Differences Between LED and LCD TVs

LED TVs are a subset of LCD TVs

Three Samsung Curved UHDTVs

Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Before buying a new TV, you should know the difference between LED and LCD displays.

Basic Differences Between LED and LCD TVs

In the context of televisions, the term LED refers to the TV's backlighting system, not the display technology that produces the image content. In truth, LED TVs use LCD displays; however, they use LED backlights rather than the fluorescent backlights found in traditional LCD TVs. Just as LED TVs are simply a type of LCD TV, OLED and S-AMOLED are different types of LED TVs.

The liquid crystals in LCD TVs do not produce their own light, so backlighting is needed to illuminate the image for the viewer. LCD sets originally used a series of fluorescent tubes (termed CCFL-backlit technology) for this purpose. In LED TVs, the illumination source is a series of light emitting diodes, better known as LEDs. In most modern LCD sets, those fluorescent tubes have been replaced with full array LEDs, but both types of TVs still use LCD technology.

What's Better: LED or LCD TVs?

When it comes to picture quality, LED TVs look better than older LCD TVs. Manufacturers also make a big deal out of LED backlighting because sets that use the technology are usually more energy efficient than CCFL LCD TVs. Therefore, the money you save on your power bill could eventually offset the extra cost of an LED TV.

Backlighting: Edge-Lit vs. Full Array LED TVs

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.

Each backlighting system has advantages and disadvantages. 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. This feature slightly improves image contrast.

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 they are the lightest and thinnest TVs on the market.

LED vs. LCD Price

Before you run out and buy an LCD TV with LED backlighting, you should consider one important factor: price. LED full array backlit TVs are impressive, but they’re more expensive than their florescent-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 looking 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 florescent-lit LCD TV. That said, they are getting harder to find since demand is shrinking