LED LCD Backlights: What You Should Know

What are LED LCD backlights in TVs and monitors and what do they do?

LED LCD backlights are small light strips, or light sources, contained inside a display, TV, or monitor to provide lighting for the screen. All LED TVs are LCD panels with LED backlighting. A common misconception is that LED displays are different from LCD when fundamentally they are the same. LED is better described as a sub-set of LCD devices.

What Is an LCD?

LCD is an acronym for Liquid Crystal Display, which is a type of monitor or screen—and flat-panel technology—that relies on thousands or millions of pixels, arranged in a rectangular grid. When an LCD is turned on, each pixel takes on a red, green, or blue sub-pixel (RGB) that is either enabled or disabled. When the pixels are off, the individual section appears black, and when all of the sub-pixels are on, it appears white. Collectively, the arranged pixels provide the sharp image on the display by being in either an on or off configuration.

The LED backlight illuminates the pixels, from behind, making them appear richer and brighter. Not all LCDs have a backlight, and for those that do, not all of them utilize LED backlighting. Some displays also use CCFL lighting or Cold-Cathode Fluorescent Lamps. Although, it should be noted that CCFL displays are being phased out in favor of LED-backlit panels.

Woman's hand touching illuminated LED panel.

Moment / Getty Images

Do LCD Panels Require a Backlight?

The liquid crystals inside an LCD panel don’t have any illumination on their own and require the light to come from a separate component, which, in this case, is provided by the LED backlighting.

Older display types, such as cathode ray tubes (CRT) produce illumination already and so they do not need an additional light source like LCD devices.

What Is the Difference Between Full LED and LED Backlit?

LED Backlit
  • Edge lighting is bright but not evenly distributed.

  • Darker images may look washed out.

Full LED
  • Light is accurately distributed across the entire display.

  • Individual nodes can be disabled for true black colors.

While it can be confusing at first, LED-backlit panels are different from a full LED. LED-backlit panels have LED strips lining the edges of the screen whereas full HD illuminates the entirety of the display often with higher brightness and color accuracy. Full LED panels achieve this thanks to an evenly distributed light source across the rear of the set.

This changes the picture on the display, particularly when it comes to dark scenes and true black colors. On an LED-backlit display, for example, dark scenes may appear washed out because of how the light is focused on the edges and spreads thinly into the center.

Full LEDs, on the other hand, can achieve true blacks, with even brightness levels because the light spreads across the entire panel accurately. That also means the lights in the full-LED panel can be disabled or turned off individually to create a darker image.

Which Is Better LED or LED Backlit?

Because both types are fundamentally LCD panels, both LED and LED-backlit displays produce bright and vivid pictures. However, scenes may appear brighter or slightly washed out, depending on how the light source is distributed, such as from edge backlighting versus evenly distributed lighting. If you prefer a more accurate picture, full LED panels are the way to go, but they are more expensive.

What Is the Meaning of an LED Backlit LCD Monitor?

Similar to TVs and other displays, an LED-backlit LCD monitor is an LCD panel with LED backlights. What often sets a monitor or computer monitor apart from standard displays is they don’t include a built-in tuner, which is needed to access cable. They often include different video or display ports, such as HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, and so on. They're designed to be used as a primary or secondary display for desktop computers, laptops, and beyond.

Monitors are generally full LED panels with a fully distributed light source. This allows them to provide a brighter and sharper image overall, which is ideal for computer-related activities and media.

Where Else Can You Find LCDs With Backlights?

LED-backlit TVs, monitors, and displays are used in many different places including ATMs, cash registers, digital billboards, fitness equipment like treadmills, vehicle infotainment systems, gas station pumps, Pachinko, and casino machines, mobile devices, and much more.

You can find many examples of LCD and LED-backlit panels just by looking around you.

  • How do I clean an LCD TV screen?

    To clean a flat-screen TV, turn off the device and use a dry microfiber cloth to gently wipe the screen. If necessary, dampen the cloth with distilled water or an equal ratio of distilled water to white vinegar.

  • Where can I buy a replacement LCD TV screen?

    If you want to replace your TV or computer screen, you should check with the manufacturer to see if they offer repair services. If not, try Best Buy or another electronics repair shop.

  • How do I know if my monitor uses LED backlighting?

    Make the screen go black, then look along the edges of the screen for light and dark patches. You can also check the manufacturer's website.

  • What is the difference between LCD and LED TVs?

    While all LED TVs are LCD TVs, not all LCD TVs are LED TVs. If a TV is marketed as LCD with no mention of LED, then it probably uses a different type of backlighting such as CCFL.

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