You have undoubtedly already seen the Ambilight system on Philips TVs, this lighting at the back of the screen that adapts to the image broadcast?
Philips Ambilight Player
Except for geeks, this technology might seem like a gadget at first; however it has several advantages:
- a better immersion in the film displayed. In the dark in particular, it creates an atmosphere that immerses you even more in the horror, action or drama movie you are watching.
- the image “comes out” of the screen frame, giving the impression of an image freed from its constraints and its edges. We feel like we have a bigger picture
- finally, the luminous halo softens the image, reducing aggressiveness, and hence eye fatigue. It reduces the contrast between the TV picture and the wall that supports the screen.
Available since 2004, this technology is unfortunately only available on the brand’s TVs. This has given rise to many projects attempting to reproduce this effect, based on Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and a few LED ribbons. Last year one of these projects was put on the Kickstarter crowdfunding site: LightPack. An Open Source project that seduced me and that I decided to help achieve by participating in the funding. A project that also worked very well, since it received half a million dollars in funding, double what it needed!
I received my LightPack a short month ago now. Now that it has been well “run in”, it’s time to give you my impressions …
The LightPack kit is delivered in an all black box, which was intended to be a little original, since it opens from the center, like a flower revealing its secrets:
The box once opened:
We have a very complete kit, consisting of:
- of the main control unit
- a diet
- a Usb cable
- 10 led strips with double-sided tights
- spare 3M stickers if the headbands were to be moved
- wire clamp to properly store excess cables
- an explanatory note
Good point, the power supply is provided with the different plugs, including the French plug:
The control box is about ten centimeters from the sides. A small ribbon will light up blue on the top to confirm its operation. A functionality more gadget than anything else, since this box will be intended to be fixed behind the TV, therefore invisible.
On one side, we will find the power connector, and the mini Usb port which will be used to connect the box to a computer:
On both sides, 5 RJ11 ports (so 10 in all) will accommodate the led strips:
On the underside of the box are already placed two 3M double-sided strips to fix the box to the back of the TV:
A led strip in more detail, with the RJ11 connector at its end:
Each strip is made up of 3 RGB LEDs. The whole is well protected under a silicone film, no electronic part is visible.
Under each band is already set up a 3M double-sided tights for fixing on the TV:
As said above, 10 additional tights are provided if for some reason you want to change the ribbons.
The whole is rather well finished, important detail considering some prototypes that we sometimes receive following this type of project… The kit here is not DIY and is really well presented so that anyone can install it.
Now let’s move on to the setup.
At first, the installation can seem complicated with all these cables in all directions. Fortunately a very clear notice is delivered, with different possible configurations. Although in English, the illustrations are very clear:
Interesting detail: for very large screens, the possibility has been provided of being able to use up to 5 LightPack kits on the same TV, which will all be synchronized together by the same software. The installation plans are therefore also provided, visible here on the right of the doc.
First of all, I connected all the led strips to the box to check their correct functioning. It doesn’t look like much seen this way, but it is better to check the operation before fixing everything to the TV, because the 3M is known to stick very well …
On my 46 ″, I opted for the Andromeda setup model, just to distribute the lighting all around the screen. So we start by setting up the LED strips, placing them at an equal distance before actually gluing them:
Then we set up the LightPack control box in the center of the screen, then we connect the bands by following the numbering on the sides of the box:
We end up putting the excess cables in order using the wire clamps and self-adhesive ties that are provided:
All that remains is the power supply to connect and the Usb socket for the computer:
Small global view:
We can now put the screen back in place. We connect the power supply and the Usb socket to the computer: all you have to do is configure the software.
The LightPack is not just a simple kit of LEDs, specific software has also been developed, which is very easy to use. And this is really an important point, because once the LEDs are in place, you have to succeed in turning them on in synchronization with the displayed image, which is not obvious at first glance.
The software in question is Prismatik, which can be downloaded free of charge here. Good point, it is available on most platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, and even Android.
I am using the Mac version here, but the Windows version works exactly the same.
Once installed, we launch the Prismatik software. At startup, it should automatically detect the connected LightPack (you will notice in passing that no driver was necessary to connect the LightPack to the computer):
We then choose the profile to create:
And we select the configuration of its LightPack. Remember, above I said that I opted for the “Andromeda” model. The chosen arrangement is therefore selected here. With each selection, numbered rectangles will be displayed all around the screen to indicate the theoretical position of the LED strips stuck on the screen:
Small overview of the different configurations:
We validate the configuration: it’s over! If you launch a movie on your computer (or even a game!), The LightPack should light up synchronizing its colors with those of the movie. In fact from now on the LightPack is synchronized with your screen: the lighting should even follow the colors of your office.
Even if in the majority of cases this configuration will be sufficient, it will however be possible if necessary to access a finer configuration. Once the configuration is complete, the Prismatik icon appears in the taskbar, next to the time:
By clicking on Settings, you can access a very complete configuration panel: adjustment of the refresh rate, brightness level, and choice of mode: each strip managed individually, or all the strips displaying the dominant color of the image in simultaneous.
In the lower “Appearance of grab widgets” part, checking “colored” will bring up the rectangles representing the colored LED strips (we saw them in white a little above):
A practical function to visually identify the correct positioning of the banners, because they will be lit in the same color. By clicking on a rectangle, the banner concerned will light up even more strongly. This is how I noticed an inversion between two bands. Not a problem in my connections (I reassembled to check), apparently a problem with the wiring in the box: / Well, it’s not really a problem, because if a headband is not in its place, it suffices click on the rectangle representing it to drag it to the correct position. The software will automatically adjust the synchronization with the image. Very convenient !
To show how far the software goes: by clicking on a rectangle, a small dialog box appears allowing you to adjust each color for a given ribbon, if ever a ribbon were to pull more on one color than another:
In the other options, we have the “Mood Lamp” mode which allows not to synchronize the color with the image, but to choose a constant color or a fade of colors, ideal for creating a luminous atmosphere in your living room, even TV. off.
On the Device tab, you can adjust the brightness, Gamma correction, fluidity:
The Profiles tab allows you to manage different usage profiles if the need arises.
Prismatik also supports plugins, which can be found here. There are still few, which I have not tested (limited interest for me): we will find, for example, plugins to display a certain color when receiving a Gmail email or a Skype message. A large community has already been created around this device, and new features should appear quickly. A home automation plugin to signal excessive power consumption, a risk of freezing, or the presence of someone at the door could be possible …
Use is very simple: once the Prismatik software has been launched and placed in the taskbar, all you have to do is start playing a video with your favorite software (VLC, QuickTime, etc.) or even launch a game. the LightPack synchronizes the colors of the screen with the led ribbons, everything that passes on the screen will be synchronized on the LightPack.
Small video demonstration on my TV46 ″ and my Mac connected to it:
Nice, isn’t it? I really like the immersive effect in the film, and it is true that at the end of the session, the eyes do indeed seem less tired.
As for the “wow” effect with these friends, it also works very well 😉
V. To go further
The LightPack can also be controlled by an Android application. Indeed, by launching the Prismatik software on the computer, it is possible to activate a web server:
Once checked “Enable server”, you will need to click on the “Generate” button to generate an authentication key that will have to be transferred to the Android application, available here.
You launch the Prismatik application on your Android smartphone, then indicate the IP address of the computer to which the LightPack is connected and the authentication key.
We will then find the same complete controls as the pc / Mac application, with choice of configuration:
You can also choose the color to display and even launch animations:
A very good extension to the LightPack, which allows you to control all this quietly from your sofa 😀
But that’s not all: the activation of the Web server allows access to an API, which we will be happy to use to communicate for example with our home automation system 😉 However, it will be necessary to have a somewhat “advanced” box allowing to establish a telnet communication, such as for example Vera or HC2 of Fibaro. Some explanations of the API here.