I live in a cave. Well, not a real cave, but I watch TV in a room that is completely light controlled. Review projectors it must be dark. But I understand that many people are not like me. They have these weird things like… lights? And the windows? These new light sources can have a negative impact on TV picture quality. At best, they’re a little annoying. At worst, they can completely hide what is happening.
Sadly, the days of matte-screen TVs are over. These days, almost all TVs have flat screens. These mirror-like ends are tied together to cause reflection.
Or maybe not. Even if you want to live in a “normal” room with real light (unusual, but you do), there are steps you can take to reduce, and possibly eliminate, your TV exposure. You may not need to spend any money. You won’t have to live in a cave, I promise. Unless you want to, of course. Here are five tricks to help you make sure that no matter what light you have in your room, you still get the best picture with the least amount of detail.
Why is your TV screen flashing?
Most modern TVs have reflective screens, which act as a mirror for any light source in the room (from windows to lamps). Some TVs, including many older models, have mostly matte screens, which don’t show mirror-like displays. Ambient light still negatively affects matte screen TVs though. Instead of shining the light back at you, the matte finish spreads the light energy across the screen. The exposure is reduced, but the black level is brighter, so it looks washed out overall.
So no matter what TV you have, if there is a light in your room that can “see” the TV screen, you will be able to see it, and it will affect the quality of the picture.
While there are adhesive antireflective coatings available online, I would avoid them. There is no guarantee that the picture will look better after you stick something on your TV screen that may or may not come off easily if you don’t like it. Also, at best, they will reduce exposure at the expense of overall picture quality, like TVs that originally came with matte screens.
1. Reduce the brightness of the television by turning off the lights, but be careful not to attract eyes
The easiest way to reduce exposure is to turn off the lights, right? Well, sort of. There’s a reason people tend to leave the lights on when watching TV: eye strain. Many people feel It hurts their eyes when they watch TV in the dark. This is especially true now with brilliance HDR televisions. Whether you know it or not, leaving the lights on can create a more tranquil viewing environment. Unless, of course, that light reflects the TV.
It may seem like a roundabout way to solve anything, but you can dim your TV to reduce eye strain in a dark room. If this works, you won’t need to leave the lights on. No lights, no reflection. Problem solved.
If you have an LCD TV, this is easy. Most LCDs have lighting control, while OLED TVs have “OLED Pixel Brightness.” Look your user menus: Control based on proximity or density. It’s bright. Switch it on at night for a more relaxed picture and better black levels. Keep in mind that TVs often increase brightness when watching HDR content.
Read more: Want Better TV? Change these 9 TV Picture Settings
Other options are get a big tv or stay close (which has the same effect). The reason people get eye strain is because their irises are open because of a dark room but a small area – the TV – is brighter than the environment. This is exactly like someone shining a light in your eyes. With a large TV, there is more light and your iris will close. That’s the theory, of course. It’s not like I’m suggesting you get a bigger TV to solve the display problem. Well, not entirely. It would be great TV, though, wouldn’t it?
Watching TV during the day is a completely different problem. You can’t turn off the sun (although if you can, I, for one, look forward to your reign of darkness, future overlord), so we’ll find ways to solve that problem in a moment.
2. Protect your eyes: Place a lamp behind the TV to emit glare
If you can’t or don’t want to adjust the TV, or buy a projector with a 100 inch screen, there are many other options. Walking a the light behind the TV it will raise the ambient light in the room, which means less eye strain, without causing any glare.
The techie term for this is side lighting. You want this light to have as neutral a color as possible, as any color in the light will take it that color appears on television. Red light will make a TV appear red, for example.
You can make your own, or you can buy it online. For what it’s worth, neutral lighting is used in many professional environments where people sit in dark rooms and stare at screens all day. For example, Movie and Television editors. There are many options on Amazon that are little more than sticky LED light strips. Since I have never found an LED product from Amazon that matches its claimed color, I would approach these with caution. Color, or the lack of it, is important here.
3. Try tilting your TV screen or moving the lights around
Another option is to mount the TV on a wall mount that rotates, tilts, or both. So when you get a show, you can move the TV a bit so that the show appears somewhere else (and you don’t see it). Many companies make wall mounts that do this. A few things to keep in mind. Most LCDs look worse off-axis (or off-center). If you rotate these, you will view them off-axis and image quality may suffer.
Another option is to simply move the light so that it doesn’t show off the screen. I’m going to guess you’ve already tried that, so we’ll move on.
Not posted? Here’s our guide to finding it where you should put your TV. (Spoiler alert: It should not be above the center.)
4. Get smart lights and outlets to control your lighting without leaving the couch
An even smaller step is to make your room lighting more manageable. Smart lights, outlets, and switches allow you to control individual lights, or groups of lights, and connect to Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. Then you can say “Ceiling lights off” or something like turning off the offending lights without leaving your couch.
You can also tie in remote controlled sun shades.
5. Install solar shades or blackout curtains on the windows
If you have too many windows, you’re fighting the sun, and your TV won’t work. Sure, today’s bright LCDs are great for viewing in bright environments, but you don’t get a great picture with a lot of light in the room.
I have a different issue. I use a projector instead of a TV, and any amount of light washes the screen. I picked up blackout curtains at Lowe’s for about $70 for the large windows. They even look good. As you can imagine, I probably have a different idea of what is “beautiful” than most people.
Automotive sunscreens, whether indoor or outdoor, are a great help in more ways than one. I live in Southern California, and the west side of my house bakes all afternoon. I put up external solar shades and, if it sounds like evidence, my house is now cooler, heat wise. It’s also dark inside, with very little direct light and therefore, few reflections.
Many companies make sun shades, so a trip to Lowe’s or Home Depot will definitely be more helpful than I might add.
I will say this, though: If you get these types of cars, check if they can be tied into your home automation system or whatever smart system you use. Most smart products communicate with Alexa, but few also play with Google and even fewer still have Siri.
Ultimately, most TVs in bright rooms will suffer from some form of reflection, but hopefully with these tips, your TV will suffer less.
Note: This article was originally published in 2011 but has been updated to, ahem, manifest new information, links, and pictures.
As well as covering TV and other display technologies, Geoff conducts photo tours of cool museums and sites around the world, including nuclear submarines, large aircraft carriers, medieval castles, aircraft graveyards and more.
You can follow his activities on Instagram and YouTube about his 10,000 miles road trip. He also wrote a best-selling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, and a sequel.