Reflections on your TV can make it nearly impossible to watch. Luckily, there are ways to reduce irritating TV glare.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Does your TV room have lots of windows, lamps, sconces or any other light source? Then, you're likely no stranger to reflections and glare on your TV. The mirrorlike surfaces on even the best TVs can't avoid creating these image-obscuring blobs of light. At best, these reflections can be annoying. At worst they make it pretty much impossible to see the picture. Matte-finish TVs basically don't exist, so unless you want to live in a dark cave to watch TV, glare is going to be an issue.
Or is it? If you don't, or can't, reduce the amount of ambient light in your room, there are a few tricks you can try that can minimize or even eliminate reflections and glare. Most of these tricks won't even cost you money. I promise you won't have to live in a cave. Unless you want to live in a cave. That's fine too. No judgment.
Why does your TV screen reflect light?
Most modern TVs have glossy screens, which act like a mirror for any light source in a room (from windows to lamps). Some TVs, including many older models, have more matte screens, which don't show the same mirror-like reflections. Ambient light still adversely affects matte screen TVs though. Instead of bouncing the light right back at you, a matte finish spreads that light energy across the whole screen. Reflections are lessened, but black level gets brighter, so they look more washed out overall.
So no matter what TV you have, if there's a light in your room that can "see" the TV screen, you'll be able to see it too, and it will affect picture quality.
While there are self-adhesive antireflective coatings available online, I'd avoid them. There's no guarantee the image will look better after you've stuck something to your TV's screen that may or may not come off easily if you don't like it. They also, at best, will reduce reflections at the expense of overall image quality, just like TVs that came with matte screens originally.
1. Reduce TV glare by turning off lights, but beware of eye strain
The easiest way to reduce reflections is to turn off the lights, right? Well, sort of. There's a reason people like to leave the lights on when they're watching TV: eye fatigue. Many people feel soreness in their eyes when watching TV in the dark. This is especially true now with brighter HDR TVs. Whether you're conscious of this or not, leaving the lights on can create a more relaxing viewing environment. Unless, of course, that light reflects off the TV.
It may seem like a roundabout way of solving anything, but you can make your TV dimmer to minimize eye fatigue in a dark room. If this works, you won't need to leave the lights on. No lights, no reflections. Problem solved.
If you have an LCD TV, this is easy. Most LCDs have a backlight control, while OLED TVs have "OLED Pixel Brightness." Check your user menus: The control is likely set near or at maximum. It's bright. Turn it down at night for a more relaxing image and better black levels. Keep in mind that TVs usually maximize brightness when watching HDR content.
Other options are to get a larger television or sit closer (which has the same effect). The reason people get eye fatigue is that their irises are wide open because of the dark room but a small area -- the TV -- is way brighter than the surrounding environment. This is exactly like someone shining a flashlight in your eyes. With a larger TV, there's more light and your iris will close down. That's the theory, anyway. It's not like I'm advising you to get a massive TV to solve a reflection problem. Well, not entirely. It would be a pretty awesome TV, though, right?
Watching TV during the day is an entirely different problem. You can't turn off the sun (though if you can, I, for one, look forward to your rule of darkness, future overlord), so we'll get to ways to solve that problem in a moment.
2. Save your eyes: Put a lamp behind the TV to get rid of glare
If you can't or don't want to adjust the TV, or buy a projector and 100-inch screen, there are plenty of other options. Moving a lamp behind the TV will raise the ambient light in the room, which means less eye fatigue, without causing any reflections.
The techie name for this is a bias light. You want this light to be as color-neutral as possible, as any color in the lamp is going to subtract that color from the TV. A red light will make the TV look less red, for example.
You can make your own, or you can buy one online. For what it's worth, bias lights are used in most professional environments where people sit in dark rooms and look at screens all day. Movie and TV editors, for example. There are numerous options on Amazon that are little more than sticky LED light strips. Since I've never gotten an LED product from Amazon that matched its claimed color, I'd approach these with caution. The color, or lack thereof, is crucial here.
3. Try tilting you TV screen or moving lamps around
Another option is to mount the TV on a wall mount that pivots, tilts, or both. So when you're getting the reflection, you can move the TV slightly so the reflection is reflected elsewhere (and you can't see it). Several companies make wall mounts that do this. A few things to keep in mind. Most LCDs look worse off axis (or off center). If you pivot these, you'll be viewing them off-axis and picture quality might suffer.
The other option is just moving the lamp so it doesn't reflect off the screen. I'm gonna guess you've already tried that, so we'll keep going.
4. Get smart lamps and outlets to control your lighting without leaving the couch
A slightly more elaborate step is to make the lighting in your room more controllable. Smart lamps, outlets, and switches let you control individual lights, or groups of lights, and connect them to Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. Then you can just say "Ceiling lights off" or something similar to turn off the offending lights without leaving your sofa.
You can also tie in remote-controlled sun shades.
5. Put sun shades or blackout curtains on the windows
If you have a lot of windows, you're fighting the sun, and your TV isn't going to win. Sure, today's brightest LCDs are plenty watchable in many bright environments, but you aren't getting the best picture quality with that much light in the room.
I have a different issue. I use a projector in place of a TV, and any amount of light washes out the screen. I picked up some blackout curtains from Lowe's for about $70 for a pair of big windows. They even look nice. Though as you can guess, I probably have a different idea of what's "nice" than most people.
Motorized sun screens, either inside or out, are a huge help in more ways than one. I live in Southern California, and the west side of my house bakes all afternoon long. I put in some exterior sun shades and, not to sound like a testimonial, my house is now way cooler, temperature-wise anyway. It's also darker inside, with far less direct light and therefore, fewer reflections.
Many companies make sun shades, so a trip to your local Lowe's or Home Depot will surely be of more use than what I can add.
I will say this, though: If you get the motorized variety, check whether they can be tied into a home automation system or whatever smart system you're using. Most smart products tie in to Alexa, but fewer also play with Google and fewer still with Siri.
In the end, most TVs in bright rooms will suffer from some kind of reflections, but hopefully with these tips, your TV will suffer less.
Note: This article was first published in 2011 but has been updated to, ahem, reflect new info, links, and images.