Reader Question: LCD vs. LED Displays

October 25, 2008 | | Comments 5

Apple LED Cinema Display

Apple LED Cinema Display

This is the first in our new “FAQ,” or Frequently Asked Questions, category.

Janelle asks: “I was wondering if you could explain how the new [Apple] LED [Cinema] display differs from the LCD displays? I was hoping someone could help me understand this before I purchase.

Great question, Janelle. The names are a bit misleading, since both displays (and most flat-screen computer displays today) are actually LCD displays. LCD, or Liquid Crystal Display, refers to the way that images are presented on the screen. In order for you to see those images, light shines through from behind the display towards the viewer.

Think of a stained-glass window. If you’re inside a building looking at a stained glass window and it’s dark outside, there’s little to see, but if there is bright sun outside, the details of the window are evident.

The LED displays refer to the type of light source that shines through the “LCD” panel. LEDs, or Light Emitting Diodes, are quickly becoming a preferred light source for these displays for a few reasons. (Before the LEDs, the light source was typically small fluorescent lights.)

Advantages of LED backlighting:

  • Use less power (more energy efficient, lower energy bills, longer battery life in a laptop)
  • Produce less heat
  • Come to their full brightness quicker (Fluorescent bulbs had a “warm-up” period.)
  • Less toxic (fluorescent contained mercury, etc, that could be dangerous to the user and hard to recycle or dispose of safely)
  • Theoretically could produce a more even light across the entire screen (although, in practice, most users rarely notice this)

That’s the big technical difference.

The new Apple LED Cinema Display also contains some features that aren’t present in the older cinema displays. It’s made specifically to pair with the new MacBooks and MacBook Pros that were released.

  • The connection uses the Mini DisplayPort plug, so it won’t connect to older laptops or other desktops, etc.
  • It has a built-in iSight Camera, microphone, and speakers, so you could hook it up to your new laptop, close the lid on the laptop, and have a more desktop-like experience.
  • It also plugs in to your laptop’s USB port and power port to charge the laptop and provide USB connectivity via USB ports on the display. Using these ports, you could leave, say, a printer plugged in all the time at home to the display and have it accessible on your laptop when you’re “docked” to this display.

Janelle asks some follow-up questions:

On the Apple page for ordering the new Macbook Pro, it has three different options for connections for a display. I am not sure which one is the one for the new LED display.

The new Apple LED Cinema display will connect to a new laptop (MacBook or MacBook Pro…not the 17″) without an adapter.

The LED display, listed separately on the Apple page, also lists connectors as well that comes with it. I know it can power the MacBook Pro with one of them, but if you could clarify some of this, it would be helpful.

There will be a few cables coming out of your new Apple LED Cinema Display. One plugs in the wall to power the display. The other three connect to your new MacBook Pro or MacBook. A Mini DisplayPort plugs into the laptop and provides the video information to the display, a USB plug connects to the laptop to allow the display to function as a USB hub (a place where you can connect multiple additional USB devices such as printers, hard drives, etc, and the MagSafe connector which provides power to your laptop while it’s connected to the display.

Lastly, I am thinking of this as my studio/home set up for my photography. I am interested also in the new 3D options in CS4 and will be working with it and Lightroom. That said, would the new Macbook Pro 2.8 GHz dualcore with 320GB HD and 4GB ram be work without a problem? I know an open GPU graphics is required to take advantage of the newer abilities in CS4 and I was hoping the dual graphics cards in this new computer would be great for this.

The machine you described should work well with CS4. It’s the one I recommended in my New Apple Laptops article. The dual graphics cards in the new MacBook Pro are a bit misleading, as, at this time, they don’t actually operate simultaneously. The new cards will, however, still make a huge difference when it comes to the Open GL performance and rendering in Photoshop.

Thanks for your questions. If anyone has any other questions, related to this topic or others, please feel free to leave them in the comments, or submit them on the Contact Us page. If I know the answer, you’ll usually get a response within a day or two. If I feel like others may benefit from the information, you may see it posted here in the FAQ category.


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About the Author: Scott Rouse is an Adobe Certified Expert (ACE), photographer, teacher, and graphic- and web-designer in Missoula, MT. His photography focuses on wildlife and adventure sports and can be viewed at His design and consulting work can be seen at