What is a Mini LED display and why do you want it?

We’ve heard rumors for about a year or so that Apple is on the verge of launching some products with Mini LED display technology. It could come to MacBooks, iPads, iMacs—really anything with a display, though it’s quite unlikely to ever end up in Apple Watch or iPhone (which use OLED displays).

What is a Mini LED display and what will it do for you? This short explanation may help you understand why this technology can be such a big step forward for Apple’s products.

A better backlit LCD

To understand Mini LED, you first have to know the basics of how a traditional backlit LCD works. That’s what we have in all our iPads, MacBooks, and iMacs today.

It can get complicated, but in short, there’s a backlight (usually white), with an LCD layer on top of it. The purpose of the LCDs is to block a controlled amount of light from the backlight. On top of the LCDs are color filters that turn the light red, green, or blue. That’s the basic structure, but modern LCDs have other layers like polarizers, anti-glare coatings, and so on. A big white light, covered by a bunch of tiny LCDs (three for each pixel) to block or let through various amounts of light, and a color filter to turn the light red, green, or blue.

What Mini LED technology does is replace that big backlight with a grid of lots of tiny little backlights.

array backlighting Vizio

This image from Vizio illustrates the concept of local dimming LED arrays. 

I’m glossing over the finer points. There are lots of exceptions. In TVs, for example, larger LED backlight arrays with what is called “local dimming” are common, and even Mini LED TVs are already on the market from brands like TCL. Apple’s Pro Display XDR is very nearly a Mini LED display, with 576 backlight LEDs that are individually controlled (a typical Mini LED display of that size would have perhaps a few thousand).

So that’s Mini LED in a nutshell: kind of like the Pro Display XDR, but with many more, smaller, LED backlights.

CNET has a good article that focuses on TVs. The principle is the same for all Mini LED displays.