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Edge-Lit vs Full-Array Displays: Which Backlighting is Best?

When choosing a new flat screen television or monitor, the type of backlighting technology used makes a major difference in image quality and viewing experience. Two leading options are edge-lit and full array. But what exactly sets them apart?

This in-depth guide will explain what edge lit and full array mean, compare their technical capabilities, highlight the pros and cons of each, and help you decide which display backlighting best fits your needs and budget.

What is Edge Lit Backlighting?

Edge-lit displays utilize LEDs (light emitting diodes) placed along the edges of the screen to distribute light. This creates a more muted, diffused lighting effect compared to having LEDs directly behind the screen.

“Edge-Lit screens have their backlighting around the edges of the screen,” explains display technology expert Tim Moss. “The light then has to be guided across the entire display.”

Manufacturers like LG and Samsung have advanced edge lighting to allow for more precise dimming. By brightening or dimming vertical bands of edge LEDs, sections of the screen can be illuminated as needed to match the content. However, with light coming from the sides rather than directly behind, the dimming capabilities are still limited compared to full array.

What is Full Array Local Dimming?

Full array backlighting, also called FALD (full array local dimming), uses LEDs placed across the entire backside of the screen rather than just the edges. The key benefit comes from having dimming zones that allow for precision control over areas as small as a few LEDs.

“Full array panels have zones of LEDs that can be individually controlled," says display engineer Amanda Wu. "This makes it possible to selectively dim or boost areas of brightness to truly match what’s on screen.”

So with full array, if there’s a bright star against a night sky, the LEDs behind just the star can fire at full brightness while surrounding zones remain dimmed. This makes for much better contrast and reduces issues like light bleeding onto dark scenes.

Brief History of Edge Lit and Full Array Displays

Edge lit backlights were some of the earliest LED solutions in the late 1990s and 2000s. Samsung helped pioneer and popularize the technology. However, early generations were prone to uneven lighting and "hot spots."

As LED and light-guiding technologies improved, edge lighting made a comeback in 2009 when Samsung released an award-winning edge-lit LED TV with much better light uniformity. Other brands soon followed.

Full array backlighting emerged in the early 2010s as LED manufacturing costs decreased. Sony and LG were early innovators. The technology was initially limited to high-end displays but rapidly improved and dropped in price.

By providing control over smaller zones and delivering striking dynamic range in a slim form factor, full array won out as the premium backlighting standard across virtually all price tiers.

Technical Comparison of Edge Lit vs Full Array

Edge Lit Full Array Local Dimming
LED placement Around perimeter of screen Throughout entire backside of screen
Dimming zones Around 12 vertical zones Hundreds to thousands of zones
Light control Moderate Extremely precise
HDR contrast Limited Excellent
Blooming and halo effects Occasional Minimized
Viewing angle Narrower Wide

As this comparison shows, full array backlighting simply outperforms edge lit technology in controlling light, maximizing contrast, and accurately displaying bright, vivid content without bleeding or halos.

Picture Quality Pros and Cons

Let‘s analyze the specific benefits and disadvantages of each method when it comes to real world image performance:

Edge Lit Pros

  • Lower manufacturing costs allow edge lit TVs to compete on price
  • Thin profile
  • Lightweight
  • Uniform image across center of screen

Edge Lit Cons

  • Reduced contrast due to light scatter
  • Blacks appear grayish in dark scenes
  • Narrow effective viewing angle
  • Backlight bleeding and brightness fluctuations

Full Array Pros

  • Far superior contrast with deep blacks
  • Excellent high dynamic range capabilities
  • Minimized backlight blooming and halo artifacts
  • Wide viewing angles maintain color and brightness

Full Array Cons

  • Higher production cost
  • Moderately thicker profile
  • Heavier than edge lit displays of the same screen size
  • Can rarely exhibit some blooming in extreme HDR content

Pricing Showdown: Which Display Costs More?

Due to additional LEDs and local dimming circuitry, full array televisions command a pricing premium:

Entry-level 50" 4K TV

  • Edge lit model: $379
  • Full array model with 60 dimming zones: $599

Mid-range 65" 4K OLED TV

  • Edge lit LED-LCD model: $1,199
  • Self-lit OLED panel: $1,799
  • Full array LED-LCD with 250 zones: $2,099

However, the performance gains in contrast, color volume, and high dynamic range make full array well worth the extra cost for buyers who want the best quality. Top tier brands like Sony also tune the algorithm controlling each dimming zone to optimize picture accuracy.

The Verdict: Full Array Backlighting Wins

modern living room with large full array television

While cost effective edge lighting has its place in smaller, secondary screens, full array local dimming delivers vastly superior contrast, brightness, and image depth due to precision control over hundreds or thousands of LED zones.

If your priority is larger screen sizes for a dedicated home theater or gaming setup, full array LED-LCD and self-emissive OLED displays remain the gold standard in 2023. FALD LED panels in particular offer exceptional peak brightness for high dynamic range content. Look for models with at least 100 local dimming zones for sensational contrast that makes images pop.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes backlight bleeding?

Backlight bleeding occurs when bright areas of an edge lit screen allow light to visibly leak onto surrounding darker sections. The cause is insufficient local dimming control compared to full array.

Do all 4K TVs use full array backlighting?

While most 4K televisions utilize LED backlighting, not all use full array local dimming. Entry level 4K models still rely on basic edge lighting without advanced dimming functionality.

Is full array better for gaming?

Yes, the superior contrast and reduced motion blur provided by full array displays makes them ideal for gaming. Fast on-screen motion stays crisp, while HDR games truly pop thanks to capable local dimming.