Updated by Gavin Phillips on May 30, 2017.
Have you ever been watching something on the TV or the computer, had to step out for a bit, but “a bit” soon turns into minutes, hours, maybe even days? You return to your screen only to see an image burned into the display and, no matter what you do, it just won’t go away. Sadly, it’s happened to me on a few occasions.
Why do images get burned into displays? Why can’t manufacturers just prevent LCDs and plasmas from doing that? And if it’s happening to you right now, what can you do to fix it? Fortunately, in most cases, you can minimize or erase image burn as long as it hasn’t been burning too long.
LCDs & Plasmas: A Primer
Back before flat-screens and crystal displays, most TVs and monitors featured CRT (cathode ray tube) technology. In CRTs, each individual pixel comprises a red, blue, and green phosphor component; depending on the intensity of each phosphor component, the pixel appears to the human eye as a unique color. When a particular still image remains for too long, the intensity of each phosphor component diminishes at an uneven rate, leaving behind a ghost image on screen. This is known as image burning.
But LCDs and plasma screens don’t work in the same way that CRTs do. Instead of using cathode ray tubes, LCDs use liquid crystal to display colors (hence liquid crystal display) and plasma displays use plasma, of course.
Plasma displays make use of plasma, a gaseous substance that contains a bunch of free-flowing ions. When the plasma isn’t in use, the particles in the plasma are uncharged and display nothing. However, when we introduce an electric current, the particles become excited and begin to collide into one another, releasing photons of light. The whole process is somewhat more complicated; you just need to know that plasmas utilize phosphor material (like CRTs) to translate those photons into images.
Unlike CRTs and plasmas, LCDs do not use any phosphor for image production. Instead, LCDs use a backlight of white which is then filtered using crystals to extract particular colors per pixel. Although LCDs don’t suffer from the same kind of burning as CRTs and plasmas, they do suffer from something similar: image persistence.
Why Do LCDs & Plasmas Burn?
Before we can fix burned images, we need to understand why these images burn in the first place. LCDs and plasmas don’t suffer from burn-in as seriously as CRTs do, but static images can leave an imprint on both displays if left alone for too long. So why do they burn?
First, let’s tackle plasma. Remember why CRTs burn? When a still image remains on screen for too long, the different phosphor components in each pixel wear out at different rates, leaving behind a ghost image. Plasmas can also suffer from phosphor deterioration. Plasma burning occurs when pixels on the screen become damaged due to long exposure; the phosphor loses its intensity and only shows the light that it was repeatedly fed: the still image.
I mentioned that LCDs don’t technically suffer from burning, which is permanent. Instead, they suffer from image persistence, which is temporary. When a still image remains on screen for too long on an LCD, the crystals that display those colors “get stuck” in their spots. When the display tries to show a different color, the crystals want to stay in that spot so they don’t move enough, resulting in a color that’s slightly off from the intended color. That’s why you’ll see a ghost of the still image from before.
Fixing LCD & Plasma Screen Burn
There are some ways you can fix both plasma burning and LCD image persistence. However, depending on the length and severity of the image burning, some displays may be beyond repair, so keep that in mind and don’t get your hopes up too fast.
The best fix for screen burning is to prevent it in the first place. Don’t leave your screens paused or on a still image for too long. The actual time length required to burn an image into the screen differs from screen to screen, but my personal rule of thumb is that I’ll turn off my displays if I plan on being away for more than 15 minutes.
Another prevention method is to reduce screen contrast as much as you can. Most screens aren’t calibrated correctly, often putting too high of a setting for contrast and brightness.
Lower contrast means that the lighting across your screen is more even. This helps to keep burning out of your screen, especially for channel logos that sit in the corner while you watch your TV.
If you already have a burned screen, you can try turning on white static for 12 to 24 hours. The constant moving of white-and-black across your screen in random patterns can help remove the ghost image from your screen. Unfortunately, this won’t work for extreme cases. Some TVs will have a built-in pattern swiping option that basically accomplishes the same thing (by filling your screen with random patterns).
The best tool that I’ve found for fixing ghost images is JScreenFix. Though the original program design was to help fix monitors with dead pixels, they now have a JScreenFix Deluxe which uses advanced algorithms to repair burned screens and prolong plasma and LCD longevity. There is a free version available, but if you want to run the program for more than 20 minutes at a time, you’ll need to purchase a license for $25 USD.
For LCDs, since image persistence is temporary, you can just turn off your display for a few hours. If that doesn’t work, try the above recommendations.
Having an image burned into your LCD or plasma screen isn’t the end of the world. With a few simple tools and tricks, you may be able to wipe it out and restore it back to almost-new condition. However, the best way to avoid image burning is to prevent it altogether, so don’t leave still images on your screen for prolonged periods of time (as long as you can help it).