“LED TVs”: Good News, Bad News

First, the bad news: I’ve already expressed my concern over Samsung’s decision to use “LED TV” for their new line of LCD HDTVs, and I’m not alone. DisplaySearch, Insight Media, and even the New York Times have joined in the chorus to criticize this unfortunate choice. And now the hole in the marketing dike has grown larger; Toshiba now calls their line of LCD HDTVs with LED backlights “LED TVs”. According to one unofficial source, the company felt it had no choice in the face of Samsung’s campaign. So I expect more manufacturers to jump on the “LED TV” bandwagon, which will mislead consumers to think that these are not LCD panels, but are some different technology, perhaps even OLED. And it’s a shame.

Now for the good news. Whatever you call them, LCD TVs with LED backlights are better than those with the traditional CCFL (fluorescent) backlights. The color performance is better, and if you use local dimming, you can get enormous power savings. If you use the LEDs as edgelights, you relinquish some of the advantages of local area dimming, but you can make much thinner displays. At SID 2009 two weeks ago, Samsung demonstrated a “NeedleThin” 24” LCD panel that was only 3.5 mm thick. That’s only a tiny bit more than one-eighth inch thick. Who needs OLED when you can make an LCD TV that is this thin? (And the viewing angle was excellent, by the way.)

And the market is responding, in spite of the higher cost of LED backlight panels. DisplaySearch recently released a report that forecasts 109 million LED backlit LCD panels (10” or larger) will ship worldwide in 2009, which will represent about one in every five. This includes computer products in addition to TVs, and the popularity of the new “netbook” portable computer category plays a big role in these numbers. Another report by iSupply predicts that nearly two out of every five LCD TVs will have LED backlights by 2013, forecasting a total of 90 million units for that year compared with less than half a million units last year.

The rapid growth of the LED business has resulted in strides in product quality and performance, and the increasing volumes help drive down costs. For the future, this will mean that the advantages of LEDs will increase, while the difference in price between them and CCFL backlit models will decrease. As a result, it is quite likely that your next LCD TV will likely have an LED backlight. Sadly, it will also probably be marketed as an “LED TV”.