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All the hip kids know that what’s on the screen of the TV is only half the fun. Backlighting, or bias lighting–which fires LEDs in complementary colors at the wall behind the screen–is how you really up the ante on your entertainment, helping to boost contrast and making for a more immersive experience.
If you’re sold on the idea of adding bias lighting to your television, Nanoleaf has hit a home run (or at least a solid triple) with its first product in the category at an unbeatable price.
The most common use for bias lighting is to take real-time samples of the colors on the screen (courtesy of a camera that rests on top of or below the display) and recreate those colors in real time around the edges of the display. When it’s done right, the effect can be quite dramatic.
I’ve previously reviewed two TV bias lighting kits from Govee and found them both fun but slightly flawed, namely hampered by a lengthy setup and inconsistent lighting effects that didn’t align perfectly with the colors on the screen.
Now entering the fray is Nanoleaf, best known for its wall-mounted light panels. Nanoleaf’s 4G follows a similar formula as Govee, pairing a long strip of adhesive LEDs with a camera to create the backlighting effect. (Philips Hue takes a different approach with the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box, which routes a TV’s images through an HDMI-equipped component.)
The idea is in fact virtually identical to Govee’s Envisual, starting with a lengthy strip of LEDs you wrap around the perimeter of your television on its backside. Two options are available, one for TVs up to 65 inches in size ($100/£89.99) and one for TVs up to 85 inches in size ($120/ £119.99). I tested the larger model on an 80-inch television.
How do you install the Nanoleaf 4D?
While Govee’s LEDs come in four segments separated by small wires intended for use at the corners, Nanoleaf’s LEDs come in one long, continuous strip. Four unique corner brackets are included to help with the problematic 90-degree turns. These are banked pieces of plastic that let the LED strip gently rise, twist, and fall in three dimensions, a bit like a freeway overpass, which prevents them from becoming detached or breaking due to a hard turn.
One hiccup: The LED strip I tested was oddly just a few inches too short to reach all the way around my television, despite its claimed support for even larger displays, which left a tiny dead spot in one corner. There’s nothing much to be done about that, but if the strip is too long, Nanoleaf says any excess can simply be cut off with scissors.
How does the Nanoleaf 4D detect what’s on your TV screen?
Like the Govee, the Nanoleaf 4D includes a small camera that is required to monitor the action on the screen in order to color-match it.
The camera can be mounted on top of the TV from a counterweighted arm or placed on a console or table underneath it. The top of the screen is probably the better option for placement, given that a bottom-mounted camera would be too easy to accidentally move, thus throwing off the camera’s calibration. If you do decide to mount the camera beneath your TV, you can use the included sticky tape to help keep the camera securely affixed.
As with Govee, nothing connects the Nanoleaf 4D electronically to the TV or monitor. Cables connect both the lights and the camera to a small breakout box, which is in turn connected to wall power.
The breakout box includes a power button and three function buttons to control various operational modes (more on those in a minute), and it can be stuck to the back of the TV with tape if you want to get it out of the way. Note, however, that the HomeKit QR code used for setup is printed on the back of this breakout box, so don’t stick it to the TV until you’re absolutely sure you’re done with setup. (It took a few tries in my testing to get things going, so a little testing is in order before you commit.)
How difficult is it to install the Nanoleaf 4D’s light strip?
As with the Govee, setup can be time-consuming, namely in getting the LEDs into place and reasonably straight. In my case, I installed the Nanoleaf 4D on a wall-mounted television, which meant fetching a stepladder and undertaking some awkward stretching to get things situated. While I found Nanoleaf’s corner-bracket concept more effective than Govee’s clip-on support system, it was still difficult to get perfect. In particular, the bulge of electronics around the base of my television had to be delicately navigated.
I tested the Nanoleaf 4D with a pre-release version of its app, which was a little rough around the edges. My first two attempts to scan the HomeKit code didn’t result in a successful connection, but after unplugging everything and reconnecting it I finally was able to get it set up. A lengthy firmware update followed, after which I was able to move on to configuration.
Does the Nanoleaf 4D require calibration?
After first stepping through an intuitive system that lets you specify where each corner of your TV is in relation to the LEDs on the strip, you then move on to configuring the camera. Like the Govee, the Nanoleaf 4D’s app displays a highly distorted, fish-eye view of your TV screen as seen by the camera, and you’re tasked with specifying the location of the corners of the screen. (Pro tip: Turn on the TV to make this process easier; otherwise, the reflections on the screen make it tough to see the edges of the display.)
Finally, on to regular use. The Nanoleaf 4D has most of the same operational modes as the Govee, including the ability to display a basic color, fire up various multicolor scenes (including a “magic scene” whereby you type keywords and the system guesses what colors would match), and a rhythm mode that lets the lights pulse in time with ambient sound. Of course, “mirror mode” is the real draw, which is how you match LED hues to colors on the television screen in real time.
Can you change the intensity of the Nanoleaf 4D’s backlighting effects?
Here’s where the whole “4D” idea comes into play. Mirror mode includes four different options: 1D, 2D, 3D, and 4D. Each one slowly ups the ante on the backlighting experience, starting with the static, white-only 1D backlight and slowly ramping up to the vibrant, full-motion, full-color 4D experience.
Each of these modes can be customized to enhance or limit the color range, saturation, and white balance of the scene. The rhythm mode option can also be applied on top of any of these modes, though this can make for a very busy viewing experience with the LEDs bouncing in and out of view.
How does the Nanoleaf 4D compare to the Govee Envisual backlighting kit?
The verdict? Across the board, I found the Nanoleaf 4D a moderately better experience than the Govee Envisual. The colors on the 4D are brighter and more vivid (and can be easily turned down if it’s too much), and more importantly they were more accurate. I continue to have trouble with Govee displaying a yellow LED background when the screen is clearly blue, for example.
Nanoleaf’s colors were generally more on point (though still leaning a bit on the green side) and they can be very rich, especially in the immersive 4D mode, to the point where I needed to temper the experience a bit to keep the backlights from becoming too distracting.
Nanoleaf’s mobile app interface is also simpler and easier to use than the Govee app, although both apps can sync multiple lighting devices in the house to work together as a unified group. (Nanoleaf’s “Sync+” feature wasn’t yet completely rolled out during my testing.)
I didn’t encounter any major bugs aside from the setup hiccups mentioned earlier, though I did find the unit had mysteriously turned itself on one morning. I will chalk this oddity up to reviewing a beta version of the hardware and the app.
Best of all, Nanoleaf’s 4D is quite a bit cheaper than Govee’s Envisual T2, which costs $130/ £95.99 for a 55- to 65-inch TV, versus just $100/ £89.99 for Nanoleaf’s smaller model.
If you’re looking for one of the characteristic Nanoleaf kits, we’ve compared all the Nanoleaf sets available, so you can find the perfect mood lighting for your wall.
This review originally appeared on TechHive.
Best Prices Today: Nanoleaf 4D Screen Mirror + Lightstrip Kit (up to 65 inches)