LCD stands for "liquid crystal display". There are two types of LCD panels used in LED-backlit TVs today: In-Plane Switching (IPS) and Vertical Alignment (VA). While they are both Liquid Crystal Display types, there are many differences between the performance of these two technologies.
What it is: LED TV with an In-Plane Switching type panel.
Who should buy it: People with a wide living room who might watch the TV while sitting at an angle.
What it is: LED TV with a Vertically Aligned type panel.
Who should buy it: Those looking for good picture quality in a dark room, and who don't have a need for wider viewing angles.
|Viewing angle||~36 °||~20 °|
Viewing angle refers to the angle at which you can watch the TV without seeing a noticeable drop in picture quality. Some types of LCDs do this better than others.
IPS TVs are a clear winner here. This is one of their advantages over other types of LCD. Most VA TVs will have a sizable degradation in quality by 20° to the side, the way it can be seen is a dramatic loss of saturation. IPS TVs will lose luminosity instead. They generally go until around 36° before losing half their brightness, but we have seen some go over 50°. The narrow viewing angle of VA type TVs is also problematic when the TV is used as a PC monitor from up close since the edges of the display will end up losing picture quality.
Contrast is the most important factor in picture quality. While neither of these LCD technologies will achieve the black levels of OLED, some are better than others.
VA technology is far beyond IPS panels when it comes to contrast. Blacks are far darker, and it shows. When in a dark environment, blacks will appear gray on IPS TVs, substantially diminishing the experience. VA contrast ratios usually range from 3000:1 to 6000:1, IPS typically have contrast ratios closer to 1000:1. Because of this, VA LCDs will always top our Movie ratings, only surpassed by OLEDs. This only impairs the dark room performance, though, since the difference is far less visible in a bright environment.
While neither technologies are inherently worse at it, almost every IPS type panel we've tested have been made by LG. These all come with the same flaw of having lesser than average black uniformity. VA panels tend to perform better on average in this metric when compared to IPS ones; in fact, IPS TVs dominate the bottom of our lists.
There's an additional type of clouding present on IPS TVs. It appears when you are off-angle vertically; this is what we call "IPS Glow." It is very similar visually to standard black uniformity issues, but it will normally have a yellow tint.
Liquid crystal displays (LCD) function by having, as the name suggests, liquid crystals in the little colored packets that form the pixels. These crystals react and change position when charged with electricity, and they block more or less light depending on their position.
IPS displays have their crystals aligned horizontally at all times. When charged, they only rotate to allow light out. VA displays have their crystals aligned vertically. When they are charged, they move to a horizontal position allowing light through, similar to IPS. When current isn't sent through them, however, their vertical alignment blocks light far more efficiently, thus creating better blacks and giving better contrast.
You can also find PLS type displays. These are fundamentally the same as IPS, except they're made by Samsung. They tend to have excellent response times but are otherwise no different. When you compare the pixels visually, IPS will look like chevrons, VA will look like very straight rectangles, and PLS will look like round edged capsules.
VA panel manufacturers have tried different techniques to improve the viewing angles of their panels over the years, with the goal being a perfect LCD panel with wide viewing angles and deep blacks. While they have yet to achieve that goal, a few TVs have hit the market that try and combine the best of VA and IPS panels. The first of these TVs to hit the market was the Sony Z9F in 2018, followed by the Samsung Q900RB, also known as the Q950R in Europe, in 2019. These TVs behave somewhat strangely, delivering noticeably better viewing angles than their pure VA counterparts, but still worse than true IPS panels. This comes at the expense of the contrast ratio, as these TVs have much worse native contrast than most VA panels and in fact are only slightly better than IPS TVs.
Neither technology is inherently superior to the other, they both serve different purposes. In general, IPS TVs will have a wide viewing angle suitable for use in a bright living room for sports or TV shows. They also benefit PC monitor use, since edges darken with a low viewing angle. VA TVs will instead have better contrast rendering them better for use in a dark, home-theater type of environment. Choosing between the two is a series of trade-offs and qualities, so pick depending on your usage, as neither are the absolute best.