Cold Cathode vs LED Backlighting

CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lighting) and LED (Light Emitting Diode) backlighting technology has been used for quite a while in a variety of LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) panels. LED is the newest out of the two coming into light (no pun intended) in the last few years. Whilst CCFL is the oldest of the two being the original backlighting system in LCD panels. So it should be a simple answer of yes LED is better because it’s newer. But it’s not as simple as that unfortunately. This article aims to help you understand why.

If you were / are the user of an LCD panel whether it be a television or computer monitor from beyond 5 years ago, chances are that the panel was / is using CCFL backlighting. Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lighting is a fairly simple idea. If you’ve ever seen those large fluorescent light tubes that you most commonly find in the likes of office buildings, a CCFL tube is simply a very small version of those large tubes with slightly different technology behind them. Whereas the fluorescent lighting in your office will run “hot” the tubes in the backlighting system of an LCD will run “cold” hence the term cold cathode. This is essential as if too much heat was generated the screen would get too hot and the panel itself would likely be damaged in the process.

LED backlighting is also a fairly simple idea. What has essentially been done is the small fluorescent tubes have been replaced with tiny strips of LEDs. LEDs are those little “bulbs” that you find everywhere nowadays in a wide array of applications. In car headlights to torches to the standby lights on your electrical appliances. Like CCFL bulbs they don’t produce much heat which makes them ideal for use inside of a display backlighting system.

So what are the main advantages with the older CCFL backlighting technology?

  • The light emitted from more recent CCFL backlighting systems are sometimes more natural than the sometimes colder, harsher light produced by white LEDs.
  • Often more cost effective. CCFL displays are often cheaper than the likes of LED backlit displays, however the prices are now becoming more or less the same accross the board.

And how about LED?

  • Allows for thinner and lighter designs. We all love thinner and lighter technology!
  • Lower power consumption. This is even more evident when using laptops with LED backlit displays instead of the traditional CCFL tubes. Battery will usually last a bit longer.
  • Generally allows for higher brightness. This is true but the brighter an image not always the better. Also don’t forget that whilst LED is continuing to become more and more developed, CCFL backlighting still sometimes provides a more natural light to the image.
  • Can often illuminate the screen more evenly than with CCFL tubing. The issue with CCFL tubing is that it is simply placed around the perimeter of the screen and with the magic of light refraction the entire screen is lit. However LEDs are thin enough to be placed behind the panel itself and illuminate the screen more evenly
  • No warm up time. Ever remember turning on your CCFL backlit display and it appeared a little dim at first then it steadily got brighter and brighter. LED doesn’t have that issue fortunately it comes on in an instant.
  • Longer life. Yep, LED is without a doubt the longest lasting type of bulb on the planet.
  • Does not need a voltage inverter board. This is just another component that often fails on laptop systems. This usually results in the screen physically still working but no actual illumination of the display. Not a costly replacement but certainly a pain.

As you can see LED seems to have more advantages than the older CCFL technology. At the end of the day it mostly comes down to preference, price, the quality of the display in question and whether or not you can see the difference. For example, my two large desktop monitors (Dell U2711) use CCFL backlighting even though they’re fairly new. Whilst my 13″ MacBook Pro uses an LED backlit display. Between the two there really isn’t much of a noticeable difference. But if I had to choose I would likely say that LED is the way forward if only due to the advantages that come with LED backlit displays.