How to rid your HDTV of reflections

Most people don't like watching TV in the dark. The problem is that flat-panel TVs tend to reflect light in the room; even if you have a matte-screen LCD, light bouncing off the screen is going to diminish picture quality in one way or another.

Geoffrey Morrison Contributor
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.
Geoffrey Morrison
5 min read

Most people don't like watching TV in the dark. The problem is that flat-panel TVs tend to reflect light in the room; even if you have a matte-screen LCD, light bouncing off the screen is going to diminish picture quality in one way or another.

(Credit: Geoffrey Morrison)

This how-to guide has some obvious and some not-so-obvious tricks and tips to help you make sure that no matter what lighting you have in your room, you're still getting the best picture quality.

The problem

Most flat-panel TVs these days have glossy screens, which act like a mirror for any light source in a room (from windows to lamps). If you have a glossy-screen TV, and you're reading this guide, chances are that you know exactly what we're talking about.

What's interesting is that even though matte-screen LCDs don't have mirror-like reflections, ambient light in a room still adversely affects them. This is because instead of bouncing the light right back at you, a matte-screen LCD spreads that light energy across the whole screen. Reflections are lessened, but black level goes up (lightens).

The easiest fix

Turn off the lights, right? Well, sort of. There's a reason why 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. 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 change the TV to minimise eye fatigue. 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. Check your user menus; this control is likely set near or at maximum. This is really bright. Turn this down at night for a more relaxing image and better black levels. Your contrast ratio won't change.

In theory, you could turn down the contrast control on a plasma to reduce its brightness, but that's not advisable. With plasmas, reducing the light output does reduce the contrast ratio.

Another option is to get a larger television, or to sit closer. The reason why people get eye fatigue is that their irises are wide open because of the dark room. A small area of light (the TV) is much brighter than the surrounding environment, which is exactly like someone shining a torch 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 we're advising you to get a massive TV to solve a reflection problem. Well, not entirely. It would be a pretty awesome TV, though, right? And what an excuse for the spouse!

Watching TV during the day is an entirely different problem. You can't turn off the sun (although if you can, then we look forward to your rule of darkness, future overlord), so we'll get to ways to solve that problem in a moment.

Moving stuff

If you can't or don't want to adjust the TV, or buy a 100-inch plasma screen, there are plenty of other options. Moving a lamp behind the TV will raise the ambient light in the room (resulting in less eye fatigue) without causing any reflections.

The techie name for this is a bias light. You want this light to be as colour-neutral as possible, as any colour in the lamp is going to subtract that colour 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 from a company like CinemaQuest. 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, or .

Another option is to mount the screen on a wall mount that pivots, so that when you're getting the reflection, you can move the TV slightly so that 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 significantly worse when off-axis (viewed off-centre). If you pivot these, you'll be viewing them off-axis, and picture quality will suffer. Check out our article on Why LED does not mean a better picture for more info. Also, make sure you mount the TV low enough so that it doesn't cause neck strain. For that, check out How high should I put my TV?

The other option is just moving the lamp so it doesn't reflect off the screen. We're gonna guess that you've already tried that, so we'll keep going.

Remote controls

A more elaborate step is to make the lighting in your room more controllable. Companies like Lutron have a variety of lighting-control systems that let you have different "zones" and "scenes". So the light at the back of the room that reflects off the TV can be a specific zone that's off when you're in the "TV-watching" scene. Then, it's on, when you're in the "party" scene, or the "where's-the-remote" scene. You can also tie in remote-controlled sun shades. Speaking of that ...

Sun shades

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.

We have a different issue. We use a projector for a "TV", and any amount of light washes out the screen. We picked up some black-out curtains for fairly cheap for a pair of big windows. Motorised sun screens, either inside or out, are a huge help in more ways than one. Exterior sun shades and make it darker inside, with far less direct light (and, thus, fewer reflections).

Many companies make sun shades, so a trip to your local Bunnings will surely be of more use than what we can add.

We will say this, though: if you get the motorised variety, check whether they can be tied into a home-automation system, just in case you want to add one of those down the road (or tie it in with a lighting system now).

Or ...

You can hire a ninja to stand between your TV and the offending light. Just kidding. That's ridiculous. You wouldn't be able to see him.