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led vs lcdRecently I wrote an article about buying a great HDTV on a tight budget How To Buy Maximum HDTV With Minimum Cash How To Buy Maximum HDTV With Minimum Cash Read More . Some commenters on that article noted that I didn’t entirely explain the difference between LED vs LCD displays, and that there wasn’t any explanation on MakeUseOf.

This subject is complex because it’s simple. The differences between LED vs LCD TV are subtle, which can make it difficult to understand the difference. It’s an important distinction, however, because it can significantly impact image quality as well as price. I’m also going to explain the differences between LED displays – not all of them are built the same.

The Core Question – What’s LED vs LCD?

led vs lcd

LCD, or Liquid Crystal Display, is the fundamental display technology used by most monitors, televisions, tablets and smartphones. It consists of a panel of liquid crystal molecules that can be induced by electrical fields to take certain patterns which block light or allow it through.

Color LCD displays have green, blue and red sub-pixels in each pixel. The intensity of light allowed through each sub-pixel is carefully controlled to create a detailed picture capable of displaying millions of different colors.

However, the crystals create no light of their own. It’s possible to light an LCD using reflected ambient light (the Nintendo GameBoy Advanced operated in this way) but all LCD HDTVs have a backlight which shines light through the display.

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In the past, HDTVs used cold cathode fluorescent lamps to provide this light. However, manufacturers noticed that using Light Emitting Diodes would provide equal light with less energy. It was also possible to turn individual diodes off when no light was needed, something that’s not possible with CCFL lighting.

Because the addition of LEDs for backlighting was the new feature, this was used to describe the new televisions. But the new LED TVs still use an LCD display, just like the previous models lit by CCFL tubes.

So, Why Is LED Better?

led vs lcd tv

CCFL tubes can’t be switched on or off while a display is turned on and can only be arranged in vertical or horizontal lines. This creates picture quality problems. Since the lighting is never turned off, dark scenes are hard to render properly, and the arrangement of the CCFL tubes can cause parts of a display to appear brighter than others.

LEDs, on the other hand, can be quickly switched on or off. This allows much better control of light. They also can be arranged in a grid across a display or in a ring around a display, which offers theoretically better light distribution. Finally, LEDs do not consume as much energy.

There are different types of LED displays, however, and each has different traits. I’ll explain each.

Edge-Lit LED

led vs lcd tv

The image above provides a basic example how an edge-lit display works. In this instance a green LED is shone inwards on a Christmas tree pattern. The light is guided along that pattern and creates a profile. In an edge-lit HDTV there are also light guides, but instead of trying to create a specific pattern they attempt to distribute light evenly across the interior of the television.

This technology can be used to create extremely thin displays, is generally low on power draw and relatively inexpensive compared to other LED variants. If you see an LED-backlit HDTV for a low price there’s a good chance it is edge-lit.

Edge-lit displays usually do not manage to be entirely even in their light distribution, so they suffer from uniformity issues (i.e. parts of the image appear brighter than others.) Some models offer local dimming. This feature precisely controls the light output of LEDs to display deeper black levels.

Full Array LED

led vs lcd

A full array LED display has a grid of LED lights behind the LCD display. They shine directly outwards, creating a bright and usually uniform picture. Most televisions with a full array are expensive, enthusiast models that offer local dimming. This can provide excellent black level performance.

There are, however, a few LED sets with a full array that lack local dimming. A television set up this way will provide the uniformity benefits of LED, but probably won’t offer black levels that are much, if any, deeper than a good display lit by traditional CCFLs.

RGB-LED

This rare technology uses colored LED lights to provide additional color and lighting control. This creates very precise colors and can also provide better detail in scenes with a lot of contrast. RGB-LED is technically a modifier of the other two types – there can be edge-lit and full array versions – but most displays with this type of backlight are full array.

There are not a lot of displays that use this technology. Dell is known to offer RGB-LED in its workstation laptops and there are some high-end televisions and monitors that offer this, such as Sony’s $5000 Bravia XBR8.

Displays with RGB-LED are almost always very, very good, but most people can’t justify the extra cost.

Conclusion

I hope this has clarified the differences with LED vs LCD – or, rather, highlighted the fact that it’s not a difference so much as a confusion of terms.

If you’re wondering if LEDs are worth it over non-LED displays, the answer is that it depends. There are other competing technologies, like Plasma and OLED, which operate differently and have different traits.

Individual product quality is also a big deal. Some of the best displays in the world use LED backlighting – but there are also some very poor displays that use this technology, as well.

Image Credit: Gianluca BertoncelliLGEPRGarrett Mace, Windell Oskay

  1. emoscenejock
    August 4, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    If you want to look at different specs of monitors of each kind this site is a good source to get an idea of the pros and cons of popular brands.

  2. Adil
    July 14, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    The whole idea of LED vs LCD is nonsensical. All LEDs ARE LCDs. LEDs and LCDs are two different components of a television that serve two different functions. Comparing LED and LCD to each other is as stupid as comparing car's transmission to tires. Do you want rubber tires or automatic transmission? What?? exactly!

  3. Joe
    April 14, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    The majority of flat panel screens are LCD screens.
    Prior to 2011 most LCD screens came with CCFL backlight modules. Nowadays you won't find LCD screens with CCFL because all manufacturers have replaced them with LED back lighting.

    So the problem with your article, is that your title should've been the difference between a LCD with CCFL, and a LCD with LED.

  4. Joe
    April 14, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    I think you are the cause of confusion for a lot of people.

  5. Naoman Saeed
    September 9, 2012 at 7:37 am

    that was helpful

  6. David E Nebeker
    August 24, 2012 at 6:30 am

    I think you are wrong. At Costco in Salt Lake City for 40" TV's far and away the superior picture for resolution of textures, hair, etc. is the LCD Sony 40BX45 with Sharp technology. The whites are white, not pale blue. The difference is not subtle if one takes one's time and looks closely. I bought a Samsung which cost about $200 more, but left it in the box because at Costco I felt something was not right about this model. I returned it and bought the Sony with which I am well pleased.

  7. Ahmed Khalil
    August 22, 2012 at 9:19 am

    As i know also LED is less power consuming than LCD, and TV is more slim too

  8. Marcia Ford
    August 22, 2012 at 5:36 am

    We live at 9,000 feet and have been told that the altitude affects LCDs and plasmas, but LEDs are okay. Does anyone know if that is correct?

    • Matt.Smith
      August 22, 2012 at 8:50 am

      LCD and LEDs should be fine. Plasmas might be fine but I do believe 9,000 feet is outside the manufacturer specifications so that would probably invalidate your warranty.

  9. Sebastian Hadinata
    August 22, 2012 at 3:41 am

    I never knew the differences until now :D.
    Great info.

  10. Benjamin Glass
    August 21, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for the explanation. I was really confused on this subject.

  11. Randy Luczak
    August 19, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Great info, thanx for the contribution.
    I've just started shopping for a new television and was wondering
    about the difference between the two.

    Now I know!!

    Thanks for answering the question!

  12. Rigoberto Garcia
    August 19, 2012 at 4:03 am

    Great article Matt. Thanks...

  13. susendeep dutta
    August 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    So,current prices of LED TVs are not justified.So,I think LCD TVs are best to buy or Plasma TV.What do you think?

    • Matt Smith
      August 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm

      I recently bought an LG 42" Plasma for $299 and I think it's awesome. Grant you, I'm not a videophile, but if I were I would simply have bought one of Panasonic's fancy plasmas. You can get a very nice model for $1000 (in the 'States)

  14. Andrey Zvyagin
    August 18, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Today, under the LED shops mean different things: the type of illumination, imaging, etc. Even there are different types of LED!

  15. Paul Girardin
    August 18, 2012 at 3:11 am

    Thank you for this! :D It is very informative in a simple laid-out way! ;)

  16. Emmanuel Asuncion
    August 18, 2012 at 1:13 am

    Nice article, learned a lot. Thanks Matt.

  17. KevinD
    August 17, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    It's great information.
    What I would like to know but realize I'm a very very small minority, Is the Liquid Crystal display from the same Liquid Crystal research that SDS tried to stop at Kent State University (KSU) in Kent Ohio that resulted in the death of 3 KSU students??

  18. Stay See Kate
    August 17, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Wow Thanks for the explanation!
    I've always wanted to replace my LCD monitor with the LED ones! because my LCD monitor hurts my eyes like hell! My Grandmom was also planning to replace our TVs with LED ones its good info to know that LEDs do not consume much energy.

  19. Achraf52
    August 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Hi, so I understand all those LED based TV we know use LCD screen, but what type of those listed above is used in Samsung LED 3D TV device ? also I hope you write about Plasma and OLED so we can learn more about those and push us some links to the recommended products .

    • Matt Smith
      August 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      I'm not exactly sure what version is used in Samsung LED 3D televisions. It probably depends on the set.

  20. Fayz
    August 17, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Oh wow! I had some vague idea on the difference between LCDs and LEDs but didn't think there was so much! Great read! c:

  21. Ravi Lamontagne
    August 17, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I love the LED monitors. The fact that it helps save power is a big deal

    • Achraf52
      August 17, 2012 at 9:16 pm

      Yes, especially on battery powered devices .

    • Tug Ricks
      August 17, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      They do save power, but because they cost more, it can often take quite some time to make up the difference. (At least when talking about TV's anywho.)

  22. Timothy Liem
    August 17, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Plasma and Tube TVs were great for movie. but it's too expensive to produce. furthermore, they couldn''t handle high resolution on smaller scrren. the bigger resolution it can produce, the bigger its body and screen is. so here comes LCD ones, improved with the coming of LED.

  23. Mike
    August 17, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Yay, thanks

  24. kushal.hm
    August 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Wonderfull explanation.

  25. kushal.hm
    August 17, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Wonderfully explained.

  26. Halim3050
    August 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Finally I got the picture :)

  27. Lelen
    August 17, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    How do it work?

  28. GrrGrrr
    August 17, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Nice article Matt, but too technical.

  29. Ashwin Ramesh
    August 17, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    I have an LED TV at home. It really is worth it! Don't know much about Plasma TV though...

  30. vineedcool
    August 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    i will say oled is better coz firstly it uses oragin matter secondly each pixel of oled can be turned off when displaying true black thus saving battery!!!

    • Achraf52
      August 17, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      All LCD and LED turn off to display black color, just how dark it is is what makes it different to us .

      • vineedcool
        August 18, 2012 at 9:05 am

        can they display black on individual pixel???

        • Matt Smith
          August 18, 2012 at 5:03 pm

          No.

          Blacks on an LCD or LED or limited by the fact there must be back-lighting for anything to be visible at all. So while an individual LCD pixel can attempt to block light, light is still being created and will come through the display.

          That's why Plasmas have the advantage in this area. Each individual pixel on a Plasma is filled with gas which is charged to create light. But if you don't need light, you can just not charge the pixel, and it makes none.

          Now, it is a little more complex than that, which is why most plasmas don't produce an absolute true-to-life black, but they do have the ability to make individual pixels almost devoid of light.

        • vineedcool
          August 19, 2012 at 10:27 am

          true :)

  31. Ales Mole
    August 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    My opinion: there is nothing better than PLASMA :) for movie enthusiasts, definitely plasma.

    • Achraf52
      August 17, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      It is known that Plasma require room light to show the best while we love to watch a movie when room light is off, so ?

      • Tug Ricks
        August 17, 2012 at 9:30 pm

        Low lighting is actually a better environment for watching a plasma TV, as a room with a lot of light can create a glare.

        • Ales Mole
          August 18, 2012 at 4:37 am

          Correctly...room with a lot of light isn't appropriate for Plasma.

  32. Efi Dreyshner
    August 17, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks :D
    Tomorrow I am getting a new TV, so i wondered about it :P

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