There are three broad categories of thin-film-transistor liquid crystal display or TFT-LCD. These are twisted nematic or TN LCD, vertical alignment or VA LCD, and in-plane switching or IPS LCD. TN LCD is a first-generation LCD technology that was instrumental in popularizing the use of electronic displays on a broad range of electronic devices.
However, among the three, IPS LCD is the most recent. The advantages of an IPS LCD over TN LCD and VA LCD have made it a more popular option used in modern consumer electronic devices such as television sets, computer monitors, and smartphones.
A TN LCD or a VA LCD still has advantages over an IPS LCD depending on the functional scope of a particular device. This article compares and contrasts these three LCD technologies using six common display characteristics: color reproduction, viewing angle, contrast ratio, pixel response time, power consumption, and cost and price.
TN LCD vs VA LCD vs IPS LCD: Which LCD Technology is Better?
1. Color Reproduction and Accuracy
Poor color reproduction is one of the disadvantages of twisted nematic LCD. One of the advantages of a VA LCD and an IPS LCD over a TN LCD is a better and more accurate reproduction of color. This translates to better image quality and overall visual experience characterized by more vivid and vibrant colors
Most VA LCD panels and IPS LCD panels have at least 8-bit RGB color depth. This is higher than the standard color depth of a TN panel which is at 6-bit RGB. However, among the three, IPS LCD has the better color reproduction. It is worth mentioning that high-end IPS LCD panels have featured 16-bit to 24-bit RGB color depth.
Note that a 6-bit display panel means that the red, green, and blue channels of its single pixel are capable of 64 levels. This enables it to produce 262144 possible colors. An 8-bit panel has 256 levels in each and is capable of producing 16.7 million possible colors. A higher color depth translates to more possible colors and better image quality.
The advantageous color reproduction of a VA LCD has made it more popular than a TN LCD in high-end computer monitors and large television sets. IPS LCD is more popular in laptops, smartphones, and tablet computers. The superior color reproduction of IPS LCD has made it a favorable option for color-critical use cases such as content creation.
2. Viewing Angle or Viewing Cone
A limited viewing angle is another disadvantage of TN LCD. A particular user needs to use or view a particular LCD panel based on twisted nematic from a straight 90-degree angle to appreciate its visual performance. Hence, when viewed from other angles, colors and images will appear duller and darker as evident from obvious color shifts.
Furthermore, in comparison with a TN LCD panel, a VA LCD panel has a better viewing angle. It is still important to note that most of these panels still suffer from color shifting and tend to produce uneven brightness levels across the screen when viewed from a different angle. VA LCD still has a noticeably limited viewing angle.
An in-plane switching or IPS LCD has a better and wider viewing angle than a TN LCD and a VS LCD. A higher-end or more expensive IPS LCD panel can even demonstrate consistent brightness and contrast levels when viewed from different angles. This is the reason why IPS has become an ideal LCD technology for computers.
It is still important to underscore the fact that a narrow viewing angle provides some security and privacy. This can be an advantage of a TN LCD over an IPS LCD. It specifically makes it an ideal LCD option for individuals and organizations that handle sensitive information on their computers in the presence of other people or possible onlookers.
3. Contrast Ratio
The contrast ratio of a particular display panel refers to the ratio between the luminance of the brightest color and that of the darkest color. This means the ratio between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks. A TN LCD has a lower contrast ratio than a VA LCD and an IPS LCD. This is a further offshoot of its poor color reproduction.
It is still worth mentioning that VA LCD has the best contrast ratio among the three due to its better backlighting scheme that can blocked. A high-end IPS LCD panel can match this characteristic to a certain extent. The difference between the two boils down to the capabilities of their manufacturers or the inclusion of newer technologies.
All LCDs still suffer from a poorer contrast ratio when compared to other display technologies such as OLED or AMOLED, MicroLED, and emissive quantum dot technologies. This comes from the fact that particular LCD panels need backlighting to make colors and images visible. The color-emitting liquid crystals do not emit light by themselves.
Newer technologies have provided a workaround. The use of Mini-LED backlighting has enabled localized dimming to produce deeper and more natural blacks. A panel that can produce more natural whites and brighter whites corresponds to better display panel quality because it makes colors more vibrant and images more realistic.
4. Pixel Response Time or Refresh Rate
The pixel response time refers to the duration it takes a single pixel to transition from one state to another. This is measured in milliseconds. A lower number is better. A long pixel response time creates a ghosting effect or motion blur around a moving image or graphical element. This produces an unsuitable viewing experience for fast-faced movements.
A shorter and better pixel response time is a notable advantage of a TN LCD over a VA LCD and an IPS LCD. Take note that a longer or slower pixel response time is an inherent problem of LCD technologies based on virtual alignment and in-plane switching. IPS LCD has the worst pixel response time but this can be addressed through drivers.
The advantageous pixel response time advantage of a TN LCD makes it a perfect LCD option for fast-paced gaming and hardcore gamers. However, through the use of display drivers, several VA LCD panels and IPS LCD panels can have the same performance as TN LCD panels. The addition of these drivers translates to additional costs.
5. Power Consumption and Efficiency
Low power consumption is another advantage of twisted nematic LCD technology over vertical alignment and in-plane switching LCD technologies. It does not require a current to flow during operation and uses low operating voltages. These advantages make TN LCD panels popular in low-powered applications such as portable electronic devices.
It is also worth mentioning that monochromatic TN LCD panels do not require backlighting in most instances. This is evident in devices such as calculators. These calculators are powered using small batteries. Some can even operate through small solar cells. However, if backlighting is needed, low-powered small LED lights are enough.
Take note that vertical alignment LCD and in-plane switching LCD panels are popular in more power-intensive devices such as computer monitors, smartphones and tablet computers, and smart television sets. The higher power draw of these devices comes from their native computational requirements and the operation of their display panels.
Both VA and IPS technologies tend to have a higher power requirement than TN. This comes from the fact that both technologies have better color depth or produce more colors and display images at higher resolutions. The backlighting schemes and the addition of processors for image processing used in these two also affect power consumption.
6. Cost and Price
Twisted nematic LCD technology is easier to implement among the three LCD technologies. It has a more mature manufacturing process and its production is simpler and less inexpensive. This means that TN LCD panels are more affordable to produce and are suitable for inexpensive applications such as small and low-cost electronic devices.
VA LCD panels are more expensive than TN LCD panels. However, among the three, they are still relatively inexpensive than IPS LCD panels. The advantage of VA LCD over TN LCD and its inexpensive cost made it popular in television and computer monitors before the advent and further development of in-plane switching technology.
It is important to also mention that the higher manufacturing costs of IPS LCD panels once limited its accessibility to mid-range and high-end consumer electronic devices. However, with further advancements in manufacturing processes and the further evolution of technology, the costs and end-use prices of these panels have gone down.
Some IPS LCD panels are even cheaper than high-end VA LCD panels. It is still important to highlight the fact that high-end IPS LCD panels such as the Liquid Retina brand from Apple are still more expensive. These panels are produced using more complicated manufacturing processes and require more advanced technologies.
Conclusion and Takeaways: Comparing TN LCD vs VA LCD vs IPS LCD
The aforementioned comparison among twisted nematic or TN LCD, vertical alignment or VA LCD, and in-plane switching or IPS LCD has revealed that the latter is the more advanced LCD technology. It is still important to note that there is no LCD technology that is better at everything because each technology has its advantages and disadvantages.
Nevertheless, from the discussion above, TN LCD panels have remained an ideal LCD option used in minuscule electronic devices such as digital watches and calculators because they are very cheap to manufacture and consume less power. They also remain a popular computer monitor option because of their affordability and faster native pixel response time.
IPS LCD panels are considered superior because they have the best color reproduction, color accuracy, and wider viewing angle compared to TN and VA. These panels have been featured in mid-range and high-end electronic devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablet computers. IPS is also an ideal computer output display for color-critical tasks.
VA LCD panels are situated between TN LCD panels and IPS LCD panels. They are more expensive than TN LCD panels but are relatively cheaper than IPS LCD panels. They offer better color reproduction and more decent viewing angle than panels based on twisted nematic although these characteristics are not superior over IPS.