What is the MediaLight Mk2 Flex?
The MediaLight Mk2 Flex is a range of strip LEDs designed to be quickly and easily fitted to the rear of a TV or monitor, thus providing bias lighting. While there’s plenty of LED strip lighting available from DIY stores, the MediaLight Mk2 Flex has been developed to provide an accurate D65 “dimmable surround” bias light solution.
These products are designed for use in professional video editing facilities and dedicated home cinemas, but are equally useful in any home viewing environment. The Mk2 Flex combines ultra-high CRI and colour temperature accuracy with the convenience of USB-power, colour-stable dimming and instant warmup, thus ensuring that your surround light is always on target.
The Mk2 Flex is available in a number lengths, depending on your screen size, and as at the time of writing (October 2020) these range from 2m at £49.95 to 6m at £89.95. That’s an excellent price for a professional solution that contains everything need, including a remote control. So let’s see how accurate and effective this bias lighting system actually is in a normal living room.
Who are MediaLight?
MediaLight was developed by Scenic Labs, the publishers of home cinema optimisation tools such as the original DVE (Digital Video Essentials) DVD and the excellent Spears & Munsil Benchmark Blu-rays and 4K disc.
The Mk2 Flex is designed to offer bias lighting that's accurate and affordable
The company realised that nobody was making an accurate bias light that was both affordable and offered the high CRI (colour rendering index) and accurate CCT (correlated colour temperature) needed by professional colourists and high-end home cinema enthusiasts.
Scenic Labs also understood it was important to make MediaLight products as accurate as possible for professionals while being easy enough for consumers to install on their TV’s. Crucially, you don’t need any tools, and there’s nothing to solder, no wires to cut and nothing more to buy.
What products do MediaLight offer?
MediaLight offers a number of products that not only includes the Mk2 Flex bias lighting system being reviewed here, but also the 1m Mk2 Eclipse which is designed for use with computer monitors, the Ideal-Lume Pro desk lamp and the Mk2 A19 dimmable bulb.
However, the MediaLight Mk2 Flex is the company’s flagship product, and offers a bias lighting system with a highly-accurate correlated colour temperature (CCT) that hits the industry standard of D65 (6500K), and a colour rendering index (CRI) of at least 98 Ra.
What is bias lighting?
At this point you might be thinking – “this all sounds very cool but what is bias lighting and why do I need it?” Put simply, bias lighting is a light source behind a monitor or TV that creates a halo of light that surrounds the screen.
It should be stressed that when we’re talking about bias lighting in a home cinema setup, we’re specifically referring to a TV. If you have a projector you wouldn’t use bias lighting because, due to the limited brightness of projection, you want the environment to be as dark as possible. Just think of a cinema, which is blacked out apart from exit signs and emergency lighting.
However TVs are significantly brighter than projectors, and thus watching a very bright light source in a dark room can be fatiguing for the eyes. The image will be constantly changing from very bright to very dark, and pupils will become tired due to dilating and contracting in response to these different luminance levels.
By adding bias light behind your TV you can create a more comfortable and less fatiguing viewing experience
By adding some bias light behind the screen you reduce the amount of work being done by your pupils, and the result is a more comfortable viewing experience. In professional post-production and mastering suites where filmmakers spend all day looking at images on displays, you will find they always use some form of bias lighting (possibly provided by MediaLight).
You might find that you’re subconsciously adding bias lighting by having a light on at the rear or side of your TV. You could also pop down to your local DIY store and simply buy an LED lighting strip to provide lighting behind your TV. These approaches might be easier or slightly cheaper than using the Mk2 Flex, but the results almost certainly won’t be as effective.
If you own a Philips TV you already have bias lighting built-in thanks to Ambilight. Although it should be stressed that only the ISF neutral white Ambilight setting is strictly bias lighting, and the other dynamic and colourful effects, which can create a more immersive experience when gaming, are best avoided for more critical viewing, especially with movies.
The idea is to have a neutral white light behind the TV that equates to D65 (6500K), which is the industry standard for white in terms of video production, distribution and reproduction. A lamp or a DIY solution almost certainly won’t be as accurate, and thus the bias light around the screen could adversely affect how you perceive colours on the screen.
The reason for this is that our eyes can be tricked into thinking one colour looks different because it is juxtaposed with another colour. For this reason you also need to be careful when it comes to the colour of the wall behind your TV. For example, if the wall is a bright red or blue then the illuminated colour will affect how the colours on the screen appear to your eyes.
Another advantage of surrounding the screen with light is that it improves the perceived contrast of the display
A white wall is the most likely scenario in a regular living room, but it may surprise you to discover a dark grey or black wall behind the TV will work best, especially in a dedicated home cinema. The walls in professional facilities are often dark grey or black, with the screen surrounded by a halo of light.
This halo of light surrounding the screen offers another benefit by improving the perceived contrast of the image. By giving the blacks on the screen a bright surround to be compared against, they can actually look blacker. This can be useful with LCD TVs where the blacks are often poor, and a bias light can help boost the perceived contrast performance.
However, you don’t want the light surrounding the screen to be too bright, or it can have an adverse affect, causing black crush and hiding shadow detail. For that reason the best bias lighting will have a brightness control that allows you to adjust the luminance, so you can create a comfortable viewing environment that enhances the blacks rather than washes them out.
What's in the box?
The MediaLight Mk2 Flex comes with everything you need in the box. There’s the LED strip itself, wound around what looks like a reel-to-reel spool. This strip is backed by peel off and stick authentic 3M VHB mounting adhesive, and at one end is a DC connector to attach it to the included on/off toggle switch, which uses a USB male plug.
There is a 0.5m extension cord that you can use to connect between the LED strip and the on/off toggle switch if you need additional length. However, you shouldn’t need it because ideally you’ll be powering the LEDs straight from the TV's USB 3.0 port. You will also use less power if you omit it. If your TV doesn’t have a USB 3.0 port, a plug adapter is also included.
There is a remote control, which is compatible with universal remotes and smart hubs. It allows you to turn the LEDs on and off, adjust the brightness in a total of 64 increments, or use shortcut buttons for directly setting the brightness at 10, 20, 40, 60, 80 and 100%. To use the remote you attach the included dimmer with infrared receiver between the LED strip and on/off toggle switch.
Finally, there are some adhesive wire routing clips that allow you to set up the switch, connectors and IR receiver for the dimmer in a tidy fashion. The lights are covered under a five year warranty, and MediaLight even cover botched installations. So don't stress, if you make a mess of installing your Mk2 Flex, just contact MediaLight.
How do I install the Mk2 Flex?
Not that you should mess it up because the MediaLight Mk2 Flex is incredibly easy to install. The company recommends the LED strip be about 2 inches from the edge of the display, and you should start with the power (plug) end of the strip closest to your TV’s USB 3.0 port. By doing this you shouldn’t need to use the 0.5m extender. If your display does not have a USB port, start by going up the display on the side closest to the power source.
Everything you need is in the box, and installation couldn't be easier
All you need to do is carefully attach the strip by peeling the cover off the adhesive backing, and gradually working your way around the rear of the TV. Exactly how you attach the LED strip will depend on whether you’re going for a three- or four-sided installation. In my case I used a 6m Mk2 Flex and went for the full four-sided option, so I started near the USB port and went across the bottom, up the left-hand-side (as you’re facing the rear), along the top, and then down the right-hand-side.
The strip is designed to be bent at a right angle so you can turn the corners of the display as you make you way around. If your TV has an uneven back, like my 77C9, then MediaLight just suggest you simply leave an air gap and span this gap at a 45 degree angle, and then just follow the contours of the display. Once you’ve finished you can cut off any excess LED strip at the white line that crosses every pair of contacts.
Once that’s done you can attach the on/off toggle switch and plug it into the USB 3.0 port on your TV (or plug adapter if your TV doesn’t have a USB 3.0 port). Then you can simply turn the bias light on or off, or more likely just leave it on and have the lighting come on along with the TV. If you’re planning to use the remote control (and why wouldn’t you?), attach the dimmer between the LED strip and the toggle switch, and make sure the IR receiver is visible from the front.
That’s it, you’re pretty much good to go, aside from using the wire routing clips to tidy things up at the rear of your TV. Then all you need to do is sit down and adjust the brightness so that the halo of light around the screen is bright enough to ensure a more comfortable viewing experience and improved perceived contrast, but not so bright that the blacks and shadow detail are lost.
MediaLight delivers on its promise: an easy-to-install bias light that measures exactly to the industry standards
The MediaLight Mk2 Flex uses a zigzag pattern in the LED strip. This is done because instead of older units that relied on multiple strips all connected to the same 4-way splitter, the Mk2 has been optimised so the strip can run as a single piece around 3 or 4 sides, or in an inverted-U on the back of the display. Unlike the older Flex, the new strip can also easily make 90 degree turns.
How does it perform?
The MediaLight Mk2 Flex is designed to deliver a high-accuracy D65 6500K correlated colour temperature (CCT), and a colour rendering index (CRI) of at least 98 Ra. The CIE Ra value is the international standard colour rendering index, with 100 equalling standardised daylight.
What that essentially means is that the white light the LED strip produces exactly matches the D65 standard used for white in video production and distribution, and that the light it produces is almost identical to standardised daylight with an index of at least 98 out of 100.
To check this I took the LED strip into my home cinema before attaching it to my TV, and reflected the light it produces off my projector screen. I measured the colour temperature of this reflected light using my colour meter, and I was delighted to discover it is indeed 6500K, give take a few degrees.
When reflected off the white wall behind the TV, which is more of an off-white these days, the measurements were more variable. But this emphasises how important the colour of the wall behind the TV is, and for the best results I suggest grey. If you’re concerned that’s a bit boring, there’s nothing stopping you from using different patterns, textures or materials to jazz things up.
- Accurate bias lighting
- Extremely easy to install
- Includes a remote control
- Everything’s in the box
- Very affordable
- Nothing at this price
MediaLight Mk2 Flex TV Bias Lighting Review
The MediaLight Mk2 Flex does exactly what it says on the tin, allowing you to quickly and easily add bias lighting to your TV. The light itself is accurate, and thanks to the included remote control it’s easy to adjust the luminance to ensure a comfortable viewing environment that boosts perceived contrast without crushing the blacks.
The installation couldn’t be simpler, and everything you need is in the box, although the very best results you should definitely consider a grey wall behind the TV. If you own a Philips TV with Ambilight then just select the ISF neutral white Ambilight setting, but for anyone else this is the upgrade you’ve been waiting for.
Professionals always recommend adding bias lighting behind a display, especially if you watch a lot of TV in the evenings, and the MediaLight Mk2 Flex is the perfect solution. It’s very competitively priced, and I seriously doubt you could do it cheaper yourself. Even if you could, this approach is more convenient and the light produced is more accurate.
Ultimately, the MediaLight Mk2 Flex might the simplest, cheapest and best upgrade you can make to your home cinema setup.
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