Somewhere along the line, consumer display technology became an alphabet soup full of words using the letters “LED”.
In this short guide, we’ll provide a brief overview of common initialisms found in the world of TVs, PC monitors, and laptop displays. To keep things simple, we’ll take a look at how each technology affects the expected image quality. Whether you’re looking for an easy refresher to give the next time you shop or a quick, digestible guide to give to curious friends and family, we’ve got you covered.
You must be reading this article on Liquid Crystal Display (LCD). “LCD” refers to any display type that uses liquid crystal, including TN, IPS, and VA (which we’ll get to shortly). Even an old school calculator or digital clock can use an LCD. But a simple “LCD” designation doesn’t tell you how the screen will perform. You need more information, such as the backlight type used by the panel – usually LED, followed by the more expensive Mini LED.
LCD long ago superseded cathode ray tube (CRT) and plasma displays as the dominant consumer display technology. In the past, it was common to find LCDs with cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) backlights, but most LCD displays today use LED backlights (more on that below).
All LCDs, as the name suggests, use liquid crystals sandwiched between polarized glasses.
When power is applied, the crystals morph to allow or block light through colored filters to create what you see on the screen, depending on the image.
TN Vs. IPS Vs. Will
TN, IPS and VA are the three primary types of LCD displays that you will find in TVs, monitors and laptops. They all differ in the way they use their liquid crystals. Each can warrant its own article, but we’ll keep it simple here by focusing on the differences you can expect to see in real life.
Twisted nematic displays are known for their high refresh rates and low prices. Their liquid crystals are twisted 90 degrees to let light in.
- TN displays are generally cheaper than IPS and VA displays.
- It’s easier to reach higher refresh rates and shorter response times with TN displays, although pricier IPS and VA are on the rise. It’s worth noting that the upcoming Asus ROG Swift 500Hz gaming monitor, which should be the fastest monitor on the market, reportedly gets its refresh rate through the “E-TN” panel which is 60 percent faster than the regular TN. Claims better response time. So while you can buy an extremely fast IPS (up to 360 Hz) or VA monitor, TN is still the technology pushing the limits of refresh rates.
- TN has poorer color reproduction than IPS and VA.
- The TN has worse viewing angles than the IPS and VA, which means the image is harder to see when viewing the screen from an angle or from above.
In-plane switching displays are known for their strong viewing angles and vibrant colors and use liquid crystals that are placed parallel to layers of glass. The crystals rotate in parallel to allow light to pass through.
- IPS panels have wider viewing angles than VA and TN screens.
- IPS offers a richer, wider color gamut than rivals, especially the TN.
- IPS displays, especially monitors, have become increasingly popular over the past few years.
- A faster IPS panel is far more expensive than a TN panel with similar refresh rates.
- IPS monitors are often more expensive than VA screens.
Vertical alignment displays are known for their strong contrast. Their liquid crystals are perpendicular to the glass substrates and allow light to pass through as the crystals tilt.
- VA panels have excellent contrast, which is often considered the most important factor in image quality. VA monitors typically have a contrast of 3,000:1, while a typical IPS comes in at 1,000:1. The IPS Black display, which started coming out this year, claims to double the contrast to normal IPS monitors by up to 2,000:1. We reviewed the IPS Black-equipped Dell UltraSharp U2723QE, and the difference was noticeable.
- VA monitors are often (but not always) cheaper than similar IPS options.
- VA monitors are generally more expensive than TN monitors.
- While there are many VA monitors on the market, IPS has become a bit more common.