LCD Panels – Backlights & Brightness

Updated: Dec 8, 2019.

For the video display developer LCD panels are available in many sizes and resolutions, they are also available with many choices of maximum brightness. The following considers the topic of LCD panel brightness, the choices, the methods for adjusting brightness and some brightness adjustment scenarios.

LCD panels are generally rated as to their maximum brightness level which is expressed in Nits, it is equal to Candela/sqm (cd/m2), and this will be at a particular color temperature as noted in the specification, usually 10,000 K. In terms of a practical understanding, the following is a rough guide:

  • Laptop panels are typically up to 250 nits
  • Desktop monitors and TVs are typically up to around 350 nits
  • Digital signage displays are typically 450 to 500 nits
  • Outdoor displays range from a low end of 700 nits to typically 1,000 or 1,500nits and up with 2,000~2,500nits and even up to 5,000nits seen with some models. This may include standard LCD panels, custom LCD panels as well as custom cut LCD panels. 

Note: Some documentation refers to CD/m2 (Candela per square meter), CD/m2 and Nit are equivalent.

Adjusting the Backlight

Virtually all LCD panels have a LED backlight these days, these are powered by an LED driver board. Brightness control via the driver board will be by one of two methods:

  • PWM (Pulse Width Modulation): This varies the duty cycle of the backlight “on time” – it is predominant in modern LCD panel LED backlight designs to enable support for digital brightness controls.

One of the advantages of LED for the backlight is the range of adjustment that is possible, however it is important to note that the range varies significantly from model to model. Some industrial panels can be turned to very low light levels making them suitable for use in special environments such as at night. Lower cost panels limit the range of brightness to what might be required for typical usage, whereas panels with full range dimming from full off to full on require more complex backlight drivers.

Why adjust the backlight brightness:

  • Environment: Day bright/cloudy or night.
  • Usage preference: A display may be set to bright for presentations but if working on it close up, ie a touch screen, better to turn it down.
  • Backlight lifetime: Many LCD panels have a backlight lifetime rating of 50,000 hours (typically measured to half brightness), this can be extended by running the LED backlight at a lower brightness level. Some panels may only offer 30,000 hours as a lower cost solution while other panels may offer up to 100,000 hours for high end applications. 

Direct LED and Edge Lit Backlights

An LCD panel backlight may be constructed so the LED’s are mounted directly behind a light guide diffuser, or they may be mounted along one or more edges of the light guide.

Active Backlight & Local Dimming

Active backlight: This is a function of some LCD panel backlights to automatically adjust the backlight brightness in response to the image. For more advanced systems there is an LED array making up the LED backlight, this adjusts the brightness in areas localized to the image being shown. This can greatly enhance the brightness across the display and is being used primarily with video, for example on consumer TV sets. It is not useful to all image types, for example a spreadsheet or content like maps or data is not likely to benefit.

Local dimming: Some LCD panels with direct LED may support local dimming so the LED’s are dimmed in response to the image close to them. This will not be at the same resolution as the LCD panel itself but will help greater contrast over the display by enhancing the brightness in bright areas of the image and darkening the image in dark parts of the image.

Both of the above techniques are likely to be more beneficial to certain types of content than others. For example a movie is likely to benefit more than a spreadsheet. 

Brightness Measurement

For the LCD monitor manufacturer it is important to consider that any covering over the LCD panel will reduce the brightness. For example the protective glass over a digital signage display, or a touch screen, or a semi-silvered mirror. So if a specific brightness is required the measurement should be taken with these in place.

In addition the brightness will be affected by the panel settings such as gamma and black level. 

There are various relatively low cost brightness meters available, typically in the couple of hundred dollars range. It is difficult to comment on the accuracy of these but we have found them to be within 5% of each other, though more importantly they do appear to be quite consistent in measurement so good for measurement comparisons. For more accurate measurement there are light meters from companies such as Minolta that can be calibrated, the cost may run into several thousand dollars.

Examples of light meters costing a few hundred dollars include SpyderX by Datacolor (needs a PC), a handheld meter is the SM208 by Sanpometer (search SM208 meter). Note: Many light meters, including smartphone apps, will be meters used for photography and not give readings in nits (or candelas). LCD panel specifications are typically measured using nits.

Digital View provides backlight adjustment…

PWM and Analog: Most Digital View LCD controllers support PWM and Analog as a method for adjusting the backlight brightness level (this is noted in the column headed “Other” on the controller board summary table: Also see for a guide to using a dial or slider type variable resistor to adjust the backlight.

Backlight adjustment controls:

  • Manual adjustment: The monitor user can control the LED backlight brightness using:
    • Buttons to access the on-screen menu (OSD);
    • IR remote control;
    • RS-232 commands;
    • Ethernet using the RS-232 command set. Ethernet connection is built in to all SVX models and available to other models via the IP-60 add-on board.
  • DPMS (Display Power Management System): The backlight will be automatically turned off after a period if there is no valid video signal being received.
  • Ambient light sensor: The backlight is adjusted for brightness or powered off depending on ambient light conditions. This uses a light sensor attached to the LCD controller board, see for more details. 

The specifics of the backlight control are documented separately for each LCD controller model (product summary here) in the product manual available for download on the product page.

Note: There are two ways to adjust the perceived brightness of a LCD panel or LCD monitor, the backlight and the black-level. Very often, particularly in the past, the monitor brightness setting adjusted the black-level, this adjusts the LCD but not the backlight. 

Ambient Light Scenarios

Day / Night:

  • Digital Signage: Brightness adjusted according to an ambient light sensor (Autobrite+), an external timer, an instruction from a media player.
  • Transport & outdoor monitors: Triggered by ambient light sensors (Autobrite+), or switching to headlights, or manually.
  • Color, color temperature etc: In addition to adjusting the brightness other settings may be adjusted as well. For example the color temperature or for example a switch to green monochrome for night vision.

Room / Office: Presentation display(s) installed in the room

  • Auto on/off if lights on/off or if motion detected. Ambient light sensor (Autobrite+) or motion detector.
  • Auto-dim/bright if wanting to focus on another display. This might be triggered by a room controller.
  • Auto-dim if lights dimmed for a projector. This might be triggered by a command from a room sensor or automatically by an ambient light sensor (Autobrite+).


Night-safe lighting (update) : Dual-rail backlights can also be supported. These special backlight enable normal brightness and extreme low level brightness with custom night-safe lighting. Contact us for details.

Note: We have a blog on methods for implementing an ambient light sensor with Digital View LCD controller boards to automatically adjust the backlight or system power, see: Ambient Light Sensor


Update March 2019: Most of the above remains unchanged except for the increased availability of high bright LCD panels of around the 1,000 nit to 2,500 nit range. AUO for example has a number of large size LCD panels with 1,500 nit brightness for the digital signage market. Tianma has panels under 20″ with 1,000 nit to 1,500 nit brightness for various outdoor applications. 

The other change is that high bright panels are now increasing edge-lit, this makes the panels thinner and these panels tend to use less power than the previous models. One of the benefits for monitor designers is easier heat management and reduced overall display system costs.

Note: This is what we call a “live” blog as we regularly revisit the entry and update it.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.