Bias Lighting On A Budget

Over the weekend I decided to pull out some of my cheap strip LEDs and put them to good use with a little bias lighting!

What is bias lighting?

Don’t feel bad, up until a few days ago I hadn’t heard of it either! Bias lighting is the effect that can be achieved by placing a light source behind your television. Surprisingly, this has been around for a very long time but is only now becoming more main stream with things like the Phillips Ambilight+Hue system, as well as more and more manufactures placing some form of lighting directly in the rear casing of TVs. But there’s no need to buy a $2000 TV just for some lights (average price of an Ambilight TV at time of writing).

How does bias lighting work?

Well the short form is, you place lights behind your TV and quality supposedly gets better. But what’s really going on?

bias-lighting-optical-illusion

Take a close look at the optical illusion above. If you look at the grey bar in the middle, you’ll probably notice that the right side looks darker than the left side. You might be surprised to find out that the bar is actually the exact same shade all the way through and does not change. Our eyes perceive the right side as a darker grey due to the lighter background. This is essentially one of the things bias lighting does. By placing lighting behind your TV, your contrast should appear much more dominant.

The other thing it helps with is eye strain. During light changes our eyes adjust to either allow or block light. Ever notice that when you wake up in the dark and look at something bright, it can be somewhat painful? This is because our eyes iris’ are fully open to allow in the most amount of light possible. By adding light very quickly, our eyes do not have time to adjust and too much light is let in (which can be painful). By adding a consistent light source behind your TV, the light changes are less stressful on the eyes making a more pleasant viewing experience.

K, I want it now!

The great news, its super cheap and easy to do it yourself.

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I started with taking my 40″ Dynex off the wall and laying it face down on the floor. If you like your TV, it’s probably a good idea to place something soft underneath so you don’t scratch the screen (this is my “cheap” TV so I didn’t care that much).

20150412_131330Next I took my strip LEDs (cool white of course) and stuck them to the back of my TV. I did actually measure, but of course I only measured once and one section didnt line up too nicely… luckily it wont be seen once back on the wall.

20150412_132621Now its just a matter of soldering the strip lighting together with some wire. In my case (see above) I don’t care a whole lot about the back of the TV so I chose to solder the lights after they were attached to the TV. If you aren’t a fast solderer or if you are worried about melting the plastic on the TV, I would suggest pulling the lights back up a little bit away from the plastic before soldering. Once you have them soldered, you of course want to test them before hanging the TV again. Using a simple 12v power supply directly to the LED lights should power them up.

20150412_135739Final step, rehang your TV and plug the LED lights in!

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Does it really make a difference?

This is a trick question… beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m certainly not a media expert. Personally, I do feel the blacks were blacker while watching a movie, but color wise I’m not so convinced that there was a major change. I did notice that my eyes did not feel as strained as compared to watching a movie in dark, which is a nice feeling when you’re just trying to relax. In the end, for the 30 minutes it took to complete and the $5 in supplies (thank you eBay) it’s totally worth it just for the “nerd factor” alone!

UPDATE – MAY 30, 2016: Ian Barlow in the comments below has posted a website for a much more serious DIYer looking for a more professional setup with bias lighting. Make sure to check it out here!

2 thoughts on “Bias Lighting On A Budget”

  1. Unless your photo is highly misleading, you’ve massively, massively overdone the bias lighting brightness to the point where it will do vastly more harm than good by closing your irises to the point where you can no longer distinguish between very dark shades. It should be no brighter than 10% of the maximum brightness the TV is capable of displaying. The LEDs will also, more than likely, be the wrong colour temperature with the wrong spectral output to work entirely effectively.

    There’s an exact science to doing this properly, and it’s not particularly hard to get things approximately right using a DIY approach, but there’s a lot more to it than just sticking some random lights of unknown brightness, colour temperature and spectral output to the back of your TV.

    http://www.cinemaquestinc.com/blb.htm

    1. Thanks for the comment Ian.
      Maybe it’s just me but your comment comes off as slightly aggressive given the nature of the post. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t had my morning coffee yet! I’ll try and tackle some of your points below.

      I’d like to start off by saying that the photo is misleading in the nature of the brightness, a combination of a white wall in a dark room and taking the picture with a smartphone (I’m no professional photographer here…), the picture is massively overexposed.

      I’d also like to mention, realistically I did this more for the cool factor than anything. I had tied the LEDs into my home automation at the same time to provide ambient lighting at night in a room that has no other light source. If someone spends tens of thousands of dollars on a media setup similar to the one you linked to, obviously you wouldn’t slap a few $5 LED strips behind it. Now, am I going to spend thousands of dollars having a professional come over and set up a proper bias lighting rig on my $200 TV in my mancave? Not a chance. Let’s keep it realistic here.

      The website you linked to states that the color should be 6500K, which is the temperature of the LEDs I used. Again, hard to see in the image due to the nature of darker room, white wall, etc. etc.

      I have no doubt in my mind that there is an exact science to this, I’m no expert, nor do I ever claim to be on something outside my field. That being said, I’ve had people who do claim to be specialists or professionals come and tweak my TV settings “for the ultimate picture”, or my sound system for “the ultimate sound experience”. What I find is I usually end up changing my settings back because it doesn’t feel “right” to me anymore. In my opinion, something of this nature really comes down to if the person watching the TV is happy with the way the picture looks. If I’m happy with my $5 setup, cool beans! If you’re happy with your million dollar setup, all the power to ya, I certainly won’t stop you! (though I might envy you a little!)

      Let me put this a different way. A good friend of mine is color blind with a green deficiency. I myself have astigmatism which affects the way light bounces around in my eyes. So basically, when I have a professional come over and tweak all my settings, the professional is literally seeing an entirely different image than both myself, and my good friend. So who is to determine what is “correct” or what looks “good”.

      I realize this is a comment that’s well beyond the scope of the post, which could literally be retitled: “adding cheap lights to your TV”.

      Everything aside, I appreciate the link you posted as it will help more serious DIYers get some information on how to do a much more professional setup. I’m not sure if that is your website or if you are affiliated with them at all, but I will update the original post to include it for a little link love!

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