crtRemember when a 23 inch Cathode ray tube (CRT) TV was considered a luxury item? Techno Buffalo’s Jon Rettinger certainly does. In our review of ten years of tech highlights, Jon fondly remembers the joy he felt at owning one of these monsters. These days of course, a 23-inch screen can often be found atop computer workstations. Much, much larger TVs now sit in the corners of living rooms (or even hanging on walls) throughout the globe – and more often than not they’re flat too.

The roots of liquid crystal display (LCD) technology stem from discoveries made in the late 1880s by Friedrich Reinitzer but the first commercial TV to use LCD was a 14 inch full color model from electronics giant Sharp about a hundred years later. Plasma displays started showing up in the late 1960s but due to the relative cheapness of CRT and some technical issues, failed to make much of a market impact until TV screen size became an important issue to the general public.

Weighing up the good and bad

Each flavor of thin, flat TV has its pros and cons. LCDs are slim, light and less susceptible to image burn but viewers sitting on the outer edge of the optimum viewing angles could find the experience a disappointing one and the need to refresh an image could lead to blurring (although this is much less of an issue nowadays).


The bigger the better is plasma’s main advantage, together with good handling of contrast ratios, the absence of motion blur and the enjoyment of a similar viewing experience no matter the angle. Image burn and the loss of luminosity over time were plasma’s main disadvantages, although things are getting better.


Debates continue to rage over which flat-screen format offers the best viewing experience, plasma or LCD, and both camps have their very vocal followers. But if a recent report from Austin’s Display Search is anything to go by, it would seem that the public has made its choice. Of the estimated 205 million TVs shipped in 2009, 69% of those were LCD and the figure is predicted to rise to 78% in 2010.

Who is fueling demand?

Walking by any electronics store in the US or Western Europe, it may be tempting to assume by the huge range of TVs on display that it’s our need to watch the latest reality TV clone on a screen large enough to allow for clear viewing from the house on the other side of the street. But it may surprise you to learn that much of the worldwide growth in sales of LCD TVs is actually being fueled by China’s thirst for flat-paneled entertainment.

For manufacturers there is a slight downside of course, as LCD TVs become more popular their price drops. But as lower prices mean more units sold, books tend to get balanced and profits still get recorded. The cost of plasma is falling too but with relatively few models available at less than 40 inches, such TVs are likely to sit at the higher end of the consumer market.

In the coming months and years, it will be interesting to see if other technologies (such as organic light-emitting diode or OLED and surface-conduction electron-emitter display or SED) will dent LCD’s supremacy. Which TV format do you prefer and why?