- What is ambilight and what is it used for?
- Does ambilight work for gaming?
- A surprising health benefit of ambilight
- How much does ambilight Cost?
- DIY ambilight
- Other DIY Options
As a lifelong movie fan, I didn’t think anything could make me enjoy watching them even more than I already did. That was until I started hearing this term ‘ambilight’. So what does ambilight mean?
Ambilight is a term that refers to the use of colored lighting in order to create visual effects that suit different moods. Ambilight can be applied to images on TV screens in order to bring a more immersive experience by matching screen colors to the wall at the back of the TV. It is especially effective in a dark room.
Having watched this video of ambilight applied to a TV, I knew I just had to have it. ‘Phillips’ a popular electrical brand, was the only company selling this amazing technology, in fact, I later found out that they own the patent.
Unfortunately, I didn’t own a Phillips TV, however, I wasn’t deterred. Here’s what else I found out when I looked into ambilight including how I got my very own without a Phillips TV so if you’re interested in this tech yourself you’ll learn how it can be a lot cheaper than you think.
What is ambilight and what is it used for?
The idea of ambilight has been around for many years and is very closely related to mood lighting however while mood lighting usually refers to dimming white or warm lighting that reflects a different mood in a room (for example a fancy restaurant) and is usually operated through a dimmer switch, ambilight (sometimes referred to as bias lighting), is the idea of simultaneously projecting colors displayed on a TV screen onto the wall behind it.
In order to achieve this Phillips mounted a series of small, outward-facing, low power LED’s in the back casing of their TV’s, Philips models include choices of two sides, three sides (top and sides) or four sides (all sides). Four sided lights are, of course, best for wall mounted TV’s and if you can hide the cables it gives the impression that the TV is floating off the wall.
Phillips were the first (in fact, the only) TV manufacturer to realize that intentionally ‘leaking’ the picture on the TV outside of its boundary or bezel they could create a level of immersion while watching TV which was unmatched to anything that had gone before, even from the very latest 3D technologies.
So what is ambilight like in real terms? As an example, let’s say you’re watching The Matrix (1999) in my opinion Keanu Reeve’s finest work (no, it’s nothing to do with his lack of lines!). I’m assuming you’ve seen it as it came out in 1999 but if not you should check it out, it’s great!
Anyhow, what you probably didn’t notice about the film is that there are 2 different ‘hues’ in use. Whenever Keanu is in the real world, the scene takes on a blue tint, which gives the impression that the real (future) World is cold.
However, when Keanu is in the Matrix (spoiler alert: the artificial World created by the Machines) the World takes on a ‘Green’ tint, which gives the impression of a decaying and decadent World simulated by a computer.
I’d watched this movie several times before but It wasn’t until I watched using my ambilight TV that I actually noticed this.
The Matrix on my own DIY ambilight
Another one of my favorites is the Lion King, the opening sequence (where all the animals are running around) looks incredible with ambilight on. Rather than try and explain what this looks like, I’ve embedded a short video below so you can see for yourself.
Let me just say that the video really doesn’t do it justice, I’m over 40 years old now but watching this movie using ambilight really takes me back to my days when I was just a young cub!
Arnie’s (i’ll be back!) Total Recall (1990) is another great action movie, further enhanced by ambilight, the majority of the film is set on Mars and with ambilight the wall behind the TV is given a satisfying red glow which changes along with the intense action on the screen.
In short, ambilight is pretty impressive for a movie lover like me. As someone who owns an Oculus Quest Virtual Reality headset (which can give the illusion that your sitting in an actual movie theatre) a 4K, 3D capable, TV and ambilight myself, I can honestly say that watching a movie with my ambilight on is definitely a lot more enjoyable than watching washed out colors in a pair of 3D glasses or sitting in a headset.
Does ambilight work for gaming?
Phillips ambilight TV’s do include a gaming mode which again adds something extra to the whole gaming experience. When in gaming mode, response times for the lights is supercharged to ensure that the quick-fire action on screen is matched against the back wall.
On a personal note I tried playing Resident Evil 2 in the dark with ambilight, strangely, even with the added light in the room from the LED’s the experience was still just as terrifying!
A surprising health benefit of ambilight
Perhaps surprisingly, there also appears to be a health benefit of ambilight TV’s. Phillips claimed that their ambilght TV technology had one very significant health benefit, here’s what they said:
In a (dark) home cinema room lighting condition (7 lux room lighting level) Ambilight can reduce eye strain in 60-90% of the people dependent on the Ambilight setting and the nature of the film/show.
Philips Consumer Electronics
In summary, the study tested ambilight amongst 87 test subjects using a variety of different settings and found that 60 – 90% of subjects experienced reduced eyestrain when viewing a movie with ambilight.
The full study is pretty scientific but if you care to read this information yourself, you can find it here Effects of ambilight study (link to embedded.com).
How much does ambilight Cost?
So first the bad news. Phillips are currently the only company that make ambilight TV’s which means they probably own the patent, there does appear to be a new range of 4K ambilight TV’s due for release in 2020, however, we couldn’t find any of the older models on Amazon.com when we checked, we’re guessing that they are quite popular.
As far as the 2020 range goes it looks it looks like you can expect to pay upwards of $1000 for one of these new models.
The good news is that there are some very reasonably priced Phillips Ambilight TV’s on eBay, priced from around $400 dollars.
I think I mentioned that I was really impressed by the whole ambilight concept when I first saw it.
At the time my interest peaked, I’d just purchased a 42” Samsung TV so I wasn’t about to shell out for a Phillips also. So what did I do?
I made my own!
It’s actually fairly easy to build your own ambilight system and the components are very cheap. In total, I think I spent less than $100.
Perhaps the only disadvantage of DIY Ambilight is that it does rely on a PC to run it. This is because the lights are connected to an Arduino board (link to Arduino.cc) or Raspberry Pi (link to raspberrypi.org) which are essentially micro-computers that interpret signals from the PC and relay them to an LED light strip connected to the device. This method is therefore best for those with a home theater PC build, it also works great with Kodi (link to kodi.tv).
The advantage of this method over the Phillips is that you can choose how many LED’s you want to use. You are also the controller which means if you don’t like the way certain colours are displayed you can adjust them through the PC.
For those of you who are interested in this option, I went and found the exact tutorial I used to build my own TV ambilight. It provides a pretty comprehensive guide on accomplishing however it does require a bit of technical knowledge.
Build Your Own Ambilight Tutorial by Adalight (link to learnadafruit.com)
Other DIY Options
I’ve had my own ambilight TV for several years now and at the time I put it together, there weren’t any out of the box options available. Fortunately, that’s all changed in fact you can now get complete kits which work out of the box and don’t require any difficult set up procedure, like this one we found from a company called Dreamscreen (link to Dreamscreentv.com). We have no affiliation with Dreamscreen, I just think its a great product, especially as I know first hand what goes in to setting up a TV ambilight.
Finally, if your interested in seeing exactly what Ambilight is capable of when teamed up with Phillips Hue bulbs, check out this cool set up, never has a storm looked so good!