A light-emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor light source that emits light when current flows through it. Electrons in the semiconductor recombine with electron holes, releasing energy in the form of photons. The color of the light (corresponding to the energy of the photons) is determined by the energy required for electrons to cross the band gap of the semiconductor. White light is obtained by using multiple semiconductors or a layer of light-emitting phosphor on the semiconductor device.
Appearing as practical electronic components in 1962, the earliest LEDs emitted low-intensity infrared (IR) light. Infrared LEDs are used in remote-control circuits, such as those used with a wide variety of consumer electronics. The first visible-light LEDs were of low intensity and limited to red. Early LEDs were often used as indicator lamps, replacing small incandescent bulbs, and in seven-segment displays. Recent developments have produced LEDs available in visible, ultraviolet (UV), and infrared wavelengths, with high, low, or intermediate light output, for instance white LEDs suitable for room and outdoor area lighting. LEDs have also given rise to new types of displays and sensors, while their high switching rates are useful in advanced communications technology with applications as diverse as aviation lighting, fairy lights, automotive headlamps, advertising, general lighting, traffic signals, camera flashes, lighted wallpaper, horticultural grow lights, and medical devices.
LEDs have many advantages over incandescent light sources, including lower power consumption, longer lifetime, improved physical robustness, smaller size, and faster switching. In exchange for these generally favorable attributes, disadvantages of LEDs include electrical limitations to low voltage and generally to DC (not AC) power, inability to provide steady illumination from a pulsing DC or an AC electrical supply source, and lesser maximum operating temperature and storage temperature. In contrast to LEDs, incandescent lamps can be made to intrinsically run at virtually any supply voltage, can utilize either AC or DC current interchangeably, and will provide steady illumination when powered by AC or pulsing DC even at a frequency as low as 50 Hz. LEDs usually need electronic support components to function, while an incandescent bulb can and usually does operate directly from an unregulated DC or AC power source.