Rival screen technologies are duking it out for pride of place in your living room. It's a melee of techno-babble and acronyms, where punches are traded over screen size, picture quality and price. Tune in for long enough and you'll go cross-eyed. The plasma panel has held the upper hand for a few years now. Initially the winner because of its screen size and thinness, it now delivers acceptable picture quality at a lower price than before. Engineers have been busy tweaking away the audible electronic buzz of the gas particles dancing inside the screen and found means to minimise burn-in - the indelible impressions that can be left when static images, like TV logos, are displayed for too long. Plasma screens are getting bigger too; LG unveiled a record-breaking 76-inch screen two months ago. But stepping out of the shadows is the LCD panel. After a long time germinating among computers, it's starting to grow into home entertainment in a big way. An LCD panel won't trouble you with burn-in and can last up to twice as long as a plasma screen. It can deal with colour reproduction better too. What it doesn't do well is render moving images - the pixels just can't switch on and off fast enough, which results in trailing after-images. The dependence on a backlight to project the image out also means blacks aren't quite black enough. Still, the technology has improved enough for global LCD TV sales to at least double this year. Sharp is reportedly so keen on LCD panels that in parts of Europe it has dropped its entire plasma line in favour of them. Some manufacturers are betting on rear-projection TV systems. They look similar to good old cathode ray tubes but don't wield electron guns. Instead, they beam light through or off tiny display panels to create a picture. It's a technology that will bring the price of big-screen TVs down. The first ones pushed light through micro-LCDs, but poor contrast, colour and viewing angle mean that they have hardly set the world alight. And they get seriously bulky at larger screen sizes. A newer breed of rear-projection TVs borrows technology from the cinema. Employing panels of minute pivoting mirrors, Digital Light Processing (DLP) boasts a higher fill factor (less space between pixels), sharper images and better contrast levels than its LCD cousin. Through some reflective trickery, it can also be fitted into a slim package. Samsung has a 61-inch monster, for instance, that measures a not-so-monstrous 19 inches deep. The bad news is that DLP-generated images need to pass through a spinning colour wheel to escape the monochrome world. If the image is moving fast across the screen, it can leave a slight rainbow-like haze along the trailing edge; the same is true of cheaper DLP-based front projectors. Will new colour reproduction methods come soon enough to save the day? Perhaps not. Both technologies are being trumped by liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS). A conventional LCD consists of liquid crystals sandwiched between two plates of glass. But with an LCOS micro-display, the crystals are painted onto a silicon chip, which means higher pixel density - more than two million pixels in an area not much bigger than a thumbnail - and better resolution. Because the technology is reflective, the contrast can be as good as on a DLP-based TV, too. These micro-display technologies aren't just found in conventional TV housings - they're also driving front projector systems, which cannot be ruled out of the battle. No longer happy with life in the corporate boardroom, the front projector wants in on the living room, promising a more immersive home theatre experience. Indeed, a growing band of enthusiasts won't watch their DVDs on anything else. By all accounts, cathode ray tubes are starting to lose ground to these newer technologies. Danny Kwok, senior marketing manager in Philips Consumer Electronics HK, estimates that plasma and LCD panel sales have ballooned to around 60 per cent of what Hong Kong consumers spent on displays in the third quarter of this year, compared with a paltry five to eight per cent just a year ago. If it is a contest between the two mainstream flat panel technologies, you would be forgiven for thinking the plasma screen is a sure-fire winner because it can be made in bigger sizes. But LCD screen offer some unique advantanges that may still win a place in your home. According to Samsung, it depends what you're after: plasma delivers a 'top-notch digital multimedia performance' while LCD is better served as a 'multi-functional screen ... for TV, computer and other digital visual equipment'. Where LCD and plasma TVs may clash is around the 37-inch screen size, which is about as big as most LCD models currently get. Rear-projector systems are yet to catch on in Hong Kong. Samsung says they are selling well in Singapore and in the mainland, but are failing to impress consumers in Hong Kong, where living space is tight. All the manufacturers are more keen to peddle their home theatre front projectors here. A look at the exotic Carbon Nanotubes Pride of place here must go to nanotechnology, a rapidly growing area of scientific research involving miniature machines and just a few molecules. For TV viewers, that could mean screens that can be rolled up like newspapers. Minute - and here we're talking 75,000 times thinner than a human hair - carbon tubes are printed onto plastic and 'charged' to deliver an image with unrivalled resolution. Or so the theory goes. Organic Light Emitting Diode OLED is a little more down to earth and closer at hand. Sandwiched between two sheets of transparent material is a secret mixture of organic elements that when prodded with an electric current will give off light. Some technologists tout it as the Holy Grail, being potentially cheaper to make than regular LCDs, almost paper-thin and frugal with power. The picture quality could turn out better than conventional LCD, too. Manufacturers such as Pioneer and TDK are already starting to produce handheld devices and car radios with LED displays. A quick and dirty purchasing guide Big screen If you have got the cash to splash, the plasma panel is probably your best all-purpose viewing option for screen sizes of more than 35 inches. Newer models should be quieter, and come with features like 'pixel shifting' to get around the dreaded burn-in. When deciding on screen size, a general rule of thumb is no more than 40 inches at a viewing distance of less than 10 feet. Take a DVD or two along to the shop and see how the screens handle motion and tonal transition, especially in dark scenes - the true test of a good plasma screen. And if you watch much TV, check if it can deliver a smooth image from a standard TV source, such as a VHS tape. Or you could consider a front projector. Although not practical for day-to-day TV viewing, a projector is the most immersive viewing experience you can get at home. Demand from home theatre enthusiasts has encouraged manufacturers to start making decent budget models, so they're definitely worth a look. With a digital projector, take note of whether the picture is excessively pixelated. Also watch if there are jagged edges, rainbows and other problems with moving images and high-contrast scenes (where very dark areas meet very bright areas). Lastly, listen to make sure the fan keeping it cool is not too noisy. Small screen For all this talk of the future, the technology at the peak of its evolution is the old-fashioned cathode ray tube, and it still puts up a good fight in definition, contrast, brightness and viewing angle. At 40 inches, you may find a CRT taking up too much space, but we'd be hard pressed yet to recommend anything else at, say, 32 inches. Unless space is an issue, it's still the best choice among smaller viewing options.