Plasma sets used to be the only flat-screen TVs larger than 40 inches. Now, LCDs come in big sizes, too. With the price gap between plasma...

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Plasma sets used to be the only flat-screen TVs larger than 40 inches. Now, LCDs come in big sizes, too.

With the price gap between plasma TVs and big-screen LCDs narrowing, more buyers are choosing the liquid-crystal-display sets — and finding that recent technological advances have improved picture quality.

Thin LCD sets are the lightest type of TV. Even sets with 40-inch-plus screens weigh only 50 pounds or so — about half as much as a 42-inch plasma TV. Moreover, the best LCDs have excellent picture quality. Native resolution (the number of pixels on the screen) tends to be higher than for a similar-sized plasma set, allowing for finer detail.

But despite some gains in technology, most LCD TVs still haven’t caught up with plasmas in terms of viewing angle (the farther from head-on your viewing angle, the dimmer the picture may be), color accuracy and the ability to display the deepest blacks. In addition, some sets have difficulty conveying the gradations of shading smoothly.

Still, in our tests, the best LCDs scored as well as the top plasma TVs.

Best of the sets

Those tests looked primarily at picture quality — trained panelists considered clarity and color accuracy with both high-definition and standard-definition signals — although sound quality and ease of use were also measured. Among LCDs, we rated models with screen sizes of 32 inches, 37 inches and 40 inches or more. Prices ranged from $1,000 to $3,300.

40-inch and larger models. Our top-rated big model, the 40-inch Sony Bravia KDL-V40XBR1 ($3,000), had a sharp, clear, colorful picture, even with the standard-definition signals used on regular TV. (Its brand mate, the 40-inch Bravia KDL-40S2000, came close in picture quality to the XBR1, and costs $700 less.)

Scoring almost as well as the top-rated Sony, the 40-inch JVC LT-40X787 ($2,800) had fine picture quality and sound, and a wide viewing angle. For good value in a 42-inch set, consider the Westinghouse LVM-42W2 ($2,000 for the monitor without built-in tuners) — one of a growing number of LCDs with a resolution high enough (dubbed 1080p by manufacturers) to display all the detail in most HDTV broadcasts and high-definition DVDs.

37-inch models. Our top pick here was the Sharp Aquos LC-37D90U ($2,500), one of the few 1080p sets of this size. Among the best LCD TVs we’ve tested, it has a fairly narrow angle for optimal viewing, and black levels could be deeper. For a fine 37-inch set at a great price ($1,700), consider the LG 37LC2D.

32-inch models. There are several good choices here. We liked two Sonys — the top-rated Bravia KDL-V32XBR1 ($2,000) and the Bravia KDL-32S2000 ($1,500) — the JVC LT-32X787 ($1,500), the Toshiba 32HL66 ($1,200) and the Panasonic TC-32LX60 ($1,300). The JVC had the widest viewing angle, while the Toshiba had the best black levels and HD picture.

Lower scoring overall, the Westinghouse LTV-32W4HDC and the Magnavox 32MF231D/37 are nonetheless good buys at $1,000 each. Although its picture quality with standard-definition signals was only fair, the Magnavox displayed a bright, punchy picture in HD.

Reliable data

With more consumers buying flat-panel TVs, there’s a growing amount of data on reliability, and the news is good. During the first year or two of use, LCD TVs have been just as reliable overall as picture-tube TVs, which have historically required very few repairs.

Our latest product reliability survey shows no repair issues for models from JVC, Panasonic, Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba. LCDs from Dell, however, have had higher-than-average repairs.