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What is an LED TV - Is It a Must Have?

LED Flat Panel Displays

Flat panel televisions have been coming down in price dramatically. The problem for manufacturers is how to induce shoppers to buy new higher margin products. Manufacturers constantly improve and refine their technologies and the splashier the better. Enter LED televisions.

There are two technologies used for flat panel displays; LCD (liquid crystal) and gas plasma. Plasma has one big advantage over LCD, rendering of black is better on plasma screens. The importance of rendering black well has to do with the sharpness of the picture. LED TVs are aimed at closing this gap.

Let's clarify one misconception, LED TVs are not a different technology than LCD. LED TVs are still LCD TVs, they simply replace the fluorescent backlight with an LED backlight. They still use LCD technology to render the image.

Fluorescent backlighting has the disadvantage of not being dimmable; it is either on or off. The light shines through the LCD layer to give the image its perceived brightness. Ideally, the black part of the picture would let no light through and it would appear completely black. However, some amount of light does come through, and it reduces the quality of the image.

LED backlighting has two advantages, it is dimmable, and because many individual lights are used, some can be turned off while others are left on. These two features allow a picture to be rendered with little or no light behind black portions of the picture, resulting in sharper images.

There are two versions of LED backlighting, edge-lit and back-lit. The edge-lit technology uses LEDs around the perimeter of the picture, which allows for an ultra-thin screen. The back-lit technology uses many LEDs behind the image which allows for more accurate lighting through direct control of LED clusters. These clusters can be dimmed or turned off dependent upon the image. However, because the LEDs are grouped into clusters, each individual LED cannot be independently controlled, some dimming may occur in parts of the image that should otherwise be bright.

Should I Buy an LED TV?

So this improvement means I'll get a better picture and so I should run out and buy one right? You will probably get a slightly better picture than on a fluorescent backlit LCD TV, but not necessarily better than a plasma TV. This improvement does more to level the playing field, but doesn't make LED TV a clear winner.

The high cost of the new LED TVs raises the question, "Is it worth it?" The improvement in picture quality is good but not dramatic. LED TVs use less electricity, edge-lit models even less, as well as being ultra-thin. As is always the case, the price will come down as more manufacturers compete in the LED arena.

Unless having a very thin screen or reducing electrical consumption are key to your buying decision, the picture improvement alone may not justify the purchase. At current price levels you can purchase nearly two of last year's models for the price of one of these LED TVs. As the price drops, the LED TVs will likely become the new standard technology with manufacturers continually refining and improving upon them to get you excited about next year's model.

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