LCD or plasma? If you've been shopping for a flat-panel TV, that's the big question. According to a mystery-shopper survey, electronics salespeople don't know much about the differences, but still have a ready answer: LCD.
More than three times out of four, salespeople steer customers to a liquid-crystal display set rather than a plasma screen, according to a study by J.D. Power and Associates released Monday.
Never mind that LCD TVs are more expensive for the same size. The survey also found that more than 37 percent of salespeople warned customers that images can "burn" into plasma screens.
"Although burn-in was once a problem with the first plasmas to hit the market, this has not been a serious issue for several years," said Larry Wu, senior director of the technology practice at J.D. Power. The longevity of plasma displays is now on par with LCDs.
Salespeople also often mentioned a plasma drawback that's still relevant: their glossy front surface can create distracting reflections of lights and windows in the room.
Even with their preference for LCDs, the salespeople rarely mentioned those TVs' advantages. Fewer than one-fourth told customers that LCD sets are lighter and consume less power than plasma.
The report was based on the experiences of more than 2,000 mystery shoppers during the last six months. It focused on sets 40 inches or larger, where plasmas are contenders. The recommendation rate for plasmas increased over the period, from 17 percent in the first quarter to 23 percent in the second quarter.
"At most retail stores, large-screen television shoppers face an array of flat panel sets that all look essentially the same to the untrained eye, which is why recommendations from salespersons carry so much importance," Wu said.
Plasma displays were the first mainstream flat-panel display technology, but LCDs have gained ground. Sony Corp. has stopped making plasma TVs to focus on LCDs. Samsung Electronic Co. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., the parent of Panasonic, still make both kinds. Pioneer, the premier name in high-end plasma sets, has announced that it will stop manufacturing the displays, and will buy them from Matsushita instead.