Here’s the situation: Your old computer monitor has gone dim and you must buy a new one. So, you head to your favourite electronics store and head to the computer monitors section. You stand, perplexed, in front of your monitor options. You have a choice to make between an LCD monitor and an LED monitor but you have no idea what the difference is between these two options. Don’t worry, that’s what we’re here to figure out. First, let’s define the terms.
LCD stands for ‘liquid crystal display’. It means that the active part of the monitor is a layer of liquid held between two pieces of polarized glass. A light from behind the liquid shines through the glass and illuminates the crystals.
LED stands for ‘light-emitting diode’. LEDs are used as a light source in home light bulbs, traffic lights, smartphone and laptop screens and, of course, monitors. LEDs producing infrared light have been in your remote controls for decades. The time display on your clock radio? Yup, those are LEDs as well. In monitors, LEDs are the backlight used to illuminate the liquid crystal display.
Did you notice that? LEDs can be used to light LCDs. I know, that’s only worsened your confusion. Let me clarify. This is a case of a marketing team taking creative license with a technical term. When talking about monitors, LCDs are usually the monitors that are backlit by fluorescent lamps, while LED monitors are backlit by LEDs. All LED monitors use liquid crystal displays, but not all liquid crystal displays are lit by LEDs. Are you still with me? Good. For the rest of this article, ‘LCD monitors’ will refer to a monitor with a fluorescent backlight.
LCD Strengths and Weaknesses
The LCD monitors are the more affordable option. This is because they’ve been in production for so long that the component costs have dropped significantly. Though most manufacturers are moving away from fluorescent backlighting, there is still a selection of models to choose from. It has a lifespan comparable to an LED backlight. Your fluorescent backlit monitor has some negative traits, however. There are very few of these monitors that can support 4K, though, and you won’t see new features gracing the fluorescent backlit monitor lines. The light contains mercury, so there’s a pollution cost when it reaches end of life. Also, fluorescent monitors are heavier, bulkier and hotter than LEDs.
LED Strengths and Weaknesses
LED monitors are cooler (literally), more energy efficient, and thinner. Your LED monitor will be slimmer and cheaper to run in the long-term. The drawback is that you’ll pay more up front for it. Also, LED monitors are at slightly more risk for image retention (also known as the dreaded ‘screen burn’) than the LCD monitors are. But at the current time, the display manufacturing industry has embraced LED as the predominant backlight solution. As an example, most (if not all) touchscreens are LED-lit. If you are looking for a monitor that can support 4K resolution, fast response time for serious gamers, or general high performance, LED will be the technology of choice. And the lack of mercury in the light means you can rest easy when it’s time to retire the old beast to the recycling depot.