One of the most common questions we’re asked when assisting businesses establish their digital signage systems is whether an LED or an LCD display is best for their business. The answer is always contextual to the clients’ needs. It starts by clarifying what the difference between the two actually is.
What is the difference between LED and LCD Displays?
When we’re talking about consumer products such as computer monitors and televisions the first thing to know is that an LED screen is an LCD screen, but an LCD screen is not always an LED screen. An LED monitor or television is just a specific type of LCD screen, which uses a liquid crystal display (LCD) panel to control where light is displayed on your screen.
For the display to be considered an LED screen, it means it is utilising ‘Light Emitting Diodes’ to generate the light behind the liquid crystals to form an image. A non-LED LCD screen has backlights (called fluorescent lamps) behind the screen that emit white light which cannot pass through the liquid crystals until an electric current is applied to the liquid crystals which then straighten out and allow light to pass through.
Above: LCD (left) vs LED (right)
This is where it can get easy to divert away from giving clear advice on whether as LED or LCD display is best for your business, because consumer displays differ from commercial displays. We are not trying to give the reader direction on which monitor is best for their gaming set-up, but which screen type is ideal for communicating your business’ messages.
What are Commercial LED Displays
Commercial LED displays are typically referred to as Direct View LED. This is because they use LEDs as the individual pixels that make up the image itself. Using a surface array of LEDs removes any need for a liquid crystal display panel, which carries noticeable benefits for particular uses.
While LCD flat panels are available in resolutions of 1080P and 4K UHD, Direct View LED displays are measured by pixel pitch. Pixel pitch is the distance from the centre of one pixel cluster to the centre of the next pixel cluster in an LED screen. The smaller the pitch, the closer viewers can get to the display before they see the pixels themselves. Outdoor configurations may have a pitch of 10mm to 40mm, as they are viewed at longer distances.
For use indoors, where viewers would be closer to the display, a pitch of 10mm or less would be required, some have even sub-1mm pixel pitch. When considering Direct View LED displays, it is important to know the minimum viewing distance required. Multiplying the pixel pitch by 1,000 gives you a good rule of thumb for the minimum viewing distance.
The Two Types of Direct View LED
Direct view LED displays can either use discrete oval LEDs which are basically one single self-contained diode, or Surface Mounted Device (SMD) LEDs. SMD LEDs contain 3 individual light-emitting diodes bunched together. Either way, it’s the light-emitting diodes that create the images you see on screen. This is explained in the image below, courtesy of LG Electronics
What are Commercial LCD displays?
Commercial LCD screens are more closely related to their consumer counterparts like TVs but there are still differences to be aware of. It is not advised to simply purchase an LCD TV from your local electronics retailer and install it in a public setting and expect it to function as desired.
Both have been designed to be used differently. Commercial display manufacturers understand that their displays are going to be exposed to far different conditions than a living room television will be. The componentry in a commercial display is optimised to allow for the display to be on 24 hours a day, all year around. They take into account diverse environments such as hot kitchens, high foot traffic, and bad weather, ensuring the product won’t fail in such exposures. The addition of more durable and resistant technology means commercial LCD displays will typically be priced higher than their consumer cousins.
Benefits of Commercial LED Compared to Commercial LCD
- Brightness: When deployed in areas with strong ambient lighting, even the best LCDs can appear washed out and difficult to view, especially when from an angle. Direct view LEDs for outdoor applications can reach 9,000 nits, making them a brighter and better choice for most outdoor applications.
- Contrast: Direct View LEDs can turn off pixels that aren’t being used which allows for a higher contrast and therefore a richer image in varied lighting conditions.
- Size and shape: Direct view LED-based walls can be flat, curved, wrapped around pillars and more. With no size limit or set aspect ratio they can be used more flexibly than LCDs. Plus, panels have no bezels which means you can piece together Direct view LEDs to create large and uniquely shaped displays with no visible interruptions between units.
- Lifespan and servicing: Most direct view LEDs are rated to last 10 years, compared to a typical 5 years for LCDs. Further, they can be easily replaced on-site, reducing maintenance costs.
- Tougher: If you’re using an LCD for any outdoor application or one where the unit has to be protected from extreme temperatures or humidity, you’re going to need to include an enclosure and have an understanding of how to properly seal and vent the unit. Outdoor Direct view LEDs, on the other hand, are purpose-built to withstand harsh environments.
Benefits of Commercial LCD compared to LEDs
- Price: The higher upfront cost of Direct LEDs could be the biggest sticking point when it comes to pitching a video wall. While prices have been steadily dropping, Direct view LEDs are still more expensive than LCD alternatives. However, make sure you consider the lifetime cost of the solution and other benefits mentioned above before you discount direct view LEDs.
- Functionality: LCD screens can offer a wider range of functionality when it comes to set-up, display settings, and day-to-day control. There is also the addition of touch screen options for LCD displays which are a fairly sought-after feature these days.
- Resolution: Whilst the fine pixel pitches available in direct view LEDs today make for impressively resolute images, LCD screens still boast are more uninterrupted image when viewed up close, particularly with the modern 4k displays. This makes them a better option for smaller retail stores, quick service restaurants or office meeting rooms.
- Energy efficiency: The technology in DV LEDs is improving quickly but at this stage, LCDs are the more energy efficient choice.
An Example From Our Range
Direct View LED End Cap
- 720 x 640 each side, total screen size = 1280 x 720mm or 16:9 aspect ratio
- P1.5 Pixel Pitch
- Surface Mounted Device (SMD) with Red, Green Blue, White LED
- Approx 800 nits
- Screen brightness is impressive in a variety of locations and from any viewing angle, resolution is extremely clear from a viewing distance of 5ft and above.
LCD End Cap with Samsung QM43B Displays
- 2x mounted display screens
- Single screen size is 953 x 536mm (43 inch)
- 4k UHD resolution
- Approx 500 nits
- Image clarity is high from even very close, but some colour washout when viewed at various angles and in different lighting situations.
Summing up – Is an LED or an LCD Display Best for my Business?
As earlier stated, intended use for the display will determine which format you invest in. In outdoor environments or areas with high ambient lighting, brightness is the key concern. For indoor environments, the key concern is image quality and contrast. It’s also imperative to consider the usage environment and what the screen may be exposed to with regards to weather, temperature, humidity, direct contact and other factors. If you have a good understanding of your requirements for content, application, perception and budget then your first move should be to contact a supplier, like Black Lab Design, and we will be able to assist you with designing, building and installing the perfect digital display solution for your business.
Need more help? Check out our article on the 5 factors to consider when investing in digital signage.