CES 2010: LED Backlights Take Over

LEDs are a solid state light source that have extraordinarily long lifetimes, and do not use mercury or other environmentally hazardous chemicals that are found in the fluorescent lamps traditionally used as backlights for LCD panels in devices such as computer monitors, notebook displays, and HDTVs. In addition, LED backlights provide better color performance, resulting in better image quality. And LCD HDTV makers are rapidly shifting to LED backlights for their products.

At CES 2010, Toshiba announced 10 new TV lines, seven of which rely on LED backlights. Five of the new series of LCD TVs introduced by Sharp at the show have LED backlights. Samsung has eight lines with LED backlights. LG announced six of 11 new lines with LED backlights. LEDs also make it possible to create much thinner sets, which appeal to consumers and also save weight and shipping volume. The thinnest sets use “edge-lighting” that places the LEDs along the sides of the LCD panels, using complex light guides to deliver the light to the panel. LG showed models that were less than an inch thick, but still had the LEDs behind the panel, which enables local dimming: a feature that can increase image contrast and lower power consumption.

The broader use of LEDs will improve image quality, and the increased competition should mean that the price premiums charged for LED models will start to come down. (The increased demand for LEDs should result in competition and greater economies in the LED component industry, which should also help lower prices.)

If there’s a down side to the development, it is the fact that more companies have chosen to follow Samsung’s lead, calling these models “LED TVs”. Too many consumers think that these are not LCD TVs, but rather have the image made by LEDs. (I also suspect that more than a few think that these are the OLED TVs that so many people are hungry to see.) So we have to keep repeating that these are just LCD TVs with a different type of backlight. Spread the word.