Key Points:

  • Direct-lit LED backlighting arrangements were set up as the first to replace cathode fluorescent lamps.
  • Full array allows for local dimming.
  • Direct-lit backlighting suffers from elevated black levels which render darker spaces on the screen a grey color.
  • Full array lighting maintains the vivid colors provided by LED direct-lit backlighting.
  • Both Direct-Lit and Full Array arrangements place the backlight panel right behind the LCD Panel.
  • Direct-Lit televisions are less expensive than full array televisions.

What are TV Backlights?

Screens are more than just the flat color panel that we see in the end. There are a few different pieces stacked behind that image. Besides OLED panels, LCD and LED panels have backlights, a polarizer, TFT glass, liquid crystal, a color filter, and a polarized layer.

Full Array LED vs OLED
Full array LED vs OLED

The backlights are meant to provide the brightness that brings the color to the forefront. Here are the five types of backlights:

  • LED (light-emitting diodes)
  • ELP (electroluminescence panels)
  • Hot CFL (cathode fluorescent lamps)
  • Cold CFL (cathode fluorescent lamps)
  • Incandescent light bulbs

While each type of backlighting uses a different light source, they have to be arranged in a particular way to properly direct the light into the color filter and through the other layers. The main three arrangements are called Edge-Lit, Direct-lit, and Full Array.

Today, backlight panels are made from LED light arrangements. In the case of OLED/QLED TVs, backlight panels are entirely excluded.

What is Direct-Lit?

Direct-lit backlighting is when LED lighting is used across the back panel of the TV. It is placed directly behind the LCD panel and provides a uniform light across the screen. It provides a much brighter picture due to heavy LED use. Unfortunately, all that extra light can make darker shades too bright. In some cases, black sections of the screen can appear to be grey. This is a phenomenon known as “elevated black levels”.

Wide-screen formatted films with letterboxing can make the elevated black levels incredibly apparent. As the entire backlight panel is controlled by a single command, there is no way to eliminate the grey tones created in what’s supposed to be black space. As direct-lit arrangements were created as the first step from CCFL to LED backlights, it was a problem that just came with the territory. Which inspired the creation of full array of LED arrangements.

Samsung QLED TV
QLED TVs are a proprietary product of Samsung, so you can only get QLED TVs from Samsung, but these TVs are certainly designed for the cinephile in mind.

What is Full Array?

In order to combat the elevated black levels of direct-lit panels, LED backlighting using a full array with local dimming (FALD) was created. It breaks up the LED backlight panel into several zones. Each section or zone is responsible for only a portion of the screen’s backlighting. This allows for areas to have local dimming or brightening.

The idea behind providing local dimming was to further increase the contrast and provide deeper shadows, brighter highlights, and more vivid color. The shadows and dark sections of movies stop being grey blocks and match the rest of the image better. FALD TVs are the best arrangement for LCD/LED TVs compared to edge-lit and direct-lit. It provides the benefits of a full light source and evens out the darker areas of the screen to prevent elevated black levels.

Direct-Lit vs Full Array: Side-by-Side Comparison

Direct-LitFull Array
What it is:Backlight panel arrangementBacklight panel arrangement
Primary use:Provides light for a television screenProvides light for a television screen
Conceived:20122012
Initial release:2012N/A
Technical committee:SamsungSony, LG, Samsung
Influential developers:SamsungSony, LG, Samsung
Open format:YesYes
Technologies influenced:Televisions, monitorsTelevisions, monitors

The Differences Between Them

Full Array and Direct-Lit backlights are placed behind the LCD panel to provide the television lighting. As Full Array is an improved and refined version of Direct Lit, it provides a better image with more vivid colors and higher contrast.

Direct-Lit panels use a simple array of LED lighting that provides a uniform light across the LCD panel in the television. This is great for color and viewing angles, but it has no ability to increase color contrasts aside from dimming the entire backlight.

Full Array backlights are made with sections of LED lights across the entire panel that is controlled dynamically to provide high brightness contrast and even more vivid colors. It completely removes the elevated black levels that plague direct-lit televisions.

During the switch from CCFL to LED backlighting, direct-lit arrangements were created as the first step. A simple set up of LED lights all controlled as one to provide consistently bright light to the LCD panel. At first, the transition was such an improvement that most were happy with the new backlighting. It didn’t take long for enthusiasts and home theatre hobbyists to spot that black tones were hard to achieve. The elevated black levels were just too grey.

That’s when the idea to section the LEDs into separately controllable sections came into being. It allowed for portions of the screen to be locally dimmed which changed the heavily lit greys back into the darker black shades they were intended to be. The new arrangement was called a full array with local dimming. Today, full arrays are still among the most expensive televisions aside from QLED/OLEDs.

Direct-lit is still used to create a cheaper option, but manufacturers also make use of an arrangement known as edge-lit to achieve the same cost as a direct-lit panel without suffering elevated black levels. Unfortunately, Edge-Lit backlighting suffers from a lack of color vividness compared to full array and direct-lit panels.

Direct-Lit

Pros!Cons!
Cheapest television backlight panelElevated black levels
Wide viewing angleLess contrast than full array
Bright imageCan cause screen burn-in easier than full array

Full Array

Pros!Cons!
Better contrast and image detail than direct-litIf a single LED zone fails, the entire backlight panel fails.
Uses individual LED zones to allow for local dimming and brighteningLED zones can not be individually calibrated or controlled.
Improves the quality of HDR contentExpensive compared to direct-lit panel televisions.
Wide viewing angle

Up Next…

Direct-Lit vs Full Array: Full Comparison FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do the terms direct-lit and full array mean?

Direct-lit refers to a single panel of LEDs placed behind the LCD panel that diffuses light evenly across a television screen. It has a single control for dimming or brightening the entire screen. Direct-lit backlighting suffers from an issue known as elevated black levels. The result is that the dark area of the screen which is meant to be black appears as great.

Full array is an advanced method of LED placement that sections the LED lights into multiple zones across the panel. Each zone can be dimmed or brightened individually. This allows for much better control over the color contrast. It provides a better image and even better color clarity than direct-lit televisions.

What is better direct-lit or full array?

Full array is the king of backlights. Aside from OLED/QLED panels, LED/LCD TVs with full array backlighting are the best on the market. They provide a wide viewing angle with great image quality, high color contrast, vivid color clarity, and all because the light behind the LCD panel can be locally controlled.

Unfortunately, full array televisions can still be expensive due to the number of LEDs necessary to create one. Budget shoppers may want to stick with direct-lit televisions as they are the cheaper option.

Is full-array dimming worth it?

Full array dimming is what allows for some of the highest-quality consumer televisions on the marketplace. The difference between full array backlighting and direct-lit backlighting is so noticeable that retailers have full array televisions marked twice as high as direct-lit ones.

If you have the wallet to handle the price difference, a full array LED arrangement TV is going to be a far better purchase than a direct-lit TV. Besides the image quality improvement, there is also a lessened danger to things like “screen burn-in” which is caused by still images in the LCD Panel being literally burned in by the light source. As full array arrangements can dim sections and control areas of the screen individually, it can overcome some of the danger caused by the LCD panel’s proximity to LED heat.

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  • Available here: https://www.twice.com/news/samsung-unveils-direct-lit-ledlcd-tv-line-2012-11368
  • Available here: https://www.cnet.com/tech/home-entertainment/led-lcd-backlights-explained/
  • Available here: https://www.avsforum.com/threads/full-array-vs-direct-lit-vs-edge-lit-explain-this-to-me-as-if-i-was-a-newbie.1527457/#:~:text=Full%20array%20means%20there%20is%20an%20array%20of,LED.%20Full%20array%20backlights%20are%20also%20direct%20lit.
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  • Available here: https://www.hellotech.com/blog/what-is-full-array-local-dimming-tv
  • Available here: https://blog.bestbuy.ca/feature/what-is-a-full-array-tv