Commercial LED vs. LCD Displays: Which Is Better?

So, you’re thinking about investing in digital signage solutions for your business. There’s a reason why digital signage is popping up everywhere. It’s dynamic, eye catching and can have a direct impact on the bottom line. One study showed that advertised products marketed with digital signage see a 26% increase in dollar sales on average.

But how do you know which technology is right for your project? As we look at digital signage solutions, there’s one question that always seems to pop up. What’s the difference between Direct View LED and LCD displays?

LED and LCD displays are both good technologies, and which is better depends on your application. LCD is a liquid crystal display. Commercial LED displays are a grid or group of Light-Emitting Diodes or LEDs that make up the image itself.  To make things even more confusing commercial, or Direct-View LEDs, are actually very different than their consumer LED cousins. Here are the basics to help you understand what’s the difference between LED and LCD displays and which is better for your project.

LCD

LCD displays are an option for either indoor or outdoor signage. The LCD screen is a series of layers, like an onion. LCD displays have lighting on the base layer. Then comes the LCD sheet, which is a liquid housed between two plates. On top is a protective glass layer. If the display is meant for the outdoors, a final coating is added to protect against the elements- whether they’re natural, like weather, or human-caused, like vandalism.

LCD Layers

Here’s where the difference starts to get muddy. LCD screens can be back-lit by LEDs. Meaning the lighting layer consists of many little LEDs that light the LCD sheet from behind. In the consumer world, these are marketed as LED screens. While accurate, it’s not the same as a commercial LED screen. When we talk about commercial LED’s we’re talking about Direct View LEDs, but we’ll get into that more later.

LCD displays come in Full-HD (1080p) or Ultra-HD (4K) resolution. 4K resolution has four times the pixels as 1080p. What does this mean in the real world? At about thirteen feet away from a 98 inch 1080p display, you can begin to see pixels. With 4K resolution, this decreases to seven feet before seeing pixels.

You can stand closer to the display because the pixel density is higher. Usually when the pixel density goes up, so does the price. So, if you have something like a digital menu behind the order counter, you may save money by going with a 1080p display without hindering the customer experience. Alternatively, if you have a display next to elevators in a hotel 4K may enhance the customer experience since they’ll be closer to the display when they look at it.

Direct View (Commercial) LED

Direct View LED use LEDs as the individual pixels that make up the image itself. Pixel pitch is an important concept with Direct View LED displays. Pixel pitch is the distance from the center of one pixel cluster to the center of the next pixel cluster in a LED screen. This can range from .7 mm- 18 mm plus depending on the viewing distance.

Pixel pitch

A Direct View LED display is made up of different panels. These panels can be grouped into various shapes providing flexibility and scalability. Unlike LCD displays, Direct View LED video walls don’t have bezel lines between each panel. Various Direct View LEDs feature bezel-less panels which are placed together like building blocks. This LED technology creates a seamless viewing experience even for large-scale video walls. 

Direct View LEDs can be curved, convex or concave. They can even wrap entirely around a pillar, the full 360 degrees. Since they’re panels, they can be configured in almost limit-less sizes and aren’t confined to the 16×9 aspect ratio.

LED vs. LCD Displays

  • Sizes: LCD Displays come in sizes provided by the manufacturer and aren’t that easy to customize. Some manufacturers have stretch sizes, but most of the options are at a 16×9 aspect ratio.
  • Resolution: LCD Displays typically have a higher resolution than LED screens. So, a customer can view the screen at a closer distance without seeing the pixels.
  • Bezels: If you’re looking for a video wall option, LCD displays do have bezels around each display. Conversely, some Direct View LEDs don’t have any visible bezels, so there will be no line breaks in your content.
  • Brightness: Direct View LEDs can range from 800-8,500 nits, which exceeds the brightness of most LCDs. Brightness may or may not be an issue, depending on if the display will be indoors or outdoors.
  • Cost: LCD screens are typically less expensive than Direct View LEDs, but the price of Direct View LEDs is decreasing. 

These basic features outline the difference between commercial LED vs. LCD displays. Which is better? It’s a question that can’t be answered without context. The specifics around your project and what you’re trying to achieve will define which technology should be used. Work with an integrator that understands both technologies and can make a recommendation based upon your project. There’s no one-size-fits all solution, but developing a better understanding of commercial LED vs. LCD displays will help you formulate the right questions to ask an integration partner.