Flat panel display televisions have fully come into their own in this time leaving old-fashioned CRT tube televisions in the dustbin of last century. The emergence of high definition was the death knell for the old tubes as they could not be constructed in the wide 16:9 aspect ratio of that emerging format. Flat panels became the natural successor to old technology.
The Plasma Age
The flat panel has developed along several different technological lines. The early leader in the late 1990's was the plasma display. First publically marketed around 1997, these 42 inch displays could cost a staggering $14,999.00. The prices dropped substantially after the first year or two and at the turn of the 21st century, the plasma display was the clear leader in the wide-screen television market. While maintaining a superior contrast ratio, plasma displays suffer from screen burn with static images. This was ameliorated but not eliminated in later models. This shortcoming makes plasma displays unsuitable as computer monitors. Additionally, plasma displays can only show up to 720p resolution.
The LCD Takes Over
Development of the LCD flat panel paralleled the plasma screen, but early efforts yielded an inferior product. It was not until 2006 that LCD screens began a serious assault on the market. LCD and plasma reached price parity in 2007 at which time the higher 1080p resolution LCD became the clear leader. This type screen had fewer limitations than plasma and used far less power.
The Bright World of LED
The LED flat screen television uses the same LCD type display but has a more efficient lighting system. The LCD display uses cold cathode (fluorescent) lighting for the screen while the LED screen uses light emitting diodes as the light source. These are more efficient and allow better contrast. More on LED TV's in a bit.
The 3D Promise
The latest iteration of the wide-screen flat panel is the 3D television. This development has exciting potential but like most emerging technologies, it has yet to deliver its full promise. A standard is still being decided upon and for now, we are presented with options using different viewing glasses to achieve 3D. There are early efforts at autostereoscopic sets which do not require glasses but the results are not yet mature.
The LED Advantage
LED televisions have exploded onto the marketplace in the last few years and have quickly earned a place of pre-eminence. Featuring display brightness and contrast that was previously only available on plasma displays (albeit at lower resolution,) the full 1080p LED sets have become preferred viewing for consumers in the know.
The LED display lighting comes in two main forms, edge-lit and full array. Both share the bright, crisp image of this technology but full array has a slight edge. Either method shares the advantages of more balanced color saturation, lower power consumption, a thinner profile, and no mercury (unlike florescent lit LCD's.)
For the clearest viewing experience, LED televisions are the obvious best choice.