Liquid-crystal display (LCD), light-emitting diode (LED) and organic light-emitting diode (OLED) are three of the most popular display technologies on the market. They are used to power everything from computer monitors and mobile handsets to human machine interfaces and point of sale systems.

When viewing these three types of display devices, though, you may assume they are all the same. While they all have a relatively slim profile that’s capable of producing high-quality images, they each work in a different way. So, what’s the difference between LCD, LED and OLED displays?

What Is an LCD Display?

An LCD is a type of display device that features liquid pixels. LCD displays have been around for nearly a half-century. They are available in a wide range of sizes, as well as shapes, but they all use liquid pixels, which are typically comprised of organic material.

LCD displays rely on backlighting to illuminate the liquid pixels. Without backlighting, an LCD display isn’t capable of producing visible images. If a display device is simply labeled “LCD,” it probably uses compact-fluorescent lighting (CFL) for the backlighting.

What Is an LED Display?

An LED display, on the other hand, is a display device that uses LCD display technology with LED bulbs for backlighting. Here’s where things get somewhat confusing: LED displays are technically powered by LCD display technology. They are called “LED displays” because they use LED for backlighting.

As previously mentioned, LCD displays generally use CFL backlighting unless otherwise mentioned. LED displays are unique, however, because they use LED backlighting. They contain a series of LED bulbs embedded behind the liquid pixels that, when powered, produce light to illuminate the pixels.

What Is an OLED Display?

Finally, an OLED display is a relatively new type of display device that uses a variation of LCD technology but without a separate backlighting solution. All other LCD displays require backlighting. Standard LCDs use CFL backlighting, whereas LED displays use LED backlighting. OLED displays are distinguished, however, because they don’t require a separate backlighting solution. Rather, they create light naturally through the use of an electroluminescent layer.

OLED displays are designed with a layer of organic compounds. When an OLED display is turned on, an electrical current flows through this layer, thereby producing light that illuminates the device’s liquid pixels. While OLED displays typically cost more than other types of displays, they offer several benefits. Among other things, the produce a greater contrast ratio, wider viewing angles, faster response times and overall better picture quality.