If you’re considering a new monitor and looking into the different types, you’ve likely heard of two common variants: direct LED and edge LED. Off-hand, you might think, “What’s the big deal? They’re both LED.”

True – they are both LED. However, the option you choose can make a world of difference depending on your needs. Intriguing, right?

Let’s dive into what these different LED displays are, how they differ from each other, and which option may be best for you.

What is an LED?

Everyone’s heard of LEDs, or light-emitting diodes. They’re little semiconductor light sources used in various technological capacities. Simple enough.

LEDs

In regard to displays, LEDs function as a backlight technology, and they’re often found in LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screens. They work as an active backlight modulated through liquid crystals, allowing for thinner, lighter, and more responsive screens. Many displays – from your phone to your TV – are made with LED screens and only differ in terms of the type of panel (we’ll get to that in a minute).

What is Direct LED?

A derivative of the original full-array backlight, direct LED displays utilize an LED matrix located directly behind the panel as the primary source of backlighting. Though direct LED displays use fewer diodes than their full-array counterparts, they don’t typically have local dimming features available. 

Direct LED

Meant to be an entry-level to mid-tier option, direct LED was initially meant to bridge the gap between cheaper fluorescent screens and the expensive full arrays. But nowadays, they are a diverse option, and they range in both quality and price depending on features and several other qualities.

What is Edge LED?

Edge LED screens are one of the most common types of monitors and have been around for a while. They function with LEDs organized around the edges of the screen and utilize light guides to illuminate the rest of the display. Edge LEDs allow for local dimming in larger areas, but typically lack the pin-point dimming capabilities found in full array screens.

Edge LED

You can think of edge-lit monitors as the middle option that fits right in between direct and full array models. 

The Differences Between Direct LED and Edge LED 

The primary difference between these two models comes down to brightness, black uniformity, power, size, and price. While both serve as more affordable options compared to full array displays, the quality and focus of each are vastly different.

Brightness

Acer Gaming Monitor Ultra Wide Curved

Direct LED displays will naturally produce brighter screens simply due to the spread of lights across the back panel. This isn’t to say that edge models lack in brightness, but the mapping system means you won’t have direct light sources spread throughout the screen. Not a drastic difference, but if you like having a naturally brighter screen, you’ll want to go direct.

Black Uniformity

Black uniformity references the consistency between black coloration on-screen. Similar to brightness, direct LED screens allow for more consistent coloration in exchange for a sacrifice in richness. Edge LED screens, on the other hand, can achieve deeper black colors, but at the risk of faded and uneven coloration (especially near the edges of the screen).

Power

Monitors

Neither option uses a lot of power when compared to other screen types. That said, direct LED displays will use a small amount more. This is due to the number of LED bulbs on the panel (as well as how they’re positioned). 

Size

Due to the location of the bulbs, edge-lit models can be made much slimmer and leaner than their direct-lit counterparts. For some, this makes for a better-looking monitor, since it’s flatter and takes up less space overall.

Price

Alienware 25 Gaming Monitor

Direct LED is designed as the intro model monitor, while edge LED serves as the natural next step from a price standpoint. Simply due to the number of LCD models on the market, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, and you’ll often find overlap of various quality and pricing combos. It really comes down to brand, screen size, and quality to determine the price.

Consider the Panel Type Before Purchasing

You’re probably thinking that these LED models are fairly similar and may be finding it difficult to come to a clear decision. Well, before you dive too deep into the intricacies of full backlight versus light mapping, you need to consider the type of panel included in your monitor. This can directly impact your overall image quality, and the compatibility may be the deciding factor for the type of LED you go for.

Here are the common types of panels you’ll find:

  • TN – Twisted nematic panels are the most affordable and consistent option. You’ll get high refresh rates and limited latency while sacrificing overall color accuracy, contrast, and viewing angles. You’ll more than likely want to go for an edge LED screen to help minimize the lower quality visuals with this panel.
  • IPS – In-plane switching panels provide the richest color and broad viewing angles, but are extreme power hogs. Additionally, they can lead to unnecessary lag and backlight bleed, meaning a combo with Edge LED screens may wash out your color.
  • VA – Vertical alignment panels are a solid middle ground in color quality that allows for better contrast. However, you may experience severe motion blur and even lower response times, but nothing that directly makes either LED option the best compatibility choice.

Should You Buy Edge LED or Direct LED?

Two Monitors

Overall, the differences between these screen types are fairly nuanced and depend on a handful of visual factors. With power and design differences being fairly minimal, it really comes down to contrast, brightness, and the overall cost.

Possibly the only significant difference to look out for in regards to specs is local dimming. In the past, direct LED displays didn’t have this feature. But nowadays, depending on the quality of the model, it may be available. Our suggestion? Look carefully because local dimming can be a major boon.

Oh, and don’t forget about panel type, which can make a big difference in your gaming and everyday tasks. Try to find a screen type and panel combo that compliment each other and reach a middle ground between visual fidelity and performance.

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