Technology Explained

LCD vs. LED Monitors: What’s the Difference?

Gavin Phillips Updated 02-12-2019

Modern technology is incredible—a marvel of ingenuity, creativity, and talent. The technological revolution of the past century continues to change the world, mostly for the better. Alongside technological innovation, a new vocabulary exists to describe technological advances.

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Nowhere is this clearer than in the television market. Understanding terminology is critical to getting the best quality at a reasonable price when upgrading your TV.

So, what exactly is the difference between an LED and an LCD panel?

What Is an LCD Monitor?

A Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) is one of the most enduring and fundamental technologies found in monitors, televisions, tablets, and smartphones. TVs and monitors once used cathode ray tubes (CRTs) to provide the image on your screen. But CRTs were bulky and contained dangerous chemicals. Once LCDs became affordable, they replaced CRTs.

An LCD features a panel of liquid crystal molecules. The molecules can be induced using an electrical current to take certain patterns which either block or allow light to pass through. An LCD TV or monitor has a light source at the rear of the display, which lights up the crystals. LCDs commonly use Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamps (CCFL) to provide the TV or monitor backlight.

To provide a color image on your screen, the LCD has red, green, and blue sub-pixels in each screen pixel. Transistors within the display control the direction of light each pixel emits, which then passes through either a red, green, or blue filter.

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You should know about screen burn-in with LCD monitors Screen Burn-In Fixes and Why LCD Can Be Fixed LCD, plasma, OLED displays, even old CRT televisions can be damaged by screen burn-in. Here's how can you fix screen burn-in. Read More so you can avoid damaging them.

What Is an LED Monitor?

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are small semiconductors that emit visible light when an electrical current passes through them. LEDs are typically more efficient and longer-lasting than traditional lighting.

While manufacturers often use “LED” in place of “LCD,” an LED TV is also a type of LCD. Instead of CCFL tubes to provide the LCDs backlight, rows of LEDs provide the backlight. The LEDs give better control of the light, as well as greater efficiency as it is possible to control individual LEDs.

LCD vs. LED Monitor

For accuracy, a TV or monitor description should read “LED-Backlit LCD Monitor.” But that is a) a mouthful and b) doesn’t allow for the creation of a separate marketable product. That’s not to say there aren’t differences between the two.

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For clarity, when you read product descriptions, consider that:

  • An LED monitor is a liquid crystal display backlit with LEDs,
  • Whereas an LCD monitor is a liquid crystal display backlit with fluorescent lamps.

That is the easiest way to figure out and remember the difference between an LED and LCD TV.

However, both LED and LCD monitors have different technologies that make certain panels more appealing to gamers, film buffs, designers, and so on. You should also note that on older screens, the difference between an LCD and LED TV or monitor is more pronounced, due to the relative age of the two lighting options.

What Types of LED Monitors Are There?

There are several different types of LED and LCD monitors. When you’re trying to buy a new TV or monitor, understanding the differences and the terminology will help you bag a better deal. Here are some of the most common variations of the LED and LCD panels.

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Edge-Lit LED

An Edge-Lit LED TV or monitor has its LEDs arranged around the rim of the display, behind the LCD panels facing the screen. The Edge-Lit option allows for slimmer designs, uses fewer LEDs, and can bring the cost of a new screen down. Light reflects across the screen uniformly to create the image.

One downside to an Edge-Lit screen is the dark contrast. Because the Edge-Lit LED display is brightest closer to the edges, color uniformity and black levels can become an issue, with some areas appearing darker than others.

Full-Array LED

A Full-Array LED display uses a grid of LED lights behind the LCD. The LEDs shine outwards directly towards the LCD, creating a bright and uniform picture. Full-Array LED panels enjoy the efficiency benefits of LEDs.

For the best image reproduction, a Full-Array LED display may include local dimming. Local dimming means that groups of LEDs can switch on and off as required to provide better overall control of the brightness level.

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RGB LED

LEDs are often referred to as emitting white light. Actually, LEDs produce light closer to yellow than a pure white. That difference can create a color shift in the image you see on your screen. To improve on this issue, some manufacturers replace white LEDs with groupings of red, green, and blue (RGB) LEDs.

The RGB LED color combination creates a pure white, which in turn provides clearer and truer colors across the spectrum.

The display uses advanced electronics and programming to control the RGB LEDs accurately, along with more LEDs. The combination increases the cost of an RGB LED screen significantly for what most viewers would consider a marginal improvement. RGB LED displays never became mainstream because of their higher cost.

That said, some manufacturers do produce RGB LED screens, such as the Dell Studio XPS 16 laptop.

OLED

Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLED) are an advanced form of LED lighting found in some LED monitors. Each pixel of an OLED TV can glow or dim independently, resulting in much better black levels, extremely sharp colors, and better contrast ratios. The majority of OLED TVs and monitors have excellent viewing angles and color quality.

OLED monitors and TVs can also make use of High Dynamic Range (HDR) programming due to the higher level of brightness and color accuracy.

Without a doubt, OLED TVs and monitors (and even smartphone screens) have incredible color depth. But that does come at a cost. The latest generation of flagship smartphones all feature OLED screens, and it is a contributing factor to their massive cost. Another consideration is power. An OLED screen consumes more power than other LED-backlit screens and standard LCD screens.

QLED

The acronyms continue with QLED, which stands for Quantum Dot LED. Samsung’s QLED improves color accuracy as much as 90-percent from a regular LED TV or monitor and can hit the high levels of brightness and color depth that HDR requires.

So, what is a quantum dot monitor What Is a Quantum Dot Monitor? 3 Reasons to Get Excited Quantum dot technology has been on the radar for quite a while now, but it's finally time to start getting excited about it. Here's what you need to know! Read More ? In short, quantum dots are semiconductor nanocrystals that absorb light at one wavelength and output it at a different wavelength. The LEDs in a QLED emit all of the blue shades the picture requires. But a blue picture isn’t what consumers want. The quantum dots refract the blue LED light into the green and red shades needed to complete the picture.

A single quantum dot monitor or TV contains billions of semiconductor nanocrystals. Those nanocrystals give QLED screens outstanding black range and color depth, as well as excellent color saturation and contrast.

If you’re wondering where the “quantum” aspect comes into it, I’m sorry. There isn’t anything quantum taking place. It is just Samsung’s exciting marketing name.

What Types of LCD Monitors Are There?

Just as there are types of LED monitor technology, so is there LCD monitor and TV technology, too. The type of LCD tech powering your screen makes a difference to the final picture. Here’s what you need to look out for.

TN Panels

Twisted nematic (TN) was one of the first LCD panel types, dating back to the 1980s. TN panels have fast response time. Most of the fastest gaming monitors use a TN LCD panel to offer exceptionally fast refresh rates, up to 240Hz. That level of refresh isn’t necessary for most people, but it can make a difference for top-level gamers (for instance, in reducing motion blur and image transition smoothness).

VA Panels

Vertical alignment (VA) panels originated in the 1990s. The liquid crystals in a VA panel are aligned vertically, as the name suggests. The vertical alignment structure allows VA panels to produce much deeper blacks and more vibrant array of other colors in comparison to a TN panel. A VA panel usually has better contrast, too.

While a VA LCD panel has a better color range than a TN panel, they also have a slower refresh rate. They also usually cost more and, as such, are rarely marketed toward gamers. Between TN panels and IPS panels (read below), VA is the least popular LCD panel technology.

IPS Panels

In-Plane Switching (IPS) panels are considered the best LCD panel technology for a variety of reasons. An IPS panel offers very wide viewing angles with very fast refresh rates. They’re not as fast as a TN panel, but IPS panels are widely available at 144Hz. At the time of writing, the first few 240Hz IPS LCD panels are hitting the market, although they are extremely expensive for a marginal gain.

Color-wise, IPS panels are excellent. High-quality IPS LCD panel prices continue to fall. However, there are several reasons why you shouldn’t buy a ridiculously cheap IPS gaming monitor 3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Buy A Cheap IPS Monitor Computer monitor technology has long had a champion, and it’s called In-Plane Switching, or IPS. This display panel technology has often been praised because it is capable of fixing many issues found in cheaper TN... Read More .

What Is the Best LCD Panel for TVs and Gaming?

The type of LCD panel you need depends on its use. Gamers want fast response times and rich depth of color, which is why IPS panels are a great option. If you’re more concerned about picture quality for your favorite films, an OLED panel will perform extremely well.

The price points for each technology type vary massively, so that is another major consideration.

Still, now you know the terminology behind LCD panels and the pros and cons to each type, you can make an informed decision for your TV or monitor upgrade. But wait, the type of LCD or LED panel isn’t the only thing to consider. Take a moment to learn about the differences between 4K, Ultra HD, and 8K screens What's the Difference Between 4K and Ultra HD (UHD)? Thinking of buying a new TV or monitor but confused by the differences between 4K vs. UHD? Here's what you need to know. Read More .

Explore more about: Computer Monitor, LCD Monitor, LED Monitor, Television.

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  1. KarathVanashta
    January 22, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Useful, but the article could do with a bit more updating -- the Dell Studio XPS 1640 is a really, really old machine. Mine was already several years old when I got it second-hand in 2013. XD

  2. Yannick Yamanga
    September 23, 2019 at 11:18 am

    As I also LED deal in LED displays, so I know that these are less power consuming than LCD, and TV is slimmer too.

  3. Qeeamat Rai
    January 26, 2017 at 11:45 am

    is any internal difference bw led and lcd?

  4. Anonymous
    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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

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

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

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

    that was helpful

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

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

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

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

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

  14. 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!

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

    Great article Matt. Thanks...

  16. 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)

  17. 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!

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

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

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

    Nice article, learned a lot. Thanks Matt.

  20. 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??

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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:

  24. 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.)

  25. 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.

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

    Yay, thanks

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

    Wonderfull explanation.

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

    Wonderfully explained.

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

    Finally I got the picture :)

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

    How do it work?

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

    Nice article Matt, but too technical.

  32. 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...

  33. 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 :)

  34. 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.

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

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