REVIEW: MEDIALIGHT BIAS LIGHTING
A bias light is simply a light placed behind your television to reduce eye-strain and improve your TV's perceived contrast ratio. From as little as $99 it could be the most affordable upgrade you can make to your TV.
As an ISF calibrator, I've long espoused the virtues of bias lighting to my clients, many of whom have gone on to use them with great success.
In the past, the challenge has been sourcing bias lighting products locally. While D65 accurate models have been available overseas for some time, it's always been expensive and before the introduction of LED strips, a cumbersome solution.
So What Is It?
A bias light is simply a light placed behind your television to reduce eye-strain and improve your TV's perceived contrast ratio. While no amount of supplementary lighting is going to enhance the black level of your display, adding light will make the black levels our display perceivably better.
If you want to get an idea for yourself of how this works, take a look at the diagram below. You will notice the grey bar is darker against the lighter shade of grey? Or for another example in your own room, display some content on your TV with black bars, and compare the black bars with and without the lights on.
To achieve the highest contrast picture, we need to eliminate any ambient light hitting the surface of the screen - however, complete room darkness can easily cause eye strain. In dark environments, a rapid change in brightness (such as going from a very dark to very bright scene) can cause the pupil size to vary around 7mm. It can then take up to five minutes for eye muscles to adapt to each change, stressing both the extraocular and intrinsic ocular muscles, ultimately leading to eye strain and possibly vision problems.
Of course, watching movies with the lights on kills the “cinema in your home” experience that we're striving for, not to mention creating screen reflections. The solution, therefore, is to place ambient light behind your television. However, before you go running off to repurpose your bedside lamp, there are a few things you need to consider.
As both the viewing environment and lighting alters the way we perceive colour, it's essential that any light introduced into a critical viewing environment where both image fidelity and quality are crucial is 'neutral white'. The light should share the same calibrated D65 white point as the content we watch.
The other thing to consider is the level of illumination, or in other words, how bright the light is. Ideally, bias lighting should create a soft glow around the edge of your TV. Or, to be more specific, the light should be no more than 10% of your display's peak white capabilities - but don't get too bogged down in that just yet.
MediaLight's range of purpose-designed bias lights offer a variety of solutions for all applications ranging from PC Monitors to large screen TVs. The range comprises six models including the Media Light Eclipse ($59), Single ($99), Quad ($149), Quad XL ($199), Flex ($129) and Pro ($199).
The various models are designed accordingly for the size of display and application, the exception being the Flex which comes on a large roll for a variety of different installations. Also noteworthy for professional colourists and enthusiasts alike is the Pro model, which offers the final word in accuracy, with a CRI of 99Ra.
All of MediaLight's bias lighting solutions are LED light strips, affixed directly to the back of the TV with 3M adhesive tape. MediaLight's solutions can be powered directly from a USB port on the back of your display with the Single, Quad and Quad XL also having the option to be powered from an electrical socket.
It needs to be said that MediaLight's products are far from the 'light strips' you'll find on your favourite auction site. Each model within the range is rated at the CIE Standard Illuminate D65 (6500K; x=0.3127, y=0.329) and CRI of 95-99 Ra, which is the very same white point at which film and television material are mastered.
The accuracy of MediaLight's range of bias lights has been further backed up by the Imaging Science Foundation, all of the models being ISF Certified.
The overall brightness can be adjusted from either an inline dimmer or where applicable, the remote. The remote offers presets of 10%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% or 100% as well as the ability to increase/decrease the brightness at 2% intervals.
All models except for the Eclipse and Pro, which feature an inline dimmer include a remote. They can also be purchased separately from MediaLight for $15.
What's In the Box?
As bias lighting is not designed for projectors, but rather monitors and televisions, I opted to use the Flex on the Samsung edge-lit LED/LCD that occupies our lounge room. At 32” it's hardly our go-to for blockbusters, but it's where we often find ourselves on a weeknight streaming Netflix. The display could certainly use some help in the black level department.
The 4 metre LED strip comes supplied on a reel to avoid kinks. The box also contained an IR sensor, cable-tidy clips, remote and instructions. I found the instructions a little brief; however, the 'how-to' video at biaslighting.com.au offers comprehensive tutorials.
Given my TV was both on the smaller side and out a little from the wall, I opted to attach the LED lights about a third of the way from the top and bottom of the display. Although if the screen were larger and wall mounted, I probably would have found myself attaching it to all four sides.
Cutting the bias light to size is relatively easy, with lines marked at pre-determined lengths where the strip can be cut. The strip can also be bent, so routing the top to the bottom of the display was simple enough. After connecting the IR sensor to the Flex, connecting the 5v USB to a free port on our TV and of course tidying up the whole installation with the cable clips, I was finished.
With the TV and Flex powered on, I used the remote to dim the light to 10% and adjusted further from there in 2% increments. The overall brightness was then checked against a bias light test pattern on my TV (which can be found on the Spears & Munsil 4K UHD benchmark disc). There's also plenty of images at MediaLight's website that can be used as a guide for setting brightness.
The benefits of using the Media Light Flex were immediately apparent. Black levels were perceivably better, the improved black level giving the image a pop that it didn't have earlier. Likewise, it was easier to make out shadow detail, and the picture had a noticeably better sense of depth.
While the MediaLight Flex didn't magically improve the black level of my display, the perceived improvements it offered were nonetheless there.
I'll echo MediaLight's sentiments in that this is one of the cheapest and best upgrades you can make to the image quality of any television or monitor.
Regardless of whether your display has been professionally calibrated or not, if image fidelity and for that matter, the overall health of your eyes is important to you, then a MediaLight bias light should be an essential fixture in your media room or home theatre.
For more information, visit MediaLight.
As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
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