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LCD vs. LED Monitors For Gaming: Differences And Technology Explained
LED and LCD are terms you'll see while shopping for displays, but the distinction is much simpler than you might think.
From panel technology to refresh rates, there are a lot of things to consider when looking for a new gaming monitor. To aid you on your journey for the perfect setup, we're breaking down two of the most common display technology terms: LED and LCD. Here's what you need to know about LED and LCD screens, what the terms stand for, and how they factor into modern gaming monitors.
What is LCD and how does it work?
LCD stands for liquid-crystal display, which refers to how the monitor works. Behind the screen, liquid crystals are sandwiched between two layers of glass and used to change the colors of pixels to create the images that you see. The whole process is a lot more complicated, but that's the gist of how LCDs function.
In the past, some LCDs were backlit by CCFLs (cold-cathode fluorescent lamps). LCDs with fluorescent backlighting have been around longer, so if you can find one, they will be cheaper than LED monitors. However, if you're a gamer looking for decent refresh rates and response times, it's going to be hard to find a monitor with fluorescent backlighting. They've almost completely been replaced by LCD monitors with LED backlights.
PROS OF LCD*
- None: You probably won't find a decent gaming monitor with fluorescent backlighting at this time.
CONS OF LCD*
- Uses more power
- Contains mercury, so contributes to pollution at the end of its lifecycle
- Lower contrast in graphics
*with fluorescent backlighting
What is LED and how does it work?
LEDs work in a similar way; in fact, you can consider LEDs a subcategory of LCDs. The only difference between some LCDs and LEDs is the type of backlighting: LEDs use LED (light-emitting diodes) backlighting.
In contrast to fluorescent backlighting, LED backlighting generally provides brighter colors and sharper contrast. The monitors are also thinner in size and, in the long run, more energy efficient than LCDs with fluorescent backlights. LED backlighting is the newer technology and the current standard for monitors with high refresh rates and fast response times. When you see LCD in product descriptions, they're almost always LCD monitors that use LED (as opposed to fluorescent) backlighting. For example, BenQ's EL2870U monitor is listed as an LCD, but it's an LCD with LED backlighting.
There are different types of LED backlighting: edge-lit and array-lit. In edge-lit monitors, the lights are placed around the edges of the monitor. Light guides are then used to diffuse the light evenly across the screen. In array-lit monitors, lights are placed behind the screen in a pattern.
The tricky thing, however, is that it's pretty much impossible to tell what type of backlight and how many backlights a monitor has based on a typical product description. Some manufacturers will share that info, but generally they won't unless the backlight setup is a premium feature you're paying for.
For example, some edge-lit and array-lit LEDs have local dimming capabilities, a feature that can selectively dim certain zones of LED lights. Local dimming improves contrast ratio and provides deeper blacks in dimly lit scenes. These monitors, however, tend to be pricey. Some well-reviewed options include the Samsung Odyssey G7 and Philips Momentum 436M6VBPAB, both of which are edge-lit monitors with partial local dimming capabilities. The Acer Predator X35 is an (expensive) full-array monitor with full local dimming (FALD) capabilities.
PROS OF LED
- Ubiquitously available: Modern gaming monitors will generally be LED.
- No mercury, so easier to recycle
- Better color contrast and thinner monitor size
- More energy efficient than monitors with fluorescent backlights
CONS OF LED
- ...None, until the next, better display technology becomes more widely available
So which is better for gaming: LED or LCD?
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You won't have much of a choice between LED or LCD. Most monitors, regardless of whether they're marked as LED or LCD, will use LED backlights. LED backlights became the new standard because they allow manufacturers to make thinner, more energy-efficient monitors with better graphics. It's not worth going out of your way to find an LCD with fluorescent backlighting, unless you really, really hate LED lights.
Which backlights a monitor has isn't as important as other factors such as panel technology, refresh rates and response time, G-Sync vs. FreeSync, and HDR --those are the characteristics you should pay more attention to when choosing a monitor. If you're not looking to break the bank, a couple of great LED monitors at excellent price points we can recommend are the Asus VP249QGR, a nice budget 1080p monitor, and Acer XF250Q Cbmiiprx 24.5, a well-reviewed budget 240Hz monitor.
Check out our guide to the best cheap gaming monitors for more budget options; plus, see our picks for the best monitors for PS5 and Xbox Series X, best 144Hz monitors, and the best 4K gaming monitors for more LED displays worth picking up.
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