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

Edge-lit and Full Array LED TVs Are Subsets of LCD TVs

Samsung Curved TV
Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr/cc 2.0

There are several factors that make buying a new TV confusing, but few topics bewilder consumers as much as the use of LED terminology. LED TVs are simply a type of LCD TV. Baffled? Don’t be. Every LCD TV requires a source to illuminate its pixels, and in LED TVs, that source is a series of LEDs. Other LCD sets originally used a series of fluorescent tubes termed CCFL-backlit technology. In most modern LCD sets, those fluorescent tubes have been replaced with full array LEDs.

Both types of TVs use liquid crystal displays.

Manufacturers make a big deal out of LED backlighting because sets that use the technology are usually more energy efficient than CCFL LCD TVs. There are other benefits as well, but to understand them you have to 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. 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 somewhat 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.

LED 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 Technology 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 impressive, but they’re more expensive than their fluorescent-lit peers. If picture quality is extremely important to you, then spending a little more money to enjoy the benefits of full-array LED backlighting may make sense for you. If you’re willing to pay a premium to have the thinnest TV on the block, edge-lit LED is the way to go. If you’re a bargain shopper, you will probably be able to satisfy yourself and your wallet with a well-made fluorescent-lit LCD TV—if you can find one.

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