As Super Bowl XLI approaches, you'll hear a lot about the new state-of-the-art features in big- screen, high-definition televisions. Consumer electronics manufacturers move a lot of units for the big game, and they advertise heavily. This of course affects the perceptions of new-home buyers who may be considering a home entertainment package. And unless your salespeople are extremely knowledgeable in this area, you risk running into a stumbling block–albeit relatively minor–to the sale. These days, who needs even a minor hitch?

HDTVs have been out there for a while, and the average consumer, usually male, is armed with quite a bit more knowledge than he was just a year ago. And technology is moving so fast that what seemed to be the standard in the summer of 2006 now looks more like "clearance."

Plasma vs. LCD

For most, a flat-panel HDTV is the preferred choice in an entertainment package. The battle between LCD and plasma rages on, but while plasma still is tops, LCD does appear to be pulling even.

Plasma was, and still is in sets 50 inches and up, the standard in flat-panel TVs. They deliver a warm, sharp, and natural image that is better than all but the best front projectors and rival the old cathode ray tube.

But plasmas are subject to what is called "burn-in"–the permanent etching of an image on the screen that occurs when the set is tuned into a static image for too long. In the past two to three years, great strides have been made toward eliminating burn-in, but it still can happen. Moreover, plasmas have a limited useful life, estimated to be 60,000 hours or more. Still, plasmas are considered better in low light, wide-angle viewing situations. Another issue is cost. The arrival of 1080-line, progressive-scan DVD players and HD-DVDs are moving the market toward 1080p TVs. It is much more expensive to produce a plasma display than it is an LCD in the 1080p format.

LCDs, on the other hand, are not subject to burn-in and, theoretically, they should last indefinitely. The individual LCDs that make up the pixels can be made very small, allowing more of them to be crammed into a display, which is what gives LCDs the price advantage in 1080p. To date, LCDs are cheaper than plasmas in smaller sizes, but they are more expensive in sizes greater than 42 inches.

Advantage LCD

Longer term, LCD probably holds the competitive edge because LCD pixels can be made smaller than plasma pixels, making the LCD's picture sharper. And, LCDs can theoretically handle any number of colors to create the color palette, whereas plasmas operate with three primary colors. And as more plants in the Far East ramp up for LCD panel production, the technology should become less expensive, putting it at a distinct pricing advantage over plasma. Chunghwa Picture Tubes in Taiwan recently shut down its plasma business to focus exclusively on LCDs.

Sony, too, has abandoned the plasma market for all but professional applications. "We just feel that LCD technology is the future. It's the best technology out there," a spokesperson explains.

Still, Joel Silver, founder and director of the Imaging Science Foundation in Boca Raton, Fla., says the jury is still out on one technology versus the other. "The big issues are light and the viewing angles. Builders should offer options for their clients."

William Gloede For true home theater applications in which a screen size of 60, 80, or 100 inches is necessary, plasma still reigns among flat-panel technologies, and probably will for some time. LCDs are better for a great room where there is usually abundant natural and ambient light.

Builders should be careful what they believe as the claims and counterclaims made by one side or the other. Silver has the right idea: Let the customer decide. BB

–William Gloede, Big Builder's Digital Home editor-at-large, lives and works in Camden, Maine. E-mail: