LEDs vs. LCDs: A Tale of Two Displays

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In the world of digital signage, there are two prominent display technologies: LCD and LED. There’s also a considerable amount of misconception about these technologies and how they relate to each other. The blame for much of this confusion can be attributed to the advent of LCD TVs with LED-backlighting technology, so let’s clear that up before we move on.

Backlighting

With any digital display, you must have a light source so that you can see it. Until very recently, TVs have always been backlit—that is, illuminated from behind the display monitor. For a long period of time after television sets were invented, this was done by firing electrons through a “gun” to the screen (tube and projector TVs). In the early 2000s, LCD TVs were backlit by fluorescent bulbs. More recently, however, TV manufacturers began using LED technology as the light source for flat-screen LCD TVs, as this method provided more versatility and uniform lighting, therein lies some of the confusion.

Breaking Down the Differences

As displays, there are many differences between LED displays and LCDs. Given advances in LED display technology—and drastically lower cost—both display types can be viable options for a variety of interior spaces. And of course, each has benefits, and each has limitations. To determine the best display for a digital signage project, it’s critical to understand exactly how each display type will perform and why one is better than the other in a given situation. It’s important to compare, not only cost, but also factors such as brightness, durability, size, resolution, vibrancy, and much more.

What is an LED Display?

LED stands for light-emitting diode. By definition, LEDs provide their own light. Once reserved for large-scale, exterior digital displays, direct-view LED signage has emerged as a greatly improved, widely applicable medium, now suitable for virtually all display installations, both indoor or outdoor. In the digital signage industry, direct-view LED displays have now become the norm.

What is an LCD display?

LCD stands for liquid crystal display. This type of display uses light-modulating properties of liquid crystals. As referenced above, liquid crystals don’t produce light directly; instead, they use a backlight to produce images on the screen. LCDs are used most often in interior applications, where users are in proximity to the screen. With this display technology, ambient light is usually limited and controlled.

Cost

Typically, LED displays have a higher up-front cost than LCDs; however, unlike LCDs, LED displays are rugged and durable, even in the most inhospitable environments. Additionally, they can be upgraded and retrofitted relatively easily. For total cost of ownership and longevity, the better option is the LED.

Brightness

Brightness is typically measured in NITs. One NIT is equivalent to one candela per square meter. The brightness for LED displays ranges from hundreds to thousands of NITs. LCDs have a much lower brightness range. LED displays are able to compete in well-lit areas, both inside and outside. In contrast, competing light will severely impact an LCD; many times, this renders them un-viewable.

Display Quality

While LED and LCD displays can both render most types of content, there are some drawbacks to LCDs. They can sometimes hold the “memory” of an image, and leave behind a residual imprint referred to as “image persistence.” It’s caused when a still image remains on the screen for too long. The colors become “stuck” in place. When the display tries to shift to another color, the crystals don’t want to budge. The result is a color that is slightly skewed from the intended one. LED displays do not encounter this issue.

Video Walls

Video walls are one of the most popular ways to use digital displays in interior spaces. From entertainment venues to retail spaces, video walls have wide appeal. This makes the setup more complex than single screens, so it’s essential to have the right screens. LEDs are typically the preferred display for video walls. They are seamless, tiling together with no bezels. In a well-installed application, video walls have excellent uniformity and the widest viewing angles. LCDs can be tiled, but their bezels cause gaps and visual barriers. While there are LCDs with narrow bezels, small seams are still visible, unfortunately.

Size

An LED display can be any size. There are no inherent limitations. They can also be curved, concave, or convex. They can even wrap completely around a pillar for a 360-degree effect. LCDs are typically only available in the standard sizing set by the manufacturer.

SNA Displays is a global manufacturing leader in LED video displays. We offer fully customizable LED products, thereby providing you with the most impact on your messaging. To learn more about how LED signage can power your digital display project, view our portfolio.

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