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IPS vs VA Panels for TVs—What’s the Difference?

Not all LED TVs use the same panel types

The Samsung QN85A displaying 4K content in a living room setting. Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

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Right now, buying one of the best TVs means choosing between two major technology types: an LED/LCD TV, or an OLED TV.

Because OLED TVs are newer and generally more expensive, the average buyer is looking at LED/LCD TVs right now. And although there are several features and specifications to consider while shopping—the brand name, HDR compatibility, and refresh rate, just to name a few—there’s one important hardware spec that isn’t widely advertised: LCD panel type.

LED/LCD TVs are so called because of the two things that make up their displays: an LED (Light Emitting Diode) backlight and an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) panel for that backlight to shine through. LED backlights vary between a variety of implementations, but modern LCDs generally come in one of two panel technologies: IPS (In-Plane Switching) and VA (Vertical Alignment).

Unlike other hardware specifications (which are usually listed on the side of a TV box or on the manufacturer’s website), information about a TV’s LCD panel type is a bit more inside baseball. But panel type has a far greater impact on a TV’s performance than you might expect—it affects contrast, color, and viewing angle as well.

What is an IPS panel?

Individual pixels in an LCD display are made up of liquid crystals activated by voltage. How the display arranges its crystals is part of what sets IPS panels apart from VA panels.

IPS (In-Plane Switching) panels are a common display type for both the best computer monitors and TVs. Without getting too far down the rabbit hole, let’s talk a little about how IPS panels distinguish themselves from other types.

Every non-OLED TV on the market today is an LCD TV powered by LED lighting. Individual pixels in an LCD display are made up of liquid crystals activated by voltage—this is what produces color. An IPS panel aligns its crystals horizontally, parallel to the glass substrate.

IPS technology was developed in part to improve the color and wide viewing angle performance of a display. There's also a range of variations under the IPS umbrella, including ADS, S-IPS, H-IPS, e-IPS, P-IPS, and PLS (Plane-to-Line Switching). But, while they all differ marginally from one another in operation, their core functionality (as compared to VA panels) is the same.

What is a VA panel?

VA (Vertical Alignment) panels represent another common display type, used for both computer monitors and TVs, but especially for the latter where they greatly outnumber their IPS counterparts. Most LED/LCD TVs you'll find on the market use a VA panel. While IPS panels align their liquid crystals horizontally, VA panels align them—you guessed it—vertically. They run perpendicular to the glass substrate rather than parallel to it. When met with voltage, the crystals tilt, letting light through and producing color.

This positioning changes how the liquid crystals behave. Without any voltage, the liquid crystals in a VA panel do not tilt, which is a better outcome if your goal is to block light and create image depth. Like with IPS, VA panels also come in a few varieties: PVA, S-PVA, and MVA, though again, their core functionality (as compared to IPS panels) is the same.

What about TN panels?

TN (Twisted Nematic) is an older LCD display type. They're still relatively common display types for computer monitors—thanks to their lightning fast response times and excellent handling of motion blur. TN panels aren't typically used in TV production anymore, though.

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What's the difference between IPS and VA panels?

The Sony X900H displaying 4K content in a living room setting.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

IPS and VA panels have different strengths and weaknesses. The Sony X900H (seen here) features deep black levels but relatively narrow viewing angles.

Now that we’ve explained the bare essentials of these two technologies, let’s take a look at their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Contrast Ratio

The cornerstone of picture quality, contrast ratio refers to the range between a display’s darkest black levels and brightest highlights. Because VA-style panels excel at producing deep, dark black levels, this is arguably their biggest strength. VA panels almost always feature deeper black levels than their IPS counterparts, and this goes a long way in creating a detail-rich picture. An IPS panel can mitigate this by serving up an exceptionally bright image to offset relatively shallow black levels.

Advantage: VA

Wide viewing angle

A TV’s total viewing angle describes how much a viewer can move away from an ideal, head-on viewing position before the contrast and color of the picture begins to deteriorate. Due to the positioning of their liquid crystals, IPS panels excel in this department; they typically offer significantly more viewing flexibility than TVs with VA-style panels. In other words, IPS panels are more reliable for group viewings (or any situation where a viewer might need to sit at an off-angle).

Advantage: IPS

Color and image quality

While impressive color production is possible on both display types, IPS panels tend to offer wider colors, given the nature of their hardware. While a wider range of colors tends to spell better color accuracy, the advent of additional TV technologies like quantum-dot color have evened the playing field considerably. In other words, you’re far more likely to notice the benefits of an IPS TV’s wider viewing angle than you are to notice its tendency for wider color.

Advantage: IPS

Here’s the final takeaway: IPS panels are significantly better than VA panels when it comes to viewing angle and somewhat better than VA panels when it comes to color. VA panels, however, almost always offer deeper black levels and better overall contrast. And because they block light better, TVs and monitors using VA panels tend to have better backlight uniformity regardless of LED backlight type.

How can I determine a TV’s panel type?

Unfortunately, not only is it rare to find a TV’s panel type listed on a manufacturer’s website, but it’s increasingly rare for a brand to reveal a TV’s panel type at all—even when we contact brands directly for information. The reason for this caginess has everything to do with marketing; it’s better to keep shoppers focused on the bells, whistles, and impressive performance specs of a TV rather than its potential shortcomings.

To add to the confusion, it’s common for different sizes of the same TV series to mix and match display types; you might find that the 55-inch version of a TV features a VA-style display while the 75-inch model uses IPS.

Two lab technicians at Reviewed headquarters testing a TV.
Credit: Reviewed

It’s relatively easy to determine panel type if you have the proper equipment and you know what to look for.

Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to determine panel type if you have the proper equipment and you know what to look for. Certain test results and viewing characteristics act as tell-tale signs. This is why my colleagues and I make a point of discussing panel type in just about every TV review we publish, and why you should make a point of reading reviews before making a purchase.

Panel type is not the end-all-be-all for LED/LCD TVs. Many other factors, most of them related to the style and intensity of the LED backlight, can have a major impact on factors like contrast, viewing angle, and color intensity. Ultimately, you need to see a TV in person (and ideally in the space it’s going to live in) to get the best idea of how well it creates an image. But by knowing the core differences of IPS vs VA LCD panels, you can at least make some good guesses before you buy.

Which type of TV panel should I buy?

TVs with an IPS-style panel might be better for group viewings, but VA panels tend to offer better contrast.

Is IPS or VA better for gaming?

Unlike the best gaming monitors, IPS and VA TV panels are on an even playing field. TVs with both technologies are capable of high refresh rates of 120Hz, or occasionally 240Hz (although it usually comes at a premium).

If you focus on single-player gaming, or your multiplayer gaming happens online, the excellent contrast of VA is the way to go. The most gaming benefits you’ll see will come from extra features like Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), or cloud game capabilities.

If you’re buying a large screen and intend to host movie nights with friends and family, a TV with an IPS-style panel is far more accommodating thanks to its superior viewing angle. Just be aware that certain content—particularly dark content—won’t pop as much on account of the panel’s shallower black levels.

On the other hand, if you want the best possible picture overall, we recommend investing in a TV with a VA-style panel. They’re not always ideal candidates for group viewings, but the vast majority of the best non-OLED TVs you can buy feature this display type.


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