Scotty Loveless

How to Make a Cheap TV Backlight to Relieve Eye Strain

Scotty Loveless

I love watching movies at night with all of the lights off. It really creates a movie theater vibe and makes the experience more immersive. But, there is one major downside to doing this, and it can be painful.

Eyestrain.

Your TV on regular settings in a pitch black room is actually way too bright for your eyes. Your eyes adjust to the dark room around the TV, not the TV itself, therefore making the screen seem absurdly bright and painful to watch.

This happened to me the other night as we were watching the new TV series, Resurrection1. My eyes were in actual pain, and it became difficult to keep watching. 

Not even movie theaters dim the lights 100% for this same reason. If you notice, when the lights dim after the previews, the house lights still stay on reasonably bright in order to reduce this effect.

So I decided to do something about it.

The Cheap Way

Most people have a spare table lamp sitting around the house. Well, the cheap way (which is what I've done), is to simply put a lamp behind the TV without a shade on it. Here is a picture:

The result is pretty awesome:

I'm using a regular incandescent bulb which clocks in at around 2700K - 3300K (Kelvin). To put this in comparison, your TV should be calibrated to about 6500K, which basically means the light being thrown on the wall behind your TV will have a yellow-orange tint compared to the white colors in the picture you are watching. This can make the colors look slightly off 2. All of the great shows and movies you watch are color-graded with a white balance of 6500K.

A better solution is to buy a bulb that is roughly 6500K like this one, so that the white light emitting from the bulb is roughly the same as the white on-screen light 3. If you want to take the next step up in price, you can buy some awesome IKEA LED strip lights and adhere them to the back of your TV.

Some of the other benefits of having backlighting:

  • The light doesn't cause annoying glare on the screen
  • You can see enough of the room to not trip over the furniture
  • The picture looks sharper because your eyes can focus more easily

Whatever you do, don't buy one of the gimmicky backlighting systems that changes color with the scene: they are extremely distracting and only make it more difficult to watch what's on the screen. There was an interesting Kickstarter funded last May called Lightpack for $99, but sadly it only works with Mac, PC, Linux, or Android, which most people don't have hooked up to their TV all the time.

There are much more complicated and professional ways to have backlighting for your TV. My hacky solution is definitely not the ideal setup, but it will have to do for now.

  1. It's actually a pretty good show. We are going to keep watching it after 4 episodes.
  2. Although, the only people who will notice this are color grade experts.
  3. If you want to nerd out on color temperature, check out this great Wikipedia article.