When it comes to TVs and monitors, most people will have heard of the terms; LCD, LED, and plasma. That being said, not many actually understand how these technologies work and how they can affect your viewing experience. Better still, most are unaware that choosing the right backlight technology could actually give competitive gamers a slight edge over their competition – not to mention a greater depth of color.
With that in mind, the following guide will be a comprehensive look at both LED and LCD monitors – concluding which one is best when it comes to gamer’s needs.
So, with all that in mind, let’s waste no further time and dive straight into it!
How Does An LCD Monitor Work?
LCDs, or Liquid Crystal Displays use thousands of tiny squares (otherwise known as pixels) to display light which we see as imagery. Each pixel is comprised of multiple different layers, with liquid crystals being in the middle.
Below is a rough idea of how your LCD monitor works; including the layers found in the panel itself:
- The first layer is a sheet of polarizing film. This layer uses the light waves coming from behind it and filters out the vertical light waves, leaving only the horizontal.
- The second layer is actually a combination of three more layers: two of which are pieces of protective glass which contain the liquid crystals inside. This keeps the crystals from getting damaged and keeps them in place.
- The third layer is another polarization sheet, but instead of filtering out vertical waves, it filters out the horizontal light waves. This will be less confusing in a moment.
- The final layer is where the color changes happen. There are three light filters on top of each pixel which offers up red, green, and blue.
When there is no electricity flowing through the liquid crystals, they twist and rotate 90 degrees. This allows the light to flow through the liquid crystals. When this happens, the light is also bent along the same path, allowing the light to pass through the second filter.
When this happens, the light from behind is visible and will go through either the red, green, or blue light filter.
When electricity is applied, the liquid crystals return to their non-rotated position, blocking the light coming from behind. This effectively turns your pixel off.
Multiple pixels working together are what you see when you’re looking at an LCD screen. If you take a closer look at your monitor (not recommended), you can probably see the individuals pixels – at the very least groups of pixels in different colors.
Think of it as a piece of pointillism art – a form of painting that uses distinct dots to form an image. The pixels are the tiny dots of color which, when bunched together in large numbers, begin to form a visible picture.
LCD and LED TVs and monitors work mostly the same, but there are some differences.
Backlighting Methods – Fluorescent vs LED
Backlighting is a crucial part of the LCD puzzle. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to see anything on your monitor.
For example, remember using the old-school Gameboy, and when it became dark, you’d have to shine a light on the front because you could no longer see the screen? Well, that’s because the LCD screen didn’t have its own light source. Thankfully, LCD monitors don’t have the same problem.
The LCD monitor has a dedicated backlight layer which shines light onto the rest of the layers in order for us to see images through it. Whilst this seems like a straight forward concept, it’s actually where LED and LCD differ quite dramatically.
LCD panels originally used a Cold-Cathode Fluorescent lamp (CCFL) for their light source. LED, on the other hand, just used LED.
When using the older CCFL method to backlight the pixels, long rows of tubes are run behind, creating a more ambient method to light up the pixels.
This isn’t ideal and is actually inefficient in multiple ways.
Not only are the tubes bulky, but running rows of them behind the pixels requires much more room than rows of LEDs. This makes the monitor larger and bulkier than its LED-backlit counterpart.
Also, unlike other backlight technologies, you can’t individually switch off specific areas of the backlight – meaning there’s a large possibility for backlight bleed in areas that are supposed to be dark or black.
They’re also not very energy efficient, and in a world where everything is switching to high efficiency, you don’t want your old monitor technology to keep you behind.
In our strive for ever better-looking displays, obviously a better solution was needed: enter the LED, or, Light Emitting Diode.
You’ve probably seen an LED before. In the 21st century, they’re in everything from cheap kids toys to headlights and pretty much everything in between.
Using an LED to light LCD displays was a great move. LEDs are much less expensive to produce nowadays, require much less energy, and can be made in a variety of sizes, brightness’, and colors. LEDs also have a much longer lifespan than fluorescent, and most are rated over 100,000+ hours while CCFL lights are rated at 20,000-40,000 hours.
Backlighting LCD screens using LEDs gave manufacturers much more control over how each individual pixel acts. This gives us a better color range, faster response times, and a greater range of available contrast.
For instance, you can get white LEDs in a vast range of warm and cool whites, single color, and full RGB multi color. Displays with a bright white LED will have a brighter image overall. An RGB LED backlit monitor, on the other hand, will have a broader range of colors it can display.
Going with LEDs also opens up new ways to approach backlighting the monitor. Full-array backlighting puts the light source directly behind the pixel, allowing the light to shine across the back of multiple pixels at any given time.
Full-array Backlighting vs Edge-lit Backlighting
LEDs can be made small enough to fit one behind every pixel to give them each their own source of backlighting. Lighting a panel this way is referred to as full-array backlighting.
The other method often used is edge-lit backlighting. In this method, the LEDs are positioned around the edges of the monitor, and the light is shined through the back of the crystals from this position.
While mounting LEDs on the edge of the panel (instead of behind them) makes for a thinner, lighter display, it’s definitely worth mentioning that the images aren’t typically as good.
When the LEDs are mounted on the side, they can’t dim specific sections of the screen individually. This means you may get light shining on areas that don’t need it – leading to sporadic brightness in areas that should be dark.
When it comes down to it, choosing an LCD monitor is all about choosing what kind of backlighting you want. Finding a model that uses the older CCFL technology is getting harder to find, as even most cheap monitors these days are LED-backlit.
That doesn’t mean that you’re limited on options when choosing a monitor though, as there are more LCD panel types than just CCFL and LED.
There are also still many other factors that make up a good monitor, such as a good refresh rate, response time, and contrast ratio.
HDR LCD monitors are also becoming more common, giving a significant boost to color range over traditional LCD panels.
Personally, I use a 27” curved LED-backlit LCD screen by MSI (who I highly recommend for high-end displays) with a couple of random LED monitors I had laying around to go with it.
Let us know what monitor you’re currently using (and whether its LED or LCD) by leaving us a comment in the section below. Better still, why not head on over to our Community hub where you can discuss everything monitor related with likeminded individuals.