Info & Answers
How to Pick an LED TV
What you need to know when buying an LED LCD TV
February 07, 2011 by Greg Robinson

If you find yourself in the market for a new TV, there are (as always) myriad choices out there and numerous decisions to make. The good news is that if you’ve already ruled out a front projection system (i.e. a ceiling-mounted projector and wall screen combination) and your furniture doesn’t dictate a boxy, bulky Rear Projection TV (RPTV), you’re halfway there. The fact is, knowing what you don’t want can sometimes be more useful than anything else.

Once you’ve narrowed the field to flat panel displays, your next decision is whether to go with a plasma-or LCD-based display. Although many (including yours truly) would argue that a high quality, properly-calibrated plasma display can achieve a more dynamic overall picture, LCD-based HDTVs make a good deal of sense for many consumers. For starters, LCD-based displays are more tolerant of ambient light and tend to perform better in brightly-lit rooms. Also, LCD-based displays (especially LED TVs) are often more energy efficient, which means a lower cost of ownership over time. Lastly, like it or not, LCD has become the dominant display technology in the marketplace and this means a lot more choices with respect to make, size, and price.

Some of you may be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. This article is supposed to help me find an LED TV, not an LCD TV.” That’s an understandable concern, but worry not. What many consumers don’t realize is that an “LED TV” is not a new species of display technology. In fact, an LED TV is simply an LCD TV that uses a different backlight to illuminate its image.

Why LED?

The three primary advantages of LED TVs are superior energy efficiency, improved picture uniformity, and greater potential contrast. The former is fairly self explanatory; LED TVs generally use less power over the course of the year, which means a lower total cost of ownership. As for picture uniformity and contrast, these subjects are highly intertwined and a little less black and white. (Though technically, one might say LED TVs can be a little MORE black and white.)

Unlike traditional LCD TVs, which use Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamps (CCFL) to generate light, LED TVs use an array of light-emitting diodes (LED) to accomplish the same task. LCD’s need for a backlight stands in opposition to self-emissive plasma, where each pixel can be independently controlled (i.e. lit). Traditional CCFL backlights, used in combination with a diffuser, often create picture uniformity issues in much the same way that a garage’s overhead fluorescent light can look bright in some areas and dim in others.

LED backlighting improves on this model by replacing a few large CCFLs with a large array of small LEDs. This matrix of LEDs provides for better backlight coverage, thereby improving picture uniformity and allowing for a more consistent brightness from one side of the display to the other. That said, see “Decision 3” below for more information on the difference between “edge-lit” LED versus “full array” or “full matrix” LED. (This stuff can make your head hurt, I know.)

So, you know you want a flat panel display. You know you’d prefer an LCD, as opposed to plasma. And the benefits of LED backlighting have you sold. That’s a lot of decision-making for one day, so take a break and fix yourself a drink. Nice work! We’re not done yet though. Before you head to the store, you have five more decisions to make. They’re not too bad though, so hang tough. Here goes…

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Greg Robinson - Contributing Writer
Greg Robinson is a freelance technology writer whose work has appeared in several national publications. When he's not evaluating Blu-ray Discs or calibrating televisions, you can usually find him thumping volleyballs at his local gym in rural northeast Connecticut.

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