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LED TVs compared: Local dimming, edge-lit, and full array

In 2010, LED-backlit LCD-based flat-panel HDTVs, aka LED TVs, are more common then ever. We go through a few of the myths and legends on these sets.

Samsung pioneered the "LED TV," but now just about everyone is using the term, and the technology. Sarah Tew/CNET/Samsung

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 LCD 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.

To help you out, we compare reviews of 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 commonly used fluorescent backlights are known as CCFLs, 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 cut through the clutter, we're going to lengthen our descriptions beyond the "LED TV" shorthand by describing the four different configurations, and tell you how their picture quality generally compares to standard LCD.

Read the full comparison of LED TVs.