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Just a decade ago flat panel computer monitors were an oddity and the least expensive models went for more than the price of standard PC but these days the flat panel monitor is everywhere. Prices have come down in the last ten years as well, and new technologies are coming into the market. The latest is the LED monitor. As with any new technology it can be confusing at first. Like two identical cars with different engines, simply looking at the two side by side doesn’t immediately tell us a whole lot of information. A flat panel looks like a flat panel. The difference is under the hood.

LCD displays work by having a miniature fluorescent tube light bulb behind a liquid crystal screen, usually at the top although sometimes at the bottom or both. The liquid crystal display can change color, but does not give off any light. The light we see comes from the fluorescent bulbs shining through the LCD itself as the matrix changes color. This works rather well but has a few drawbacks, the most immediately obvious is that it’s very difficult to display black. Because there are only one or two fluorescent bulbs lighting the entire screen the only way an LCD can display black is to change the pixels to opaque, therefore blocking the light. Some LCDs are more successful at this than others, but all except the latest screens will obviously look dark gray or charcoal when the screen is on, but displaying black. This is all right for most uses, but for watching movies or video gaming the imperfect black levels can be frustrating.

LED displays work similarly to LCDs, except instead of having fluorescent bulbs there are many Light Emitting Diodes behind the screen. These LEDs require very little electricity, and ones that are not needed (if a portion of the screen is displaying black) can be turned off. Overall, this means LED screens use about 40% less electricity than their already very efficient LCD counterparts. It also means LED screens have superior black levels. The LEDs also take up less space than the small fluorescent bulbs so the screens are noticeably thinner, and lighter. Finally, many people have noted that small amounts of mercury is used in the manufacturing of traditional LCDs (for the fluorescent bulbs) and this is not the case with LED screens.

Currently LED screens cost about 50% more than an LCD screen of the same size, but there are definite advantages and no drawbacks to the new technology other than the increased price tag.

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