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Dim Your Bias Lights: How to Choose the Right Dimmer for Your TV

Dim Your Bias Lights: How to Choose the Right Dimmer for Your TV

If you assume that bias lights will automatically turn on and off the TV, you have about a 50/50 chance of being right. This has nothing to do with the lights themselves, and is entirely based on whether the TV's USB ports turn off when the TV is off. The reason this is important is that all of our bias lights are capable of connecting to the TV via USB and, when possible, it’s nice to not have to fuss without another remote control. This is not always possible, but you should know your options. Some people have even been steered from certain brands of TVs because of how the USB port behaves!

There are a few brands of TVs where the USB ports do, indeed, turn off when the TV is off, but there are also a number of brands where the USB ports remain powered even when the TV is off. Some TV manufacturers decide to throw some pandemonium into our lives by having their USB ports turn on and off every 10 seconds when the TV is turned off.

Unless you are hosting a rave, this is probably not ideal. So, what are you to do? 

Customers on our site often reach out via chat to figure out which dimmer is best for their TV. When possible, they want to set the brightness of the bias lights and forget about them. This “set-and-forget” ethos is not always easy, but we will explain how to get as close to this as possible by pairing your MediaLight or LX1 bias light with just the right dimmer for each brand of TV. Remember, our goal in this article is to tell you how to achieve "set and forget" supremacy over your bias lights, at least when the TV allows it. 

We offer a variety of dimmers. We will go into more detail on each type below:

1) Button dimmers (without a remote control): These are very simple, there is no remote control to use and you press a “+” or “-“ to set the appropriate level. These dimmers also have an on/off button. 

2) Infrared dimmers We currently offer two varieties of infrared dimmers. What’s nice about them is that they are cheap and they are interoperable with universal remotes. The downside is the potential for interference with other devices. If your TV has a reputation for interference, it will be discussed below. However, if you own Any Vizio or Klipsch gear, the potential for interference is very, very high. 

3) WiFi dimmers: These dimmers use a phone app or Alexa or Google Home device to turn your lights on and off and set brightness. If you are not heavily-invested in smart home devices, we don’t recommend them. Keep your setup simple. 

There are also other dimmers, such as Bluetooth and RF, the latter of which use unlicensed radio frequencies, but you won't find them on our site these days. In some cases, we used them in the past but they proved problematic. For example, RF dimmers worked through walls, much like WiFi, but because the units weren't easy independently addressable, if there were 40 MediaLights at a post-production facility, people in different editing suites would control lights in other suites. We tried to make a version that was independently addressable, but it was prone to losing synchronization. This made people think that they were broken, and the resynchronization process was annoying.

In any case, we have a lot of experience with dimmers. We only offer dimmers that have nonvolatile memory. This means that if the USB port turns off and the dimmer is cut off from power, when the USB port turns on, the lights return to their previous state instantly. Again, if you buy your dimmer from us, it will behave in this way. It is important to note that it is not a given that other dimmers from other sources will do this. 

OK, so we promised to tell you the right dimmer for your TV. We will begin with an overview of each major TV brand. If you are in a hurry, just look for the section of this article that matches your TV. 

LG

LG displays, both OLED and LED, are very popular with MediaLight customers, dispelling the myth that OLED displays don't need bias lights (bias lights have nothing to do with the TV and everything to do with our eyes and visual cortex). For the most part, if you own an LG TV, the USB port will turn on and off with the TV. There are a few things to look out for, however:

1) LG OLEDs periodically run a “pixel refresher” mode to preserve the life of the OLED display and prevent burn-in.  When this happens, it will appear that the TV is turned off, but the USB port will remain powered on for a few minutes (as long as 10 minutes, depending on how much TV you’ve been bingeing). We recommend letting this happen and trusting that the lights will eventually turn off. Use the extra few minutes of illumination to exit the viewing room without bumping into furniture.

2) LG OLED displays do not have a USB 3.0 port, which is required for our 5m and 6m strips at maximum luminance (brightness). If you are using our lights with an LG display, you can request a USB power enhancer, which combines the amperage from two USB 2.0 ports for a total of 1000mA. The enhancer is free with all 5m MediaLights, and can be added for $5 to any LX1 order. It’s not needed at brightness levels at which most customers use their lights, but it may reduce your worries about drawing too much power from your TV’s USB ports. 

Our "set & forget" dimmer recommendation: Use the included MediaLight Remote controlled dimmer that comes with your MediaLight, or add a free 30 Khz Flicker-Free button dimmer to your order. If buying an LX1, add the button dimmer, which is the 30 Khz Flicker-Free dimmer by default.

Vizio

It's hard not to love Vizio. They've been around for years, mostly in the North American market, and they were a value brand with good quality long before some newcomers like Hisense and TCL.

In the last few years, they've also become a player in OLED technology. However, the old maxim is still true. "When you own a Vizio TV, every remote control is a unversal remote." By this, I mean that their remotes still interfere with other devices.

However, the big saving grace with Vizio TVs is that they almost always allow you to set the USB port to turn off with the TV. It usually does this by default. Otherwise, you can look under the TV settings and change it to "USB off with power off."

Our "set & forget" dimmer recommendation: Request a free 30 Khz Flicker-Free Dimmer with your MediaLight and use it instead of the remote controlled dimmer, which will probably interfere. If you do want an infrared dimmer, you can request an alternative dimmer that won’t interfere with some Vizio TVs, (but will interfere with M-Series).  If you are buying an LX1, add the button dimmer, which has now also been replaced with our 30Khz Flicker-Free dimmer.

Sony

Sony TVs are chock-full of internet features. So many, in fact, that the Sony Bravia line does not ever truly turn off. Sure, you can turn off the screen, but the TV is constantly connecting to the internet and working in the background. In fact, the USB ports don't turn off with the Sony and they don't stay on either. If you own a Sony Bravia and attach bias lights, you will quickly learn that the lights turn on and off every 10 seconds or so when the TV is turned off.

We are actually working on a device to turn the lights off with the TV without needing a remote, and it should be available by summer of 2022. For now, we have the following dimmer recommendations:

1) Recommended dimmer for North America: Use the standard MediaLight IR dimmer to turn your lights on and off. If you have a universal remote, like Harmony, program the remote codes into the universal remote. To avoid some stray flashing even when the dimmer is set to the "off" position, set the TV's RS232C mode to "via serial." This will change the default behavior of the USB port to "always on" (for the most part).

However, this setting is not available outside of North America, where Sony Bravia TVs lack an RS232C port.

2) Recommended dimmer outside of North America: Request an alternative infrared dimmer, which behaves a bit better on TVs without the RS232C setting. It is not (yet) in the Harmony database, but you can add it via learning mode (you really only need to add the on/off commands).

Samsung

If you own a Samsung television, there is about 50% chance that the lights will turn on and off with the TV. On some newer QLED displays, the USB port stays on permanently. This seems to mostly be TVs with a One Connect box, but we need more information.  

Recommended dimmers for Samsung: You can use the included remote and dimmer with MediaLight or add any WiFi or IR dimmer.  

Philips

Philips offers a solid line of TVs worldwide, including some popular OLEDs, mostly outside of the USA. Sure, they responsible for introducing the abomination that is Ambilight into TV market but their TVs are quite good. USB ports and, therefore, bias lights will turn on and off with the display.

Recommended dimmers for Philips: You can use the included remote and dimmer with MediaLight or add any WiFi or button dimmer that you want. The lights will turn on and off with the TV. For LX1, we recommend the standard button dimmer.

Special note about Philips OLED: The Philips OLED range lacks USB 3.0 ports and will quite-literally throw an error code on the screen if you are even a hair above 500mA, the specification for USB 2.0. If you are using your MediaLight or LX1 with a Philips OLED and the lights are 4 meters long or longer, we recommend requesting a USB power enhancer with your order.

Attentive readers will notice that this is different than the recommendation for LG OLED (which calls for the power enhancer only for 5 meters or longer). This is because a 4m strip at maximum luminance will use exactly 500mA, and the WiFi dimmer that we offer tends to fluctuate just enough to trigger the error codes on 4m strips.

Once again, the enhancer is free with all 5m-6m MediaLights, and can be added for $5 to any LX1 order. It is also free with 4m MediaLights if you own a Philips TV and are also purchasing a WiFi dimmer. In this case, we will need you to email us with your order ID so we can include it.

Hisense

Hisense seems to have stolen some of the thunder from Vizio, which was once the leading value brand in North America. Most customers contact us to tell us that their Hisense TV lacks USB 3.0 ports, so if you are using MediaLight or LX1 bias lights with your Hisense TV, we recommend adding a USB power enhancer for lights that are 5 or 6 meters long.

The other variable with Hisense is that some of their TVs use a similar Google operating system to the one found on Bravia sets. Some people report that the USB ports don't always turn off with the TV. We don't own a Hisense TV so we haven't been able to test this across multiple models, but the best way to be prepared is to use a remote control. There are no known IR interference issues with Hisense TVs.

Recommended dimmer for Hisense: We recommend using the included infrared dimmer with your MediaLight or adding an infrared remote to your bias lighting for Hisense TVs.

Insignia

This is the budget house-brand of Best Buy. If you don't have Best Buy where you live, you probably never saw an Insignia TV. If you own an Insignia TV, your bias lights will simply turn on and off with the TV.

Recommended dimmers for Insignia: You can use the included remote and dimmer with MediaLight or add any WiFi or button dimmer that you want. The lights will turn on and off with the TV. For LX1, we recommend the standard button dimmer.

TCL

TCL TVs, according to reports, turn the USB ports off when the TV is turned off. Our only concern is that some customers have reported infrared interference, but it appears that that interference might be related to other devices, such as Roku devices with universal remote capability. What might be happening is that the IR codes are “close enough” to potentially cause cross talk with other IR devices and the added step of adding them to Roku makes them even closer (sort of like a loss of resolution when you make a photocopy of a photocopy). 

Recommended dimmers for TCL: We recommend our non-remote 30Khz Flicker-Free Dimmer (also simply called “button dimmer” with the LX1. The IR included remote with the MediaLight may also be used, but if you experience any interference, we recommend covering the dimmer’s receiver with aluminum foil to keep the lights from changing levels. 

You might notice that I haven't recommended our WiFi dimmer once. That’s not because they aren’t good, but because this article is focused on creating a “set and forget” experience. We offer a hub-free WiFi dimmer (no extra hub hardware is required) and it is very popular, but it is only recommended if you are highly-invested in smart home devices. It's very luxurious to tell "Alexa or OK Google, set the bias lights to 32% brightness," but it goes beyond the "set and forget" ethos of this article. (You can also use the wifi dimmer with HomeKit, but will need to use HomeBridge, at least for now).

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the most popular brands that we get questions about. We will add to it as new TVs are released or customers report discrepancies with our listed information. Did we leave your TV out? Probably! Let us know!

 

Next article Introducing Our 30Khz Flicker-Free Dimmers: The Smoothest and Most Comfortable Dimming Experience for PWM-Sensitive Individuals