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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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? 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.