For those who are unaware Ambilight is a technology in some Phillip’s TVs that places lights around the outside edge of the back of the screen that glow different colours in tune with what is showing on the screen. The idea is to have a more immersive effect which some people say seems to expand the viewing area.
I know some people see this as just a gimmick but I’ve seen this effect a few times and have to say have been reasonably impressed. It i difficult to explain as the effect is quite subtle and after a very short while you forget about the effect but if you switch it off you really notice it has gone. It feels like you have lost something for me its almost the same as a switch from say 5.1 sound to stereo.
I have always fancied trying this longer term and seeing if it really works or is just a novelty factor but have never fancied buying a Phillips TV (I prefer Panasonic and Samsung’s picture quality)
There has for quite a while been a way to get a similar effect using part of a system Phillips created for gamers called Ambx. The concept of Ambx is to give gamers a truly immersive experience with fans, lghts and speakers. To give an example when an explosion occurs in a game the lights would flash, the speakers rumble and the fans blow air in the gamer’s face.
I have thought before of trying the lighting part of this setup out with Media center but at well over a hundred pounds (over 150 dollars) even the starter kit seemed prohibitively expensive. recently though prices have dropped and I have been seeing a number of offers on the starter kit (which just has the lights) at sub fifty pounds. I decided to give it a try.
When the delivery arrived I was suprised by the size of the box – it was bigger than the one my media center case had come in. Opening it I was equally suprised by the size of the lighting units. They looked more like a pair of PC speakers and a subwoofer than a lighting unit. Indeed the manual described the two smaller units as speakerlights – although I didn’t see anmy speakers in them – and are designed to tuck behind your screen to the left and right. These plug, using what look like vga connectors but obviously are not, into the central control unit which in turn plugs into a usb port on your pc. A power supply also plugs into the central unit.
A MAJOR WARNING AT THIS POINT: Do not buy these units if you are using WIndows 7 64 BIt without first reading the forums at www.AMBX.com they are not supported in 64 bit and are very restrictive in what they can do.
I was using them on a 32 bit version so was ok.
I ignored the drivers in the box and instead downloaded the driver from www.AMBX.com . Which installed Phillip’s Direct Control software – strangely this ran an update check and prompted to download more software.
This installed AMBX control panel and another piece of software called AMBX illuminate. Now at this point I had read on the AMBX website a complex procedure for installing the driver but it turned out I didn’t need to do it as once i ran the illuminate software the lights burst into life.
Illuminate basicaly allows you to set the lights as mood lighting and can be used as the default illumination for programs that do not support AMBX or for which the AMBX control panel does not have a profile.
Fortunately the AMBX control panel does have a profile for media center and detected when I opened the media center menu. Having said I wanted Media center to use the default profile (there are a series of choices giving more or less illumination) I was greated by a very nice blue glow matching the menu background.
The affects in medai center were very subtle but again noticable when i turned it off. I did feel there was a little bit of a delay in reacting sometimes but nothing that threw you out of what you were watching.
One issue is that the software has to be able to access the directx stream that is playing to react to the colour change which can be a problem with protected content. You tend to just get a purple glow with this.
Also any application that works externally to Media Center is not considered part of the same profile. So for example I didn’t get any effect in Total Media Theater. I did find a third party piece of software at the AMBX forums that did work with Total Media Theater but I found the effect it was producing too reactive to the screen and off-putting – it is a bit difficult to explain this but the Phillip’s software gets the level of reaction just right it doesn’t try and change the background light with every change in the screen but sort of averages out the changes. I really like this averaged effect.
For music lovers the software also has a profile and a visualisation for Windows Media Player which will flash the lights in time to the beat – think ultimate disco lights.
All in all for the money and despite the application restrictions, I have been very impressed and it is nice to have a Panasonic Ambilight TV.
As ever with technology since I bought mine prices have dropped again and I have recently seen some us offers around 25 dollars.