When it comes to the best TVs that money can buy there are various panel types and technologies to tantalise – and I shant dig into OLED vs QLED panels here – and one feature you may have spotted is the word 'Ambilight' attached to some Philips TVs.
So what exactly is Ambilight technology and why might you want this feature? This question has been particularly front of my mind today, as Philips announced its latest TV for 2023, the OLED 908, and that of course also features Ambilight as part of the package.
In short: Ambilight is a series of LED lights on the rear of some Philips TV panels that project light onto surrounding surfaces in real-time, giving the sense of the on-screen picture extending beyond the TV's frame. It creates an even more expansive and immersive experience.
What can Ambilight do?
You won't find Ambilight available on any TVs other than some Philips models, giving the brand a real unique selling point.
There are variations in whether it'll be three-sided Ambilight (excluding the bottom surface edge) or four-sided Ambilight (where it includes every edge for all-round output – you may choose to switch this bottom edge off within the settings, which you may if not wall-mounting a TV, to help avoid it being unequal).
Ambilight isn't a crude one solution fits all technology, which is part of what makes it so great. You can have it follow on-screen picture in real-time, follow sound (better for music than pictures, of course), act as a single colour backlight (called Lounge Light; there's also follow flag where you can impress your country's flag in light format behind the TV), or follow the Philips Hue app for collaboration with additional light Hue bulb sources away from the screen.
Furthermore you can change the intensity of the Ambilight output. There are options for: Standard, Natural, Football, Vivid, Game, Comfort, Relax. Roughly speaking this will change the intensity and speed of response (i.e. the rapidity at which the lighting falls away or into its next stage – more important with, say, Gaming mode).
Some modes, however, such as Comfort and Relax, use an off-white backlight which is much gentler to look at, providing a backlight that I find helps you focus even more intently on the screen itself.
In addition, you can tinker with Ambilight settings to adjust the Brightness (from 1-10 via a slider interface) and Saturation (again, from 1-10 via a slider control). And if you don't have standard wall colours then the Advanced settings permit you to adjust for paint colours too, so you'll get more accurate colour-adjusted projections.
Is Ambilight a gimmick?
That's the thing I've always found with Ambilight: much as it sounds like it'd be a gimmick, I genuinely find that it helps for pictures to be more expansive and therefore immersive. Set to the correct settings it doesn't become a distraction, as I found with the Philips OLED 937 (which also sounds stupendous).
Plus you're always in control. The current Philips TV remotes have a dedicated Ambilight button on them, so if you want to dive into the controls to quickly turn it off, select a different option, or tinker with the settings, it's only a press or a few away. Typically I never found the need to do this often, given that the default modes actually work really well out of the box.
I've also rarely seen Ambilight add a giant addition to the asking price compared to other OLED TV rivals. And that's another consideration with Philips: as the company uses LG's panels, but its own processing, its image quality is up there with the best available, no compromises. And adding Ambilight backlight can even trick your brain into believing the image on screen is even fuller, so it's a winner in almost any scenario. Given the option, I'd back having Ambilight as an option each and every time.