Shopping for new monitors can be pretty hard. There are so many acronyms that it can be easy to get lost in them: whether it’s IPS, TN, and VA panels, or the LED monitor vs LCD monitor debate, discerning which is the best monitor to buy can swiftly get difficult. Luckily, there are so many monitors out there made by reputable and high-quality companies that making the “wrong” decision is pretty hard; you’re likely to get a decent monitor no matter what you buy.
With that said, there are definitely advantages and disadvantages when it comes to pitting an LED monitor vs LCD technology. Both types of monitor have their positives and negatives, so it’s important to make sure that you’re making the right decision when it comes to buying something that could well end up as a daily driver for you for many years. Here’s our breakdown of whether it’s best to buy LED monitors or LCD monitors for your setup.
A common misunderstanding
Here’s something that might blow your mind if you’re not familiar with the tech behind monitors: LED monitors are also LCD monitors. Crazy, right? The fact is that every single LED monitor out there uses LCD tech. LED stands for “light-emitting diode”, and it’s a reference to how the monitor is backlit. LCD stands for “liquid crystal display”, and that’s the technology the monitor is using to actually display the image on-screen. Next time you want to weigh up an LCD monitor vs LCD alternatives, remember that all LED monitors are actually LCD monitors as well!
CCFLs vs LEDs
There are two different ways that monitors can be backlit: with CCFLs or with LEDs. As we’ve already discussed, LEDs are light-emitting diodes, which are tiny lights that are dotted around the monitor. CCFLs, by contrast, are “cold cathode fluorescent lamps”, which are placed at even spacing behind the display.
The difference here should be fairly obvious based on what these different light types do. CCFLs will evenly light the screen so that no area of it looks lighter or darker than any other. LEDs, on the other hand, can be used to dim or light local areas of the screen, which can result in a more dynamic picture.
In this way, the debate may be better understood not as thinking about an LED monitor vs LCD technology, but thinking about CCFLs vs LEDs instead. Do you want a display that’s evenly lit across the whole screen, or would you rather have something that’s lit according to where light is currently needed?
Full-array vs edge lighting
Even when we discard LED monitor vs LCD arguments, there is a more important debate going on, and that’s between full-array LEDs and edge LEDs. Let’s break down exactly what this means, although we’re sure you’ve probably already guessed. Full-array LEDs are spread across the whole screen and can light up individually, while edge LEDs only light the edges of the screen, which creates a bleed effect that lights the rest of the display by proxy.
It should go without saying that if you want a gaming monitor, you should opt for full-array lighting. This is because full-array LEDs can light various areas of the screen according to what’s currently being displayed, meaning that there’s no edge lighting bleed into blacks and your colours will look sharper and crisper. Edge LEDs are less effective in terms of lighting, but they are cheaper, so if you’re on a strict budget, you’ll probably want to plump for that option.
The full-array versus edge debate also manifests itself in viewing angles, which might or might not be important to you depending on your setup. As you might imagine, full-array LED monitors have better viewing angles than edge-lit monitors, so you can sit at different angles and play games or watch content without losing any quality.
Conversely, edge LEDs lose something when you try to view them from different angles because the backlight’s position around the edges of the monitor is skewing the light and colour reproduction of the picture. Often, if you’re PC gaming, you will sit directly looking at your monitor anyway, so this won’t be an issue. However, if you’re going to be moving around a lot, then you should definitely opt for full-array lighting.
Is there ever a reason to pick a CCFL LCD?
Not really, no. Once upon a time, CCFL LCD monitors were cheaper than their LED counterparts, but this is only because they offered inferior backlighting ability. CCFL monitors draw more power, so they’re less environmentally friendly, and they’re also bulkier and heavier than LED monitors, so they’re more difficult to position on a desk or to move around.
However, if you’re shopping for monitors in 2023, then there’s probably not much of a chance you’ll actually find a CCFL option, unless you’re shopping on the ultra low-budget end of the spectrum (and even in this case, you’ll probably find that the backlights are still LED). Buying older second-hand monitors may result in getting CCFL backlights, but LED is much more commonplace now.
What about different monitor panel types?
There are three main different monitor panel types to look out for, and all three are usually LED-backlit. Here’s a quick rundown of what they are and what they do.
- IPS panels. These have good colour reproduction and great viewing angles, but they suffer from lower black levels and often have higher refresh rates.
- VA panels. VA panels have good contrast, but they struggle when compared to TN panels in terms of refresh rate, which is important for pro gaming.
TN panels. If you’re a pro gamer, you want a TN panel, as you’ll often find TN panels reaching refresh rates of up to 240Hz, which is great for fast-response-time gaming. However, colours and viewing angles suffer on TN panels.