While lots of LCD TVs can wow department store shoppers with their bright screens and shiny bezels, there is a hidden truth.
Even poor televisions can look good underneath bright fluorescent store lights. But only the best can look stunning in pitch black test conditions.
In most LCD TVs, blacks appear more like deep-water greys. Fast moving footage judders across the screen as the panel fails to keep up with the action. And colour accuracy can sometimes be so far from real-life you'd be amazed.
So how do you guarantee you're getting the best TV for all conditions? The answer is to buy a high-end plasma TV. Simply put, they leave LCD televisions in the dust.
Plasma TVs have a larger and more accurate colour range, a higher contrast ratio and better black levels for improved depth of field.
LCD manufacturers often quote wide viewing angles but don't mention that although the picture is still visible at a wider angle, the quality of picture decreases dramatically off axis. Plasma viewing angles are comparable yet maintain the full picture quality at all times.
Motion response times are also better in plasma TVs. That's because they typically have less than a millisecond response time; Even the best LCDs are just about hitting two milliseconds. This is too slow for fast moving action and results in blurred edges especially in fine detail areas.
Ironically, LCDs only hold a 1080p resolution with a static image. When the image moves fast, the perceived resolution your eye resolves from a 1080p LCD is actually less than standard definition.
With this in mind, here's a six-pack of the best (plasma) televisions that money can buy...
1. Pioneer Kuro PDP-LX6090 - £4200
It's not often that you get to see a product that literally shocks you with its jaw-dropping immense quality. The 9th generation (G9) plasma TV series from Pioneer is one of them. This 60-inch model is the best television in the world.
And that's not an exaggeration. There is not a television out there that you could buy - at any price - that's better than this one.
For its G9 panels, Pioneer has nigh-on eliminated light bleed from individual cells and, therefore, can directly control the luminance of each separate pixel of the 1920 x 1080 resolution without any 'muddying' of colours or, indeed, black itself.
This has a secondary benefit; while blacks retain their integrity, brightness (white) is also represented with pinpoint accuracy.
Add in excellent colour fidelity and you get an astonishing picture. A simple example is illustrated with many disclaimer scenes at the front of DVDs or Blu-ray discs, which are generally white text on a black background.
Most, if not all, TVs will show glowing or ghosting around the edges of the words, not so here.
On both of these Kuro screens, they are as solid as if they'd been printed.
And the white is, well... completely white. Not yellow or grey, but Duluxstyle white.
Oh, and there's the small matter of the fact that, even in our own Tech Labs, we tested the contrast ratio of the LX6090, in real world circumstances, at almost 47,869:1 - not claimed - tested. Read our full review.
2. Pioneer Kuro PDP-LX5090 - £2500
It's no real surprise then that the second best television in existence is the Pioneer Kuro LX-5090. It's essentially the same telly but with a 50-inch screen instead of a 60-inch one.
Amazingly, the contrast ration on this model beat that of the 60-inch version in our test lab - 50,615:1 instead of 47,869:1.
No other screens tested have ever come anywhere close.
What that means is that even though you won't get quite as much of a cinematic feel as the larger set, quality is retained and even improved in the smaller model.
The shadow detail on these sets is simply amazing, giving images an almost 3D appeal.
And without any intricate tweaking, we were able to get the colour temperature to a perfect 65K without compromise. And therefore we could spin the Blu-ray edition of Men in Black safe in the knowledge that we were seeing it as the director intended - at 24 frames per second, with a wholly accurate colour field.
As has been widely reported, these will be the last Kuro TVs to feature Pioneer-made glass. From 2009, the company will source its substrates from rival Panasonic.
It remains to be seen how they'll compare to these beauties. TV connoisseurs should care less, though; resisting these screens is futile. Our advice is buy now and enjoy. Read our full review.
3. Pioneer Kuro PDP-LX608D - £4000
And here comes another telly from Pioneer. This is the flagship model from the last generation. That doesn't mean it's out of date though - because while it's been outstripped by Pioneer's latest models, this ones is still one of the best TVs out there on the market.
The LX608D is a remarkable TV in so many ways. We could enthuse about the cinematic impact it delivers, and how it still has amazing black levels.
We could even say that its performance is so good, that this is the TV that put to rest any ghosts of Toshiba's now-dead SED technology. But perhaps it's sufficient just to say that this is probably one of the most accomplished TVs in the world - even though it's now a year old.
The key consideration for anyone thinking about buying this TV is price. If you can get it for considerably less than the £4200 that the LX6090 is going for, then it's certainly a good option. However, if prices fail to come down, you might be better off going for the newer model. Read our full review.
4. Panasonic TH-58PZ700B - £2300
Enthusiasts of TV techno-bling troubled by the sheer choice of 50-,52- , 60- and 65in screens now have a new configuration to ponder: 58in.
More than some, less than others. Actually, the size transpires to be a great fit for plasma-king Panasonic.
The brand's new TH-58PZ700B is a glossy Full HD TV, with plenty of clever tech to justify the £2300 asking price. We were particularly impressed by the barely visible 'SmartSound' stereo speakers, which deliver probably the best audio we've heard on a flatscreen.
In terms of performance, the TH-58PZ700B transcends expectations.
With the exquisite HD DVD version of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's dystopian LA has never looked better.
Thanks to this Panny's wide contrast range, the city's grime, rain and shadowy depths are all brought to stunning life - even though the TV falls short of delivering a true black.
The sheer resolution of HD comes across well; everylit window in the Tyrell offices is individually discernable.
As the movie's frequent neon lighting demonstrates, saturated colours are superbly-rendered, but so to are more subtle hues and shades.
Digital TV is a little on the 'soft' side, which admittedly helps to mask artifacts. A digital noise reduction facility is only effective in the removal of 'grain' from analogue sources.
Overall, the Panasonic TH-58PZ700B is a superior plasma television, perfect for big-screen movie viewing.
This may not be as good as the 60-inch offerings from Pioneer, but the significantly cheaper retail price makes it a real contender. Read our full review.
5. Samsung PS-63P76FD - £2600
The glossy, ultra-minimalist black bezel on this TV gives it at least a modicum of predictable style.
Although it looks more like an overweight version of one of the brand's 32in LCDs than a genuinely-styled 63-inch panel.
Connectivity is good. The 63P76 features three HDMI v1.3 inputs, compatible with DeepColor (the expanded colour palette from specific software, such as AVCHD format home movies and certain PlayStation 3 games), and automatic lip-syncing.
Image quality is high. The set is compatible with 1080p/24 source material, be it HD DVD or Blu-ray, meaning that pans are more-or-less judder-free on film material.
Also undeniably impressive is the Samsung's black level response. The darkness of the Berlin Warehouse assault on the HD DVD of Mission: Impossible: III looks rich and three-dimensional; it's genuinely cinematic.
The Samsung easily outguns its rival Fujitsu 63in model in this area.
It's very difficult to make a self-emitting technology like plasma look bright on such a large screen.
It is possible to get better performance from some of its rivals, but then you'll almost certainly pay more for the privilege. Read our full review.
6. LG 50PG6000 - £800
LG claims the 50PG6000 offers the blackest ever blacks on a plasma TV.
Pioneer's 8G Kuro plasma promised a 20,000:1 contrast ratio, whereas this sumptuous plasma giant claims to top that by 50 per cent.
So is there a catch? Well, yes. Unlike pretty much every other big-screen plasma available, it does not use a Full HD panel.
This is a 720p product - one of the reasons why it's a lot cheaper than the others listed heree. So does that make it a non-starter with Full HD sources such as Blu-ray and HD DVD?
Amazingly, the answer appears to be 'No'.
We've been long convinced that Full HD is the only way to go if you want to enjoy every ounce of available HD goodness, but this modest monster went some way to blowing our preconceptions asunder.
In a PQ battle with Sony's hi-spec 1080p KDL-46W3000 LCD it wins by a country mile.
Clearly the lack of Full HD resolution will limit the LG 50PG6000's appeal to high-enders and future-proofers alike, but this screen remains a bargain. Read our full review.
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