Reflections refers to the amount of light that will appear on a TV screen when there are other sources of light in the room. Some TVs take on a yellow tint when light is shining on them, and on others, objects that reflect on the screen are well defined, and distracting. If you watch TV in a bright room, it’s important to get a TV that can handle reflections in a way that looks good in your setup.
For reflections, we take two photos: one of the TV reflecting a moderate amount of light, and one of the TV reflecting a large amount of light. We also measure the amount of light reflected by the TV as a percentage of the luminance of the light source, and verify the kind of screen finish that is used on the TV.
When it matters
If your television is in your living room, light can become quite an annoyance during daytime viewing. Light shining into your viewing area can reduce the perceivable contrast of the onscreen material, and if light is shining directly onto the screen, it can be very difficult to see through the reflection.
If you have lights in your room, or sources of sunlight, the way reflections appear on your TV are going to be important. Keep in mind that all TVs reflect some amount of light, so you won't be able to totally avoid reflections if you watch TV in a bright room. It’s also worth mentioning that in bright rooms, it's not only how much light is reflected that is important, but also how bright a TV's backlight is capable of getting.
Our first picture captures the amount of reflection that you would see with light sources of moderate strength shining on the TV. The TVs use our regular calibration settings for this photo, meaning they’re set for a dark room. If you watch TV in a dark room that sometimes or often has a bit of light opposite the TV, this test will be of some importance to you.
For this test, we display the image on the left on the TV, and we set up and power on a lamp opposite the screen, and then take a photo. The TV’s backlight is set so that white emits at 100 cd/m2, which is appropriate for darker rooms. The two lights both have a color temperature of 6500k; one is the equivalent of 40W in strength, and the other is the equivalent of 60W.
We take a second photo of the TV, this time with a much brighter source of light opposite the TV. This test is meant to simulate the kind of reflections you might experience in a bright room, with a window shining on the TV. If that’s a concern for your current setup, this test will be pretty important.
For this test, we display the image on the left on the TV, and we set up and power on a few lamps (the two from the initial picture test + a soft box) opposite the screen, and then take a photo. Because the lights are so bright, we set the TV’s backlight to the maximum, as that’s the only way to prevent the details from being totally washed out. The soft box has a color temperature of 5500k.
Our reflection test results tell you the actual amount of light reflected by the TV. This helps categorize TVs in terms of how much light they reflect, which is of some importance, though it isn't quite as useful for most people as our subjective score, which also looks at how the reflections actually look.
To measure the amount of light a TV reflects, we power off the TV and shine a light on the screen. We use a luminance meter to measure the brightness of the light source, and then the luminance of the reflection on the TV’s screen. We then note the reflection's brightness as a percentage of that of the source.
Our screen finish test verifies what kind of finish is used on the screen. Glossy finishes reflect less light, but have defined reflections, whereas reflections on semi-gloss screens are stronger, but look a bit hazier. Depending on your needs, one finish will be better than the other; we recommend a glossy finish for people who only have ambient light sources around their TV, and a semi-gloss finish for people who have a light source than shines directly on the TV’s screen.
There are really two ways this is verified. First, you can tell based on how much light is reflected. If a TV's reflections equal to less than 1% of the brightness of the lamp lights, the TV has a glossy screen finish. Over 1% means a semi-gloss finish.
The second is based on what the reflections look like. Glossy finishes have defined reflections, whereas reflections on semi-gloss screens look a bit hazier.
Our reflection score is based on the subjective impression we get from reflections on a TV. We take into account the amount of light reflected (based on results of 'Reflection' test), as well as the appearance of reflections on the screen. Because there are multiple factors inherent to what kind of reflection will look good to a viewer, and it is difficult to compare all these objectively, we decided to make this score one of our few subjective evaluations. Since this is focused on what people will actually experience with their TV, we consider this the most important evaluation that we do for reflections.
Things like obvious discoloration when light shines on the screen, halos around light, glare, and clearly defined reflected objects in the screen are all considered negatives, and have an impact on our scoring for this category.
Reflections & picture quality
Reflected light will change the appearance of the light generated by the TV itself, which changes how you perceive the colors, and also washes out some of the details.
As a rule, the more light there is in the room with your TV, the brighter the backlight should be. This will allow the TV to at least somewhat outcompete the other light sources, helping to retain intended color and let you enjoy details in the image that might otherwise be washed-out.
Glossy screens, matte screens & contrast
Glossy screen finishes reflect less light overall than do other screen finishes. Because there is less light reflected back, the blacks in the picture remain darker than they do on TVs with a semi-gloss screen. Contrast is one of the most important elements of picture quality, and so it is safe to say that, overall, glossy screen finishes offer the best picture quality of any screen finish.
This is also why matte screens are no longer around. The perceivable depth of blacks isn't as great with matte, and so in that regard, picture looked worse than it does with semi-gloss or glossy screens.
How to get the best results
The best way to diminish the appearance of reflections on your TV is to position the TV somewhere where there will be no light shining directly onto the screen. You should also raise the lighting (either backlight or OLED light) setting to the level that looks best in your space.
- Backlight/OLED light: Controls the luminance of the TV screen. If you want a TV that looks good in a bright room, you should get a TV with a backlight that can get very bright.
- Peak brightness: Some higher-end TVs include an option to make an image’s highlights extra bright. This won’t be so useful for regular footage, but is important for HDR video.
- Glossy screen finishes reflect less light overall, but because reflections will look more defined, aren’t ideal for light sources directly opposite the TV. The outlines of reflections will look distracting. Get a glossy screen to cut down on ambient light, and a semi-gloss screen if light sources are opposite the screen.
- While matte screens used to be common, we have not seen any for a few years now. Their big disadvantage was that they reduced picture quality and clearness considerably. To reduce the amount of reflection, matte screens diffused the light coming into the screen – with the added effect of diffusing the light coming out of the screen. This added blurriness to the picture. Matte screens also reflect more ambient light. If you really want a matte screen, it’s possible to buy a filter online and apply it to your TV.
- Virtually all high-end models use a glossy finish. This is because of the benefits to contrast and general picture quality that you get from having less light reflected back overall. Unfortunately, that means that if you really want a semi-gloss finish, high-end models won't be the best fit.
Light reflecting off of a TV screen can be distracting, or even ruin your TV’s picture. Some TVs are better at handling light than others, and the importance of getting one of these better performers increases for those who watch TV in a bright room. We take photos of each TV while it is reflecting a moderate and a high amount of light. We also measure the amount of light reflected by the screens, and check to see what kind of finish was used on the screen.
If you watch TV in a room that gets a decent amount of light, make sure you get a TV that can get nice and bright. You should also select a TV with a finish that works well for your TV’s positioning. For a TV that is directly opposite a light source, pick a semi-gloss screen, since those won’t make the reflection well-defined on the screen. For rooms with lots of ambient light, get a glossy screen, since those reflect back less light overall (but aren’t as good for direct reflections). Unfortunately for some, matte screens no longer exist, and so you will need to get a separate filter if you want your TV's screen to be matte.
Questions & Answers
Update: We added this test in 2014. Thanks again for that great suggestion!
Update: We decided to manually recommend TVs for each size group, for example.
Keep in mind that the conditions inside of a store are different from what you'll get in your home, so you shouldn't base your decisions off of glare you might see on the showroom floor. TVs with semi-gloss screens tend to handle themselves well in light, and are usually suitable for bright rooms.
The best TV we reviewed in 2014 that is available in a 32" size is the H6350, which is a 1080p TV. It has good contrast and should have decent uniformity, and it comes with Samsung's smart features. If you want to save money and go for a 720p set, the Vizio E320i-A2 offers similar quality for less money (it has slightly worse black uniformity, but comparable contrast), though its smart offerings aren't as good.
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