In this paper we provide evidence of the temporal fluctuations of the phase modulation property of a liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) display, and we analyze its effect when the device is used for displaying a diffractive optical element. We use a commercial twisted nematic LCoS display configured to produce a phase-only modulation, and we provide time resolved measurements of the diffraction efficiency that show rapid fluctuations of the phase modulation, in the millisecond order. We analyze how these fluctuations have to be considered in two typical methods for the characterization of the phase modulation: two beam interference and diffraction from a binary grating. We finally provide experimental results on the use of this device for displaying a computer generated hologram. A reduction of the modulation diffraction efficiency results from the phase modulation fluctuation. © 2008 Optical Society of America.