By Deane Barker on September 5, 2004

Philips Flat Digital Picture TVs: I just can’t figure out if this is a good idea or not. “Ambilight” is a new idea from Philips whereby your plasma TV emits colored light out of the sides to match the predominant color on the screen.



  1. I can. It’s not. Imagine a commercial with the wall behind your TV changing to match the main color on the screen. Epilepsy, here we come!

  2. I think it’s a good idea so long as you can turn it off and tweak it when it’s on. People with epilepsy (or people who just don’t like the back end of their TV sending out schizo bursts of light), there should be some sort of smoothing feature that gradually changes the light’s color and brightness so you get the dominant color every half-second or so.

    It’s certainly interesting; the ad took me by surprise. In the future I think something like this would be better if it had a directional feature, so when someone fires a gun on the extreme right of a dark scene, only the right side of the room lights up with muzzle flare.

  3. What’s the most important thing about television? To borrow from the world of real estate, it’s “picture, picture, picture.” OK, and “sound, sound, sound.Oldsters might recall when Sylvania surounded 1950s-’60s picture tubes with a “halo of light.” That didn’t work either.

    If I want a light show, I’ll go to a rock concert.

    Hey, Philips: Work on lowering the price of flat-screen televisions and you’ll serve the public — and your stockholders — better.

  4. i think this is a great idea , i like that they have came this far in our technolgy, it surprises me everyday all the things we have out these days

  5. Witnessing this thing in the shop..I am completely convinced! It is smooth and really adds to the viewing experience. They say it is also more comfortable for the eyes…but who cares…it is cooool! The colours could sometimes be a bit more saturated…I guess these kind of things will be realised in next versions (?).

    One the price….not my typical budget size, but that holds for any reasonable sized flatscreen TV..I guess I have to save for a couple of more months.

  6. This idea needs to be developed much more before taking off, ultimately we need some mixture of smooth transition and effect, why stop at saying the background lighting should represent the main screen colour, it could be used as mood lighting, the future development for this should be another channel in the same way as a tv signal has 6.1 sound channels there needs to be a background lighting channel so the movie / programm producer can use background lighting to a fuller effect.

  7. This is not a new technology. Backlighting a TV has been around since the 1950s. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) has been recommending the practice for decades, based upon human factors research. Philips’ version violates many proven principles of imaging science and electronic display standards. Most of the feature’s functions actually compromise picture quality in some ill-informed and self-destructive attempt to enhance the entertainment qualities of their TVs. This is mostly a costly, over-engineered gimmick that could have been a simple, more affordable, legitimate benefit to the purchaser of these TVs.

  8. Good grief George, you really do get around!

    I hope everybody who comes here knows that backlighting is recommended for a TV-based Home Theater. The first I’d seen of this was on the laserdisc “A Video Standard” by video guru Joe Kane, which was followed-up by a DVD and now a Digital version.

    But the light should be the right color/temperature. There’s a company that makes a fixture specifically for this purpose, IIRC it’s called Ideal Lume or some such.

    The changing colors sound like fun, but if you’re going to drop a load of money on a Home Theater, by golly you oughta do it the right way.

  9. I have the 42 inch plasma version in my basement against a wall thats about 10 feet long. The Ambilight lights up the whole wall when the lights are dim and really takes over as more than just a TV. You can turn it off and notice immediately a difference– you are reminded its just a box with a picture on it. Though everyone agrees the picture seems crisper with it off because your eyes focus more when surrounded by dark. You can change the settings to be a solid color (like blue, white, red), dyanmic fast changing with the edges of the screen, or slowly change. I figured if I was to spend that much on a TV I wanted something that would really add to the room more than just a television picture. After a few months, im still happy and have no purchase dissonence.

  10. Actually, as far as epilepsy is concerned you’ll probably find it helps against it since the retina has to change less due to the overal stabilisation of the incoming light to the retina. The backlight doesn’t flash, it’s a pretty-much constant brightness with gradual transitions.

    Furthermore, there’s no flicker from an LCD screen compared to a CRT

    And to top that, don’t think that everyone is going to have an epileptic fit from a strobe light (which the Philips do NOT incorporate) if you don’t have epilepsy to begin with…that’s just paranoia and ingorance.

    It’s new, it’s not going to kill you. It’s daring and it’s excellent. Try it.

  11. This looks like a gimmick, plain and simple… a ploy to produce buzz marketing. Marginally lower prices and quality improvements wouldn’t get the same level of attention as this has, in my opinion. I look forward to buying a plasma or other flat screen technology TV in the near future, and it won’t have “ambilight” or any other gimmick that doesn’t add value to the quality of the picture.

  12. I guess even phillips marketers think it is a bad idea, notice that in their ads, they don’t ever show the TV actually changing colors, and even when they do show the tv, it is very brief.

    It might not be totally obnoxious when it is a constant color, but to have it changing everytime the “main” color on the screen alters would be very annoying.

    If Philips is wasn’t time on this kind of moronic non-innovation, I’ll avoid their products on that basis alone.

  13. okay, i have to admit, this whole “ambilight” thing makes me skeptical. is it really all that? i would like to see it for myself before i say it looks very good (which it does, but so did jamster for the first year).

  14. Right! We are never going to move forward with technology if moronic idiots put this type of innovation down! Go back and play with your noisy metal cheap ass home built PeeCee !!

    This really makes a difference to watching TV and even attaching a computer and gaming! So pick one up and leave the geeky idiots behind haha!!

  15. We have owned the Philips Plasma HDTV (42PF9630A) for awhile now and the Ambilight is an excellent, useful feature. My wife would never let me watch TV in the dark before as it gave her tremendous headaches. The Ambilight helps to stabilize the constant changes in light level in the room and does not detract from the picture at all. Your pupils don’t work as hard constantly trying to contract and dilate to the shifts in light, since there is a “stabilizer” there that is the Ambilight – that way, I still get to watch TV in the “dark”, and my wife doesn’t get headaches. You can set the feature to maintain a constant color of your choice, or set it to take the predominate color of the screen with about four different levels of “aggressiveness”. Those that call it frivolity most likely haven’t tried it.

  16. You’ve all just wasted 5 minutes of your life reading someone elses comments about a TV that changes the ambient light. Go read to your kids or something.

  17. You’ve all just wasted 5 minutes of your life reading someone elses comments about a TV that changes the ambient light.

    Um, didn’t you just read those comments too?

  18. I have just bought a 50inch plasma with ambilight and although I thought it was a cool gimick when seeing it in the shop – I can tell you that it is far from it. I would say it does the same for viewing experience that 5.1 surround sound does for audio. The colour/intensity changes are smooth and comfortable on the eye and it makes the screen appear to fill the entire wall. I wont watch the TV with it switched off now.

  19. We are thinking of buying a 42 inch with Ambilight but the sales person told us they have had people bring some of them back because they got too hot caused by the Ambilight. Plasma t.v.s get pretty warm anyway. Has anyone had this problem?

  20. Ive just seen it in the store and i think its awesome, you dont even really notice when the ambient color changes but it makes the TV feel much larger

  21. Just watching the regular light from a regular TV bounce off a wall in the dark makes my pet parrot puke.

  22. Ambilight is something that once used to, you wonder why it is not a standard. It is great. I use mine on a 42inch plasma in the still mode on cool white setting. Will not go without it again. Oh yes, ALL plasma tv’s are running hot, it’s the type of technology, unlike LCD’s that do not produce heat. Simple. Switch off the ambilight, no difference as the actual lights do not produce close as much heat as the actual plasma screen itself. That is also why LCD tv’s are more energy efficient and plasmas not. You want economy, buy LCD, you want high picture quality, colours and smooth fast movement, buy high resolution plasma like the Philips

  23. The color doesnt matter. our eyes cannot see colors far away of the center of the vision. Try it. Look at one edge of your screen while a random color spot flashes at the other edge. You wont know the color unless you look at it.

  24. Ambilight Full Surround is an interesting concept that has evolved significantly in the last two years. BUT, it is nowhere near the potential of intelligent backlighting yet.

    The thing that I like least about it is the wide black stripe around the image before the ambilight effect begins.

    From a digital electronics engineer’s perspective, a superior generic backlighting system would be easy to implement. All you need is 4 strips of RGB LED’s, like the ones used for the large outside TV screens on advertizing billboards. Short strips with low-intensity LED’s are very inexpensive. We’ve been using them in techno discos for years.

    Then you need a fast video processor chip (a few dollars). You analyze a few rows and columns from the 4 edges of the video image in real time. “Tunable” software would allow you to adjust the pixel averaging software parameters from sharp to soft color averaging. The Pilips algorithm seems to be EXTREMELY SOFT color averaging. I think I would prefer something with more sharpness, but if it is adjustable, you could make it whatever you like.

    The RGB LED strips are very thin. You could create a backlight canvas that goes in front of ANY technology flat TV screen. This would get rid of the ugly black stripe around the Philips Ambilight TV, and make your background colors blend directly into your TV image without the ugly black frame.

    We already are using RGB LED strips for all-points-adressabile room lighting. You have two controls – one for intensity and one for color. We can do sunrise / sunset, flickering firelight, misty moon light, sound sensitive, motion sensitive, etc.

    Ambient entire-room background lighting is easy and well-known. Driving it with pixels averaged from the edges of any video image is a simple matter. It just needs some flexible tuning parameters for experimenters to play with. With a little bit of effort, we could turn it into a cheap chip to drive cheap RGB LED strips – no biggie.

    Expect a lot of similar inexpensive solutions in the next year or so.

  25. Ambilight:

    1) An extra component to have to repair. What is the life expectancy of the ambilight bulbs?

    2) When viewing from an angle, you can see the lights! They get in the way as they are in the viewer’s field of vision. You have to watch pretty much straight on or you are staring into a light that is completely irrelevant to the image being displayed.

  26. I’ve actually seen this TV in a theater setting at a Bose store and I have to admit, it really does change the feel of the movie. The salesman said that it was mainly to reduce eye-strain. It probably does, but I’ll stand beside my argument and say that it does enhance the theater experience in a unique way. What I would suggest to anyone who wants to make money is to find a way to make an ambilight you can add to any TV.

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