How to Choose between LCD and LED HDTVs

By David Weedmark

Here's a handy guide to help you in purchasing your next TV, explaining the differences between HD, full HD, UHD and other technical terms you'll encounter.

If you're ready to purchase a new LCD or LED HDTV, here are some tips to make the decision a little less daunting. When it's time to go shopping, you'll know what features to look for and what's not so important, based on the latest technology at the time of publication.

LCD and LED Technologies

If you last bought a TV several years ago, you may recall that HDTVs came in two varieties: LCD and plasma. As of June 2015, most LCD TVs are called LED TVs.

LCD stands for "liquid crystal diode," referring to the pixels that produce an image. LED stands for "light emitting diode," which provides the backlighting to the LCD display. Before LED became the standard, LCD TVs used thin fluorescent tubes, called CCFLs, to provide back lighting. Though TVs may be listed as LCD or LED, because most LCD TVs today use LED technology and because all LED TVs are, by default, LCD TVs, this is usually just a matter of marketing.

Screen Size

A few years ago, screen size was an important consideration, depending on how far you were seated from the TV. Anyone seated off-center would not see a good picture, since they would be viewing the pixels at an angle, which often resulted in shadows. With advancements in LCD technology, including the LED backlighting, this isn't really an issue any more. As long as the TV fits your budget and can physically fit in the room, bigger is better.

Small screens, of course, may be a problem if you're putting the TV in a large room, since it may be difficult to discern details or read news bulletins if you're seated too far away.

Screen sizes are measured diagonally, and may be rounded up. A model marketed as a 65-inch screen, for example, may actually be 64.5 inches when you read the specs.


Most LCD or LED TVs display images in high definition resolution, known as HDTV. There are two kinds of HDTV: 720p and 1080p. A 32-inch screen may only need 720p resolution to display a crisp image because the screen is relatively small. An 80-inch TV, on the other hand, should be at least 1080p. Additionally, many high-definition videos only display in 720p. A relative newcomer, and available on a limited number of models is 4K Ultra HD. Here's a quick comparison:

  • 480p or 520p: standard definition.
  • 720p HD: 720 pixels high by 1,280 wide.
  • 1080p HD: 1,080 pixels high by 1,920 pixels wide, also called full HD.
  • 4K UHD: 2,160 pixels high by 3,840 pixels wide.

Some manufacturers can improve on standard and high definition by using upscaling technology that automatically enhances the video definition. For these models, as well as 4K UHD TVs, take a look at the sub-pixel count. When the TV displays a 1080p video, it divides each pixel from the source into sub-pixels, resulting in a crisper image.

Refresh Rate

Refresh rate refers to the number of times per second the image is changed on the screen. This is important when watching action movies or sports, for example, because the images you see change quickly. The refresh rate value is usually measured in Hertz.

As of time of publication, look for a refresh rate on an LCD or LED HDTV of at least 120 Hz — this is the recommended standard for good TVs today. Some manufacturers market the TV's "effective refresh" rate, which can be significantly higher than the real refresh rate. When comparing two different models, make sure you're comparing the equivalent refresh rates. Read the technical specifications for each model to get the full details.

Contrast Ratio

An LCD TV's contrast ratio describes its capacity for displaying light and dark pixels. Generally speaking, the higher the contrast ratio, the sharper the contrast will be. However, it's often difficult to compare contrast ratios from one manufacturer to another, because there are different ways to measure this value. Some manufacturers may use native contrast ratios, which is what the LCD panel itself is capable of. Other manufacturers may use the dynamic contrast ratio, which is what the screen can produce with assistance from the technology inside the TV.

Smart Platforms

If you're looking for a smart LCD or LED TV, make sure that the platform can access the apps that you want to use. Most smart TVs offer at least the most popular apps, like Netflix and YouTube. Other platforms, like Android TV, offer more choices in video streaming apps and games. Additionally, many manufacturers offer apps for smartphones and tablets so that you can interact with the TV using your mobile device on your home network.

If you already own a smart device, like a smart DVD player, an Apple TV or a Nexus Player, you may be able to save some money by getting a TV without the smart features.


One last thing you should check before purchasing an LED or LCD HDTV is the connection options displayed in the TV's spec sheet or technical details. Take a look at the devices you have, how they connect and make sure that your new TV will be able to access them. The connection options to look for are:

  • Wi-Fi for connecting to your home's wireless network.
  • HDMI for connecting to high-definition audio/video devices like a Blu-ray or DVD player.
  • USB for connecting phones, tablets and USB drives that contain your favorite videos or photos.