cool, but they're expensive when compared to traditional displays. Is a flat screen the right choice for you?
First, we need a quick and dirty glossary of terms used to define display types.
"CRT" stands for cathode-ray tube. This is the traditional blown glass tube display with which we've been familiar for decades in TVs and computer monitors. Some of these are now made with a flat front to reduce distortion, but are not what we're referring to here as "flat screen."
"Projection" TVs have been around for about 30 years in various forms. You've seen these in sports bars and other public places, with the projector often suspended from the ceiling 15 to 20 feet from a wall-mounted screen. Projection TVs also can be self-contained, with the projector pointing up to a mirror, which in turn reflects the image onto the back side of a translucent screen.
"DLP" stands for digital light processing. DLP displays are a type of projection system that use a complex proprietary technology. The systems themselves resemble contemporary analog self-contained projection systems, but actually process a digital signal.
"Plasma" displays use a single high-intensity light source to illuminate a flat array of thousands of tiny gas-filled tubes. These are among the thinner displays, with the only real drawbacks being the generation of a lot of heat from the light source and a tendency for the screens to acquire burned-in images over a period of time.
"LCD" stands for liquid crystal display. LCDs are the thinnest displays, as well as the most energy-efficient. They're also the most expensive, but advances in the past few years in manufacturing technology, as well as a glutted supply chain, are driving down prices for LCDs.
Projection, DLP and plasma systems all require a fairly large footprint to house the components required, so these systems are only used in larger display televisions.
So, if you're buying a TV or monitor, the cheapest will be a CRT. You know what you're getting. They've been around your whole life. If you're only looking at large-display TVs, here are three more options:
Analog projection TVs are common, but if you compare the image quality to any other display, I think you'd agree that it's pretty poor.
DLPs are said to have the best image reproduction, and if image quality is the most important issue for you in a TV, they're worth looking at. But in my opinion, the complexity and proprietary nature of the technology will prevent broad popular acceptance.
Plasma TVs are a bit heavy and run hot, but have good image reproduction and are, at least for now, cheaper than LCDs. As reported on ZDNet.com, a recent study by IT consultants META Group described why LCD monitors are becoming the standard on office desktops:
Procurement costs for flat-panel LCD monitors have dropped 60 percent to 65 percent during the past two years.
During the typical PC desktop life cycle of three to four years, the energy savings will aid in reducing total cost of ownership - even more so considering most LCD monitors last for at least five years.
They generate lower heat and emission levels.
Flat-panel displays typically have less screen flicker or are flicker free. Not only does this provide sharper, clearer images, but it also contributes to end-user satisfaction by reducing glare, thereby reducing eye strain and enhancing productivity.
They reduce office clutter.
They emit very little electromagnetic radiation.
With more regulatory mandates coming into force, flat-panel displays provide the added benefits of being safer and less expensive to dispose of at the end of their life cycle.
While this study applies to computer monitors in an office environment, it's easy to translate the conclusions to apply to LCD TVs, too.
Already, the cost of a decent 17-inch LCD monitor is a third of what 17-inch CRT monitors cost just five years ago.
Poke around and you can find a well-rated off-brand 27-inch LCD TV for under $1,000. And that's $1,000 less than a year ago.
Mike Rau is a mass communications consultant in Virginia Beach. E-mail him at email@example.com
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