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Ideal-Lume "Bias Light"

A Bright Idea in Home Theater Lighting

By Jim Bray

Who’d have thought that putting a fluorescent light behind your TV could enhance your viewing enjoyment?

Yet that’s exactly the case when it comes to CinemaQuest Inc.’s Ideal-Lume “bias light,” an unassuming little gadget the looks to all intents and purposes like a conventional fluorescent tube in a small bracket.

This $45 item illuminates the wall area behind your TV, casting a warm white glow that turns your TV cabinet into a silhouette – while enhancing the screen and what’s on it.

Sound silly? I thought so too, until Denver, Colorado’s CinemaQuest sent me a sample to try in my home theater. Now I’m convinced, and I use the Ideal-Lume Bias Light whenever I’m watching a movie; I often use it when watching conventional TV, too.

According to the company, the image quality you can get from any electronic display device (which basically means TV or monitor) is affected by the color, point of origin and intensity of light in the viewing environment. These factors also affect the amount of eye strain on the viewer. This makes the lighting in your home theater very important, as anyone will know who’s experienced a washed out picture caused by too much illumination on the viewer’s side of the set.

Dimming the room lights helps a lot, but putting the Ideal-Lume behind your direct-view monitor or rear-projection TV takes you a long way toward meeting the SMPTE’s (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) ideal standards regarding ambient room light.

The SMPTE standard calls for less than 10% of ambient light when compared to the “peak white output” of the display device (the TV). CinemaQuest says Ideal-Lume gives off more than enough light for the average room; some people may even find it too bright, in which case you can reduce it by partially covering the fixture with a non-flammable material or sticking foil duct tape onto its protective cover.

On the other hand, in larger rooms or rooms in which the wall behind the TV monitor is especially dark, you may want to set up an additional unit.

The Ideal-Lume can either be attached to the back of your TV or sat on the floor behind it. I plopped it on the floor, not wanting to stick anything to my TV (and considering I often change TV’s for review purposes anyway).

The fluorescent bulb that’s the heart of the product is manufactured in Germany; CinemaQuest says it features “rare phosphors” that give it a “Color Rendering Index” (CRI) of 98 per cent. CRI, by the way, is the measurement of a light's ability to render all recognizable pigments, or a light source’s aptitude for illuminating all colors in a natural balance – so it isn’t merely a pigment of your imagination.

How does it work? Well, CinemaQuest says that the Ideal-Lume "biases" the iris of your eyes, resulting in more relaxed viewing. Couple this with the elimination of light striking the front of the set you substantially reduce glare and reflections, which makes colors look brighter and blacks appear blacker.

It also allows you to turn down your TV’s contrast and brightness controls, which not only makes the picture look more “film like,” but actually prolongs the life of the picture tube or CRT’s because they don’t work as hard.

The company also claims the light helps reduce eye strain, improve your color perception, and increase the picture’s perceived detail, revealing subtle nuances in the color and shading.

I discovered that using the Ideal-Lume as the only room illumination was the ideal way to “lume,” as it were. Unfortunately, I live in a home that also includes people who hate sitting in darkened rooms, so most of the time we had to compromise by using the Ideal-Lume with some room light as well. It didn’t do the same job, but it was workable under such emergency circumstances.

I tried the thing with TV screens ranging from 25 to 36 inches, and it worked well with any of them. The manufacturer says it doesn’t cut it with front-projection or two-piece rear projection set ups, but that means it’s fine for most of the TV’s in the world.

It still seems strange to me that a light behind the TV can be a cheap way to improve your home theater, but it really works well.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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Updated May 13, 2006