LCD vs. LED: What's the Difference Between the Displays?

By: Marie Look  | 
man watching LED TV
LED TVs are more energy-efficient than LCD TVs. DrGrounds/Getty Images

When you're weighing your different options in display technology, you might find yourself facing an LCD vs. LED quandary. While they sound similar, they represent distinct technologies with their own unique features and benefits.

LED stands for "light-emitting diode" while LCD stands for "liquid crystal display." The distinctions between the two have to do with the type and placement of their respective lights. To fully appreciate the differences between LCD and LED monitors, let's take a closer look at how both of these displays work.


LCD and LED Basics

Liquid crystal displays have been a cornerstone in the world of visual displays for decades. The principle behind LCD technology involves liquid crystals sandwiched between two transparent electrodes. When you subject these liquid crystals to an electric current, they align to control the passage of light through the display.

Traditional LCD screens use cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) behind the screen for illumination. These lamps serve as the light source, emitting light that passes through the liquid crystal layer to create images. People use LCDs extensively in electronics such as computer monitors and televisions.


LED stands for light-emitting diode. Unlike LCDs, LEDs utilize an array of semiconductor light-emitting diodes to produce light. Each diode emits its own light when a current passes through it, eliminating the need for a separate light source, such as CCFLs.

LCD vs. LED: 8 Key Differences

LEDs offer several advantages over traditional LCDs.

They consume less power, provide higher brightness levels and have superior contrast ratios. LED technology also enables thinner displays with better picture quality, compared to their LCD counterparts. It's no wonder LED displays have gradually become the preferred choice for consumers and TV manufacturers alike.


Here's how the two displays stack up against each other in the most important categories of comparison.

1. Light Source

LCD monitors and TVs typically utilize cold cathode fluorescent lamp backlighting technology. These lamps provide the light source necessary to illuminate the LCD panel.

In contrast, LED monitors and TVs employ LED backlighting. LEDs serve as the light source, offering better efficiency and control over the brightness, compared to CCFLs.

2. Energy Efficiency

LED displays are known for their superior energy efficiency, compared to LCDs. LED backlighting consumes less power, resulting in lower energy bills and reduced environmental impact.

LED monitors and TVs are designed to produce light directly, minimizing the wasted energy you might typically associate with CCFL backlighting in LCD displays.

3. Picture Quality

When it comes to image quality, LED displays often outperform LCDs. LED screens offer higher brightness levels, deeper contrast ratios and more vibrant colors.

The use of LED backlighting enables better control over individual pixels, resulting in sharper images. LED panels also tend to have wider color gamuts, which also enhances the overall image quality.

4. Thinness

One significant advantage of LED displays is their thinness. LED monitors and LED televisions can achieve sleek and slim designs, due to the compact nature of the LED backlighting technology.

In contrast, LCD monitors and TVs may be thicker, especially those using CCFL backlighting, which requires additional space.

5. Local Dimming

LED displays often incorporate local dimming technology to enhance the contrast and black levels. This feature can dynamically adjust the brightness of specific areas of the screen, resulting in deeper blacks and a better overall picture quality.

While some high-end LCD televisions may also offer local dimming, LED displays are generally better in this category.

6. Viewing Angle

While modern LCD panels have improved viewing angles (compared to earlier models), they may still exhibit color distortion or reduced brightness when you view them from extreme angles, which can make for a frustrating viewing experience.

On the other hand, LED backlighting technology provides more uniform illumination across the entire screen in LED monitors and TVs. This helps to maintain consistent image quality across a wider viewing angle, such as when you're viewing the screen from an off-center position.

7. Cost

While LED displays tend to offer better performance, they also tend to come with a higher price tag compared to traditional LCDs. The advanced technology and materials in LED backlighting contribute to the higher price tag.

However, over time, the energy savings and longevity of LED displays may offset your initial investment.

8. Longevity

LED TVs last longer with a lifespan of around 100,000 hours. On the other hand, LCD TVs have a lifespan of about half that, or 50,000 hours. This can make an LED display a worthwhile investment if you're looking for an option that will last you as long as possible.


More Practical Applications of LED and LCD Displays

In addition to their use in televisions and computer monitors, LED and LCD displays are in use across other industries and settings.

Signage and Video Walls

Both LED and LCD displays are common in digital signage applications in indoor environments, such as retail stores, airports and corporate offices, where space constraints and controlled lighting conditions are present.


LED displays are suitable for both indoor and outdoor uses, due to their high brightness levels, wider viewing angles and durability in various weather conditions.

You can utilize both LED and LCD displays for video walls. A video wall consists of multiple display panels arranged seamlessly to create a larger display area. They're popular in command centers, entertainment venues and corporate lobbies.


LED and LCD displays are also integral components of gaming consoles and gaming laptops. Some gamers favor LCD monitors with fast response times and high refresh rates for smoother gameplay and reduced motion blur. Meanwhile, LED-backlit displays enhance visual clarity, color accuracy and contrast, contributing to a more immersive gaming experience.


What Is an OLED Display?

In research LCD and LED displays, you might also come across what's called an OLED display. An organic light-emitting diode display is a type of display technology that utilizes organic compounds to emit light when an electric current is applied.

Unlike traditional LED and LCD displays, which require backlighting to illuminate the screen, OLED displays produce their own light on a pixel-by-pixel basis.


The structure of an OLED display consists of several organic layers sandwiched between two conductors. When an electric current passes through these organic layers, it stimulates the emission of light. Organic LED displays are made up of individual OLED pixels, each capable of emitting its own light and producing colors independently.

One of the key advantages of OLED displays is their ability to achieve true blacks and infinite contrast ratios. Since you can turn off OLED pixels completely to display black, OLED screens can achieve deeper blacks and higher contrast levels — compared to LCD and LED displays, which rely on backlighting.

OLED displays also offer a wider viewing angle, faster response times and better color accuracy compared to traditional display technologies. On the downside, OLED displays are susceptible to burn-in and have higher manufacturing costs compared to LCD displays.

However, advancements in OLED technology continue to address these challenges, making OLED displays increasingly popular in consumer electronics, including smartphones, televisions, computer monitors and automotive displays.


What Are Quantum Dots?

To better understand color performance and image quality in both LED and LCD displays, you'll want to become familiar with quantum dots, the semiconductor nanocrystals that have gained significant attention in the display industry, due to their ability to enhance the performance of both LED and LCD displays.

Quantum dots are primarily a backlighting technology in displays, serving to improve the color accuracy, brightness and energy efficiency in LEDs and LCDs, making them more competitive with other display technologies, such as OLED.


Quantum dot technology has become increasingly prevalent in high-end displays, including premium LED TVs and LCD monitors, offering consumers a more immersive viewing experience.

In LED displays, quantum dots are a color conversion layer in conjunction with blue LEDs. Blue LEDs are the primary light source, and quantum dots convert some of the blue light into red and green wavelengths, thus creating a broader spectrum of colors.

This process, known as photoluminescence, allows LED displays to achieve a wider color gamut and more accurate colors, resulting in richer images.

In LCD displays, quantum dots are part of a technology called quantum dot enhancement film (QDEF). QDEF is a thin film containing quantum dots that manufacturers place between the backlight source and the LCD panel.

The quantum dots in QDEF absorb blue light from the LED backlight and re-emit it as pure red and green light. This process enables LCD displays to produce a wider color range and higher color saturation, approaching the performance of OLED displays in terms of color reproduction.

This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.



What is the difference between LED and LCD?
LED stands for light-emitting diode, while LCD stands for liquid crystal display. The difference between the two is the placement and type of light used. LEDs use diodes while LCDs use fluorescent lights. LEDs are also slimmer than LCDs and provide a better quality, clearer picture with high-definition output.
Which lasts longer: LED or LCD?
LEDs last longer with a lifespan of around 100,000 hours. On the other hand, LCDs have a shorter lifespan of around 50,000 hours.
Which has better picture quality: LED or LCD?
LEDs have better picture quality because they have RGB color wheels installed in them, which produce sharper and more realistic images. Moreover, light-emitting diodes have a dimming property, which allows them to display accurate colors by blocking excessive light.
Which TV type has less power consumption?
LED TVs are more efficient and consume less power. They can also work with low power sources and are compatible with generators and solar panels, making them 20 to 30 percent more energy-efficient than LCD TVs.
Is LCD or LED better for gaming?
Some gamers favor LCD monitors with fast response times and high refresh rates for smoother gameplay and reduced motion blur. Meanwhile, LED-backlit displays enhance visual clarity, color accuracy and contrast, contributing to a more immersive gaming experience.