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Viewing Angle of LCD Televisions

Using an image which has solid bold colours will easily demonstrate any issues a TV may have with viewing angles.

Unfortunately, this first photograph doesn't reveal the two tone very dark brown & black hair colour particularly well. If you are viewing this page using a LCD screen, try standing up and looking downwards towards the image at a near vertical angle.

However, for demonstration purposes, you can see the image has very good contrast with strong solid colours and sharp detail.

This is the same image but at 45 degree viewing angle. The poor photo is not due to the digital camera ! This is exactly what the eyes do see. The image looks washed out (faded), like viewing through mist or fog (technically called a shift in 'gamma'). You can also see a change in colour when you look at the portable radio.

This particular Sony 32” TV made for the UK market, is fitted with an AMVA LCD panel manufactured by AU Optronics (AUO) in Europe. Panel model number is 'T315HW07 v7' – LED edge lit LCD panel. With this particular panel, you see the best picture when sat dead centre from a distance where the contrast ratio is at its best. If you move your head a few inches left or right, a noticeable fog/mist starts to set in almost immediately with the AUO made panel due to its rather steep fall off in contrast ratio from dead centre.

I have an older Samsung 26” LCD TV (Fluorescent back lighting) which exhibits the same symptoms. The panel is also a MVA panel made by AUO.

Why does this picture look so poor when viewed from an angle?

Very simply, there are different types of LCD panel technologies.

By far the most common are inexpensive TN LCD panels. These can be found in monitors and budget TV screen sizes up to 26” or 32”. Most laptops have a TN LCD panel.

Premium brand TV screen sizes from 26” and upwards use more expensive VA or IPS LCD panels as these have far superior colour reproduction and contrast ratios over their cheap TN LCD counterparts.

The above visual symptoms are very common with VA LCD panels. Some VA panels do have marginally better viewing angles than others. For example, Samsung's highly regarded SPVA LCD panels are generally much better than the MVA panels made by multitude of other manufacturers, but SPVA panels do have their own issues too, such as ghosting.

For the widest possible viewing angles, IPS panels made by LG and Panasonic (IPS Alpha) are regarded as better than VA panels. However, the introduction of 'LED edge lighting' has also compromised the viewing quality of IPS panels at wider angles. Some examples for a 2011 Panasonic 42” model suffering from light bleed and unlike VA panels, there is no shift in colours despite the misty looking picture.

By far the best LCD TVs which I have seen with excellent viewing angles, have been from older Panasonic LCD TVs fitted with IPS Alpha panels which use CCFL (fluorescent tube) back lighting.

When I am in the shops and looking at TVs on display, I don't see any of these viewing angle issues

This is absolutely true. The reason for this is very simple. The TV sets are configured for 'shop mode' with use of vivid colours and the highest dynamic contrast and brightest settings, intended to 'impress' the customer.

If you were to take the same demonstration TV back home and use the same settings, you'd find the image would be far too bold and bright for normal home use. When you start turning down the various settings, this is when you are most likely to come across viewing angle issues.

If IPS LCD panels are so good, why don't we all buy TVs with IPS panels ?

IPS panels have their own issues too. One such issue is the contrast ratio of current generation of IPS panels is poor compared to the best VA panels. What this means, is you may be able to achieve deep convincing blacks in darker parts of an image viewed on a good SPVA or MVA panel, but the same image may look less black, more grey, on an IPS panel.

LG are one of the largest manufacturers of IPS panels, and they simply cannot fulfil the worldwide demand at a competitive price. MVA panels are generally cheaper to manufacture and there are a far greater number of manufacturers.

A lot of TVs which are manufactured/assembled in Europe, source their LCD panels from factories based in Europe. It is no surprise that AU Optronics and Samsung have LCD manufacturing plants in eastern Europe, so are able to supply the needs of numerous TV manufacturers such as Sony and Toshiba etc.

Another factor is the picture processing technology used on Samsung and Sony LCD TVs is often better than what Panasonic and LG have had to offer.

So you are now thinking, if I buy a Samsung or LG LCD TV, then I will get a SPVA or IPS LCD panel respectively.

Sadly no is the answer. Samsung are the largest TV manufacturer in the world. They openly admit to sourcing LCD panels from multiple manufacturers for their TVs even when the model number remains the same. Their own LCD panel plants simply cannot meet world wide demand for their own TVs. The same is true of LG who may use their own IPS panel or an alternative MVA panel. This issue is often referred to as a 'Panel Lottery'.

If you buy a 37” Samsung LCD TV, you can be guaranteed it will not have a Samsung LCD panel within it, because Samsung don't make LCD panels in 37” size. It will most likely be an MVA panel made by AUO, CMO or another MVA LCD panel manufacturer.

Samsung don't appear to make a 26” SPVA panel, and it looks like they have ceased supplying 32” panels – certainly for any brand of TV sold in the UK.

How can I tell what panel is fitted to the TV before purchase ?

There is no easy way with Samsung TVs. The panel type can be identified by accessing the engineer's hidden service menuu. (This can also invalidate the TV warranty if misused)

For LG TVs, the full part number of the TV can reveal the LCD panel type. This is found on the TV's shipping box.

For Sony TVs, the panel type can be identified by accessing a hidden menu.

Panasonic's global Viera website will list what type of panels they use in their TVs. For 32” and above in the 2011 range, it will either be their own IPS Alpha panels made in Japan or Malaysia, or an S-IPS panel supplied by LG. For the 2012 range, Panasonic are sourcing IPS panels in-house and from LG. Panasonic will also be using MVA panels from CMO in their lower spec TV models.

Link to LCD Panel Technology Explained

Link to Samsung web page comparing S-PVA to other LCD panel

YouTube video demonstrating Vertical banding problems commonly found with LED edge-lit TVs.

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