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Do I need bias lighting for my TV?

Sometimes called mood lighting - it can make a big difference

by Mark Hodgkinson Oct 5, 2014


  • Whilst many of us invest a lot of time into ensuring that we choose the right TV and some even go to the bother of getting it setup to look as it should, very few ever consider the effect the room, itself, has on the picture.
    Your viewing room can and will have an influence on the performance of your TV, your perception of what you see on it, as well as the comfort in which you watch it.

    What is Bias Lighting?

    Bias lighting is the name given to any ambient lighting used in your viewing room which is placed behind the TV. Ambient lighting can also be used in a projector setup, too, but this will usually be positioned to the sides.

    Why use Bias Lighting?

    There are quite a few good reasons actually:

    Contrast & Colour

    A typical living room environment will be so well illuminated that the contrast performance of the TV can be negatively affected – particularly with overhead lighting – and, because of the bulbs typically used, colours will also be adversely affected. All the content you watch on your TV is produced to standards for the colour and temperature of white, as well the colours themselves, so any light shone on the screen that deviates from this will naturally compromise the perceived image.
    Neutral is best

    You could, of course, compensate for both by cranking up the Backlight and/or Contrast and Colour controls in the TV's picture menu but then you’d be driving your display harder than you need to, thus shortening its lifespan and costing you more in electricity. There is also the added benefit that using a bias lighting system will actually increase your perception of contrast – i.e. blacks will look darker and whites cleaner, so you’re giving your TV a quick and painless performance boost into the bargain.

    So, I should watch in the dark then?

    While, in theory, the absence of any room lighting will negate the effects noted above you have to consider how that will affect your eyes. Without going into the human anatomy in any great detail, the perceptive elements of your eyes are very sensitive to even small changes in brightness. So, as on-screen content fluctuates between light and dark scenes, your pupils become constricted and dilated accordingly. This leads to eye-fatigue which then results in tiredness and possibly headaches. Having some ambient lighting in the room will allow your eyes to have a base level of room-luminance, thus avoiding this problem.

    What sort of Bias Lighting do I need?

    There are a number of solutions, ranging from cheap and simple to scientifically tested and therefore quite costly. In an ideal world, your bias lighting will be a match for the colour and temperature of white, as used by content mastering houses. This is known as D65 and it was chosen to approximate the average north sky daylight at midday. In truth, it’s a fairly arbitrary standard but the important thing to remember is that everything you view will follow it, so your lighting will have an influence on the content
    Ideally you want a warm white, daytime or D65 light behind your TV

    Your local DIY store will have bulbs labelled as ‘Daytime’ and these can get reasonably close to D65 so one or two placed behind your TV will certainly help, in terms of reducing eye-strain at the very least. Better still would be finding a way of mounting a full-spectrum fluorescent lamp behind the television, which adheres (or gets close to) D65 but these can be very expensive and tricky to install.

    How do I set up TV Mood Lighting?

    A very popular solution amongst AVForums members is to purchase kits which contain strips of LED lighting. These are then affixed to the back panel of the TV at the sides and top and bottom. You could just opt to go with two strips at either side, to begin with, but its best to get the most even spread of light possible, so it’s recommended you cover all edges. It’s also best if the decor surrounding the TV is neutral in colour but we’re not expecting anyone to redecorate, just having some bias lighting will help.
    You really don't have to spend a fortune
    Most of those solutions will give you a variety of colour choices accessed from a remote control but for the reasons outlined above, anything other than white is not advisable. Some Philips TVs even have this feature built-in, under the name Ambilight. Depending on the model, you get either 2,3 or 4 rows of LEDs set within the confines of the chassis, which have various configuration settings. While there’s no doubt that the ‘dynamic’ settings – which change the colour according to on-screen content – are technically impressive, we would steer you to use the whiter shades in static mode. Some of the higher end models even have an ‘ISF Warm White’ option and we can testify that it’s very good indeed.

    So there we have the case for using bias lighting to enhance your TV viewing. It’s something we’ve all been doing for years and we can’t recommend it enough. Remember, it doesn’t have to cost the earth and you can experiment with the cheapest of lamps but we think you’ll come to the same conclusion.

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