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Edge-lit and backlit are two of the most common ways to illuminate a TV or computer monitor. Both technologies rely on a lighting source to brighten the LCD panel. Older LCD TVs and monitors used large fluorescent panels that lit up the entire backside of the display. However, newer LED technology now makes it possible to light a screen in various ways.

An edge-lit display has lights around its edge and uses a diffuser to disperse the light. In contrast, a backlit TV has an LED array behind the entire panel to light it evenly. There are also new lighting technologies like OLED, where the LEDs in the display are bright enough not to need extra lighting. So let’s take an in-depth look at each option and see which is the best.

Edge-Lit vs. Backlit: Side-By-Side Comparison

Lighting TypeLights around screen bezelLight array behind entire screen
Light SourceLEDLED or fluorescent panel
Available InPC monitors and TVsPC monitors and TVs
Best ForCheap displayGreat picture
First Used20092004 (LED)
Light DiffuserYesNo

Edge-Lit vs. Backlit: What’s the Difference?

Let’s take a look at some of the differences and similarities between edge-lit and backlit illumination.

Light Dispersion

On a backlit TV, the LEDs (or a fluorescent panel) are situated directly behind the display panel. This means the entire backside gets evenly lit since the lights are situated evenly. However, an edge-lit TV has lights only around the outer edge. While the lights are evenly distributed around the perimeter, this would leave a dark spot in the middle of the panel where the light is the farthest away.

To fix this and evenly light the screen, manufacturers add a light guide or dispersion panel to the backside of the screen. This piece of acrylic is used in addition to the reflector and diffuser sheets which help create an even light on both backlit and edge-lit. But the light guide is specifically designed to take the light from the edge and distribute it to the entire backside of the screen.

Positioning of LEDs

Modern TVs and monitors use LED lights to illuminate an LCD screen. But a backlit screen has LEDs spaced a couple of inches apart and are usually glued to the housing. A gap, usually a couple of inches deep, separates the LCD panel from the lights to prevent bright spots. Edge-lit screens sometimes have the LEDs facing inwards toward the center of the TV, but they can also face forward.

In edge-lit screens with forward-facing LEDs, a small mirror is used to redirect the light guide. The difference between edge-lit and backlit is how a monitor or TV screen is lit up. If you look at a screen, you may not notice the difference at first. But visual enthusiasts can spot which one is which. Similarly, you may be able to notice if both screen types are right next to each other.

What is Edge-Lit?

An edge-lit TV has an LED array around the outer edge of the screen. The benefit of an edge-lit panel is that the frame can be a little smaller. This type does not need space to accommodate the LED array behind the panel. Many TVs currently on the market use edge-lit technology because they also cut down on costs.

An edge-lit TV’s picture quality is not the best as the LEDs don’t evenly illuminate the display. The LEDs around the edge can disperse most light throughout the panel with a light guide (a sheet that redirects the light). However, you may still notice brighter spots around the sides.

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What is Backlit?

A backlit screen is exactly what it sounds like. This type has a light source directly behind the panel, which lights it up evenly. Backlit screens were common in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the technology first became practical. Most older devices, such as LCD TVs, monitors, and laptops, use backlit screens.

Older TVs and monitors with backlit fluorescent lighting had a far worse picture than a modern edge-lit display. This is because newer edge-lit screens use LEDs, which provide a much brighter picture than older LCD ones.

Backlit panels typically used fluorescent technology, but this had several problems. Newer LED technology allows manufacturers to make screens brighter and thinner. There are plenty of manufacturers that still use backlit screens. Most notable are QLED TVs which use very small LEDs to only illuminate parts of a screen.

What About Direct-Lit?

Direct-lit panels are another phrase used to describe backlit ones. The terminology is slightly different, but they essentially mean the same thing. A direct-lit screen can refer to one that uses either a fluorescent panel (unlikely) or newer-style LEDs. Like backlit panels, they can be lit all the time or feature a local dimming option to turn specific lights off to create a darker picture.

Don’t Forget OLED

Another technology worth mentioning is OLED. This is where the display’s pixels are bright enough not to need an additional light source. Because the lights are so bright, the risk of burn-in is high. Plus, they are expensive compared to backlit and edge-lit screens.

Edge-Lit vs. Backlit: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • Edge-lit panels use less energy.
  • Backlit TVs can offer local dimming, turning some lights off to create deep blacks.
  • Both work well in bright rooms.
  • TVs and monitors traditionally used backlighting with a fluorescent panel.
  • Modern LEDs make it possible to create bright but thin frames.

Edge-Lit vs. Backlit: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?

Backlit LED screens will always provide a better image than an edge-lit one. However, that isn’t to say there isn’t a place for edge-lit panels. Edge-lit screens are a great choice if you need a cheap TV and aren’t worried about getting the best picture quality. You can get edge-lit screens in 4K, so the picture will still be pretty good.

Displays using edge-lit technology are typically cheaper, but that doesn’t mean you will get a poor image. In fact, most people probably won’t even be able to tell the difference between an edge-lit and backlit panel if they watch TV. Therefore, it is best to make your purchase decision based on budget rather than just edge-lit or backlit.

When shopping for a backlit TV, it’s good to pick one that offers local dimming. This will make a bigger viewing difference and will definitely be worth the upgrade. Similarly, OLED panels aren’t the best option for most people because they are so expensive and complicated. Therefore a backlit QLED will be the best choice for most people as it offers a great image at an affordable price.

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Edge-Lit vs. Backlit: Choosing the Better Screen Option FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are all displays the same?

No, don’t focus too much on edge-lit or backlit. Instead, check the panel type and its resolution to find the screen with the best picture.

What is OLED technology?

OLED technology uses a panel with tiny LEDs that create the image and are also bright enough not to require any extra light.

Why do TVs need backlights?

Most LCD displays are very dim, and you wouldn’t be able to see their picture unless very close. To solve this problem, light is put behind the panel to make the image visible.

Does the lighting source affect picture quality?

Yes to some degree. However, the biggest factor when it comes to picture quality is the panel type. TVs and monitors are available in TN, VA, and IPS panels, which each have their pros and cons, but they greatly impact the quality of the picture you get.

Are certain rooms better for lighting sources.

Yes, bright rooms will greatly benefit from having a backlit panel, while edge-lit ones will also perform pretty well. However, OLED panels will struggle more in rooms that have a lot of light.

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