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LED-based LCD TVs explained, compared

CNET editors round up reviews of LED TVs, comparing the various backlight technologies and their picture quality impact.

One of the best-performing LED-based LCDs we've ever tested, the expensive Sony XBR-HX929, uses a full-array backlight with local dimming. Sarah Tew/CNET

If you thought all LED TVs were created equal, you're underestimating the power of confusion as a marketing tool. In their continuing efforts to compete against the picture quality advantages of plasma-based flat-panel TVs, makers of LCDs TVs have introduced numerous new technologies. The most successful in our opinion is full-array LED backlighting with local dimming. When you see the words "LED TV" in an ad, it definitely refers to an LCD TV with an LED backlight, but what type of LED backlight and how it's configured make all the difference.

In the article linked below we've gathered reviews of six different "LED TVs" that provide examples of all four LED backlight configurations, but first we'll provide a bit of context. All LCD-based TVs rely on a backlight of some kind to illuminate the liquid-crystal panel itself. The most common use fluorescent backlights, known as CCFL, but a growing number feature LED backlights instead. LEDs use somewhat less power, can enable thinner flat-panel cabinets, and--crucially for TV makers--provide a great excuse to charge more money.

But make no mistake: despite the misleading marketing, LED TVs are just LCD TVs with fancy backlights.

Unfortunately for TV shoppers, the confusion just increases from there. To help cut through the clutter we're going to lengthen our descriptions beyond the "LED TV" shorthand, and tell you how picture quality generally compares with standard LCD. Click through for all the details and comparisons among the newest TVs we've reviewed with each backlight type.

Read more about how different LED TV technologies compare, and check out the reviews, here.