6 min

LED vs. LCD Monitors - The Key Differences

What's the difference between LCD and LED monitors? Which is better for your eyes? Which better for gaming? Here's how to decide which is right for your needs.

CDW Expert CDW Expert

What's Inside

If you are spending a lot of time in front of a monitor, it is important to make an informed decision when purchasing a new one. High-quality monitors can relieve eye strain, improving employee experiences or getting you further in your favorite game. So, as your system needs to be updated, the question becomes: is an LED or LCD monitor better? Which monitor is better for eyes? Which monitor is better for gaming? What is the difference between LCD vs. LED monitors, if any? Consider these key points to determine which technology makes sense for your computer use.

Which Monitor Type is Right for You, LED or LCD?

Comparing LED (light-emitting diode)  to LCD (liquid-crystal display) monitors directly is a misunderstanding of their definitions. "LED" and "LCD" refer to different aspects of monitor technology (the backlighting and display, respectively). If you're short on time, your takeaway should be all monitors that have LED backlighting are LCDs, but not every LCD uses LED technology to illuminate the screen. 

In the past, most LCDs were backlit with cold cathode flourescent lamps (more commonly known as CCFL backlighting). Now, most modern LCD monitors are lit with LEDs. LED-lit LCD monitors are significantly thinner, lighter and use less power than their CCFL predecessors. Additionally, LED diodes last longer than CCFL bulbs. You won't see a huge impact in image quality with CCFL LCDs vs LED LCDs, though, but you may notice LEDs light the screen more evenly than CCFL.

Let's take a deeper look at LED technology first to understand the differences in detail.

What is an LED Monitor?

LED monitors use LEDs (light-emitting diodes) to light up the screen, which are basically very small bulbs, like mini Christmas lights. The arrangement of the LEDs behind the screen varies--monitors feature either full-array LED backlighting or edge lighting. Some high-performance, modern monitors have mini-LEDs, which allows for even finer lighting control.

Monitors with full-array lighting have diodes evenly distributed behind the monitor, providing even lighting across the entire screen. Monitors with edge lighting only have LEDs around the perimeter of the monitor and the light is spread with a sheet of plastic to distribute the light evenly, which saves money for the manufacturer and ultimately for you.

Some computer monitors, known as LCD HDR (high dynamic range) displays, feature local LED dimming. This capability allows you to dim parts of the screen depending on what's being shown. This gives you inky blackness and brighter, more dynamic color, rather than the entire screen being evenly backlit all the time. With mini-LED monitors, this capability is enhanced since the diodes are about 1/5th the size of standard LEDs, giving you more precise dimming capability.

LED Monitor Pros and Cons

Here are the pros and cons of LED LCD monitors vs. CCFL LCD monitors.

LED LCD Monitor Pros

  • Energy-efficient
  • Thin and lightweight
  • No heat generated
  • Short/fast response time
  • High contrast
  • Consistent brightness
  • Long life span
  • Backlight dimming option for some LED monitors allows for optimal contrast/color quality
  • No mercury

LED LCD Monitor Cons

  • Some edge-lit LED monitors can be hard to see at certain viewing angles. This shouldn't be a problem if you're viewing the monitor straight ahead
  • Expensive, although total lifespan and cheaper maintenance costs balance this out

What is an LCD Monitor?

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) monitors feature a layer of liquid held between two pieces of polarized glass. The LCD monitor does not produce its own light. The electric current aligns the crystals in the liquid layer, which allows or blocks light, depending on what color it's supposed to display. LCD monitors historically have CCFL backlighting but commonly have LED backlighting today.    

Within the category of LCD monitors are three main panel types, each offering some advantages and disadvantages: TN, VA and IPS.

  • TN (Twisted Nematic) Panels- this is the most common monitor panel type, commonly used in budget monitors. They offer ~1ms response times, making them ideal for fast-paced gaming like first-person shooters. However, they have poorer color reproduction/contrast and fewer viable viewing angles than the other panel types
  • VA (Vertical Alignment) Panels- VA panels fall between TN and IPS in terms of what they offer in as far as color reproduction and viewing angles-- you'll get nice, inky black and accurate colors. The response time isn't as good as with TN panels, however.
  • IPS (In Plane Switching) Panels- IPS has become very popular due to the great color accuracy and available viewing angles (almost 180 degrees). Like VA panels, response times aren't as good as TN panels, usually falling in the 4-8ms range, an important consideration for intense PvP gaming. This panel type is a great choice for designers and professionals who rely on precise color.

LCD Monitor Pros and Cons

Although nearly all LCD monitors have LED backlighting today, here are the pros and cons of older CCFL-lit LCD monitors vs. LED LCD monitors for comparison's sake.

CCFL LCD Monitor Pros

  • Cheaper than LED monitors

CCFL LCD Monitor Cons

  • Not as energy-efficient
  • Larger and thicker
  • No local dimming
  • Not as even illumination, especially apparent in dark rooms
  • Shorter life span
  • Difficult to repair/maintain

Which Monitor Type is Better Overall?

Between LED LCD monitors and CCFL LCD monitors, LED wins hands down in almost every respect besides cost. However, you'll probably end up coming out ahead with an LED LCD monitor in the long run due to their longer average lifespan.

Which Monitor Type is Better for Gaming?

When it comes to gaming, LED LCD monitors also win against CCFL LED monitors. However, what type of LED LCD monitor you should get depends on the main genre of gaming you're looking to do (and how competitive you are).

A full-array LED LCD monitor with an IPS panel is best for the broad swath of gamers out there due to the great color accuracy, dimming capability and ample available viewing angles. Even better if you can afford an HDR monitor or a curved monitor!

However, if you're a hardcore FPS gamer who wants to compete on a high level, you should consider purchasing an LED LCD monitor with a TN panel. When it comes to FPS gaming, response time matters. You'll find that LED monitors with TN panels have the lowest average response times (some even under 1ms), which means the shortest amount of time the screen takes to shift from one color to another. When your enemy is peeping around the corner, every millisecond counts.

Which Monitor Type is Best for My Eyes?

If you're looking for the best monitor for your eyes, you'll want to look for features like backlight flickering prevention and Low Blue Light (LBL) technology. LBL is high energy, low wavelength light on the visible light spectrum that can cause eye strain and damage your retinas over time. Additionally, LBL can impact your Circadian rhythm (your body's internal clock), affecting your ability to fall asleep at night. Many modern computer monitors have a low blue light filter, but it may be called "Eye Saver" or "Reader" mode. 

Another important factor in reducing eye strain is viewing angle availability. Height and swivel adjustments go a long way in increasing viewing angles. You could also purchase an arm mount to ensure you can position your monitor optimally.

Finally, some monitors adjust their brightness dynamically according to the ambient lighting in the room. For instance, if there is low light, the monitor will decrease its brightness automatically, which helps reduce eye strain. Monitors from some brands also have brightness settings you can adjust depending on what you're using the monitor for (work, movies, gaming, etc.).


OLED vs. QLED Monitors

Want to get more granular in your choice of LEDs? New screen technology typically hits the TV market first, but trickles down to computer monitors in short time. Two new such monitor types are OLED — Organic Light Emitting Diode — and QLED — Quantum Light Emitting Diode.

Every pixel in an OLED monitor is its own miniature LED light. Unlike regular LED monitors, OLED monitors aren’t technically backlit because each pixel produces its own light and color. If an individual pixel doesn’t receive electricity, it will appear dark. OLED technology offers amazing picture contrast as a result. And because each pixel is individually lit, OLED has an incredibly low response time — 0.1 millisecond — that is great for crisp images and gaming.

QLED monitors use nanoparticles called quantum dots that act as color and light filters. Millions of quantum dots can produce stunning displays of brightness and color. They are LED monitors, but the quantum dots allow for richer color and finely adjustable brightness. QLEDs offer full color saturation even in brightly-lit rooms. But the downside is that QLEDs have to dim their backlights for dark colors, which makes it difficult to produce a pure black effect like on an OLED. QLED monitors are also best viewed from dead center, so they might not be the best choice for workspaces that need wide viewing angles

The Bottom Line

As you try to make the best choice for your professional and personal monitor needs, consider what features are necessary and most important to improving your work space and/or your gaming space. In most cases, an LED monitor holds the advantage due to its longer lifespan, better picture quality, thinner design, fast response time and more environmentally friendly construction. These qualities offset the higher initial price point that might have you considering an LCD option. But if you are looking for something cheaper just to get you through a workday with some spreadsheets, the LCD could be for you.