What’s the Difference Between an LED and LCD TV?

LAS VEGAS - JANUARY 06: LED 3D televisions by Samsung are displayed at a press event at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Venetian January 6, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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There are a lot of things to get confused about when buying a new TV, but few topics have bewildered consumers as much as the use of LED technology. If I had my say, the phrase LED TV would be banned from future discussions because consumer-grade LED sets are simply a different type of LCD TV. Baffled? Don’t be. Every LCD TV requires a source to illuminate its pixels, and in so called LED TVs, that source is a series of LEDs.

In other LCD sets, the source is usually a series of fluorescent tubes.

Manufacturers make a big deal out of LED backlighting because LCD sets using the technology are generally more energy efficient. There are other benefits as well, but to understand them we must take a closer look at the implementation of LED backlighting. Currently, LED-backlit LCD TVs use one of two systems.

  • Edge-lit: LEDs are placed along the edges of the LCD panel
  • Full array: Rows of LEDs are placed behind the entirety of the LCD panel

Which is Better? Edge-lit or Full Array?

Each system has advantages and disadvantages, and the one that’s right for you depends on your needs and desires. Edge-lit sets are typically much thinner and lighter than those that use a full array because the lighting source takes up less space. Full-array sets are thicker and heavier, but they make up for that with local dimming, which means one section of the LED panel can be dimmed while other sections remain bright.

That improves blacks and contrast in the resulting picture.

In short, sets that use full-array backlighting tend to produce the best picture of all LCD TVs. Those that use edge lighting sacrifice picture quality but are the lightest and thinnest TVs on the market.

Is LED Worth It?

Before you run out and buy an LCD TV with LED backlighting, you should consider one important factor – price.

LED-backlit TVs are great, but they’re still more expensive than their fluorescent-lit peers. If picture quality is extremely important to you, I suggest spending a little more money to enjoy the benefits of full-array LED backlighting. If you’re willing to pay a premium to have the thinnest TV on the block, edge-lit is the way to go. If, on the other hand, you’re a bargain shopper, you will probably be able to satisfy yourself – and your wallet – with a well-made fluorescent-lit set.

For more about LED backlighting, read About.com Home Theater Guide Robert Silva’s “The Truth About LED Televisions.”