You’ve probably heard a lot of different acronyms when it comes to display technology. From the IPS and LED in the title to TN, LCD and maybe even VA. Each one is a different type of technology and today we’ll look at the common question “Should I get IPS or LED?” Well, first we have to look at what the technologies are, because the truth is, that comparison is like comparing apples and oranges.
IPS is a Panel Type whereas LED is actually Backlighting Technology. You can actually get displays that have both or displays that have one or the other. In fact, before we look closer at both IPS and LED, we should clear something up, namely what LCD is.
Much like LED, LCD is a Backlighting Technology and it stands for Liquid Crystal Display. Most computer monitors actually use LCD rather than LED, due to a variety of reasons. Without getting too technical, LCDs basically use a thin layer of liquid crystals (ergo the name), which can hold a charge for a very small period of time. It’s that charge which gives it the property of the pixel it’s meant to be reproducing.
What is IPS?
IPS stands for In-Plane Switching and is a panel type, like TN or VA. Interestingly enough, IPS was actually created as a way to counter the issues from TN panels (TN being the first panel types that made LCDs affordable). You see, the problem with TN panels is that color accuracy and reproduction are really not that great, and their viewing angles are kinda bad.
With IPS, you get that higher color reproduction, as well as an amazing view angle, but ironically it comes with its own issues. For one, IPS panels tend to be the most expensive type, for another, they tend to have lower refresh rates than TN panels, which is a problem if you’re aiming for a 144Hz gaming experience. That being said, some of these issues have started being mitigated with modern technology, but they aren’t completely solved
What is LED?
As you may know, LED stands for Light Emitting Diode and is a back-lighting technology. You see, the thing is that LCD doesn’t actually produce their own lighting, and are really just a thin sheet that can change its properties when you look through it. In fact, you could use any backlighting technology if you want, which is showcased in this really cool video where a company put an LCD screen on a desktop case.
All of this is in contrast to CRT displays, those big things that people used to use in the Dark Ages. CRT displays produce their own light and so don’t actually need any kind of backlighting.
IPS and LED: Price
Well, IPS screens are by far the most expensive panel types and they tend to only get used in professional settings where color reproduction is important. For example, if you’re a digital artist, or do a lot of editing, it’s important to have as much color accuracy and reproduction as you can, that way even if it gets displayed on TN or VA, it still looks great. Unfortunately, the tech is not cheap enough yet where it’s a cost-effective choice for most consumers.
LEDs, on the other hand, are almost literally dirt cheap, although very few manufacturers still use simple LEDs. Nowadays you’ll find that most LEDs come in the form of AMOLED or OLED for consumer electronics and are mostly used for smartphones and TVs. Of course, you can still find normal LED tech in other digital displays where colors and pixel density isn’t as important (like digital blood pressure cuffs or stock tickers).
IPS and LED: Response Time and Refresh Rate
So this is actually one of the other big problems with IPS screens, which is that they are pretty slow (around 10ms). While this isn’t necessarily a problem if you’re doing creative work where you can take your time, it can be an issue if you’re trying to play fast-paced games like shooters. Again, I do want to add a grain of salt here because the technology is constantly getting better, and you can certainly find IPS screens that have lower response times.
Also, refresh rates on IPS screens tend to be slower compared to other panel types, which again, isn’t as big of an issue. LEDs, on the other hand, have incredibly fast response rates because the physics behind them is very simple (literally just a semiconductor that emits light when a charge goes through it). That being said, there are still limits on how fast it can go, most of which are based on the panel type.
Interestingly enough, LCDs are going the way of CRTs, with screens now adopting OLED and AMOLED more and more. For more on refresh rates, we have a great article on 60Hz vs 120Hz vs 144Hz.
IPS and LED: Image Quality
This one is actually short and simple; IPS screens have one, if not the best image qualities of any screen type. LEDs are a backlighting technology, so on their own, they don’t really provide much in terms of image unless we’re talking about digital displays like the ones I mentioned above (stock tickers, etc), in which case the image quality is trash (sorry old-school LEDs).
IPS and LED: Power Draw
This is also a pretty simple one. IPS screens, due to the quality of the image they produce, tend to draw tons of power. They also tend to give off a lot of heat, so you better make sure that you don’t stick your IPS display anywhere enclosed. I’ve even seen some IPS displays come with fans on the back to help with the cooling, so it’s serious business.
LEDs, on the other hand, draw almost no power at all comparatively, which is why they are super popular for anything that runs on a battery, such as smartphones (although again, those are OLED or AMOLED).
So what should I buy?
Well, at the end of the day, my advice is to not worry about backlighting technology like LED or CCFL or what have you. That kind of decision is taken by the manufacturer based on the display they are creating and what it’s being used for so that it can deliver the best experience.
On the other hand, what you should think about is the panel display and what type you want to go for. IPS is excellent if you do a lot of digital creative work, or you have the disposable income to pay for a high-end IPS TV to enjoy your movies and shows on.
TN panels, on the other hand, are the most common type for monitors because they are cheap, have high refresh rates and, since you’re always sitting head-on, viewing angles don’t matter much. There are also VA panels you can check out as a middle-ground option between IPS and TN. If you want more of a run-down on each panel type, you should check out our article on IPS vs TN vs VA.