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Experts can’t agree which is best: LG’s new OLED or Samsung’s year-old plasma

Each year, a group of videophiles,  professional calibrators, and tech journalists gather together at Value Electronics in Scarsdale, NY for a shootout of the consumer electronics industry’s best televisions. The end-goal is to answer a very difficult question: Which TV reigns supreme? This year, breaking news reports had LG’s 55-inch OLED (55EC9300) taking the crown as the people’s choice. But, at the behest of participants, a re-tallying and reconsideration of the votes commenced, resulting in a tie for the top spot between the LG OLED and last year’s winner, the Samsung F8500 series plasma. That’s right, the best TV in 2014 is a tie between a fresh TV that was only made available for purchase a week ago, and one that is over a year old now. How can this be?

Related: Samsung’s F8500 plasma is a Kuro Killer

As you can probably imagine, the answer is complicated, just as the evaluation processes  – and the adjudicators themselves– are complicated.  But the crux of the issue is this: Though measurements add a crucial element of objectivity, the task of whittling away the top contenders in order to choose the “best” TV (or the “best” anything else, for that matter) is often a highly personal — and therefore subjective — process.

Everyone has different standards and needs, so no one product can be the best for everyone. That being the case, a group of highly discerning, highly educated enthusiasts had a hard time agreeing which was better, LG’s latest OLED television, or Samsung’s plasma model, which is one of the few excellent plasma televisions you can still buy (a fact which is key to the discussion).

On one side you’ve got LG’s OLED, which has a lot going for it. It has excellent black levels, a stunning contrast ratio, resolves subtle shades of gray and color remarkably well, exhibits very good color accuracy, is pencil thin, and comes in at an unprecedentedly low price (for OLED technology). On the other side, Samsung’s plasma also exhibits excellent black levels (though not quite as impressive as LG’s OLED) very high brightness, even better color accuracy, superior motion resolution, and is more affordable still. The score card below illustrates how the two TVs fared in key performance metrics.

2014 Value Electronivs TV shootout results

As you can see, the competition was tight. LG’s EC9300 OLED scored a total of 51.54 with an average score of 8.58. Samsung’s F8500 plasma pulled a 52.01 total with an average of 8.66. If you go by the total and average score, Samsung’s plasma appears to come out on top, but the LG OLED won more individual categories. And that’s just the popular vote. The event’s three professional calibrators, Kevin Miller, DeWayne Davis and David Mackenzie, picked neither of those two displays, instead favoring the Samsung KN55S9C OLED, which the company released last year.

Related: OLED vs. Plasma: Which display tech is better? 

The takeaway, as Value Electronics’ owner and event sponsor Robert Zohn puts it, is that video enthusiasts “strongly prefer self-emitting based displays over liquid crystal panels with edge lit or direct array light emitting diodes.” In other words, LCD panels with LED backlights can’t now, nor have they ever been able to, achieve the excellent picture performance that plasma and OLED displays can. With that said, we should point out that this year’s LED TVs — Ultra HD or otherwise — are the best we’ve seen yet, and for the average viewer, offer a sufficiently stunning picture at a very attractive price.

The results also tell an interesting story about how much videophiles love their plasma televisions. The Samsung F8500 pulled a narrow victory off against the Panasonic ZT60 and VT60 last year, and if either of those latter two TVs were still around, you can bet they’d be part of this discussion. But they aren’t available anymore — Panasonic quit the plasma TV business entirely — and the F8500 is on its way out, too, since Samsung plans to ditch plasma TV tech as well. Still, so long as the F8500 remains for sale, it should be part of the discussion, because, clearly, OLED can’t do everything plasma can do, and vice versa. It seems we have not yet developed the perfect TV, and that’s just fine.

For most of us, there are other important considerations not taken into account in a shoot-out like this: How is the smart TV interface? Is navigation and search quick and snappy? How easy is the remote to use? Is there an easy upgrade path for the television? Is the base stable? What is customer service like if I have a problem? So while the Value Electronics shootout is an excellent way to get a read on how the best TVs stack up against each other with key performance metrics, the “best” TV will always be the one that works best for you.