Govee LED TV Backlight Kit: Cheap But Flawed Bias Lighting
First popularized years ago with high-end products like the Philips Ambilight, responsive bias lighting can really take the experience of viewing your flat-panel television or monitor to the next level. Bias lighting, either built into the display itself or added via the attachment of light strips to the back of the display, creates a glow of light around your TV or monitor that can improve perceived contrast and reduce eye strain.
When that bias lighting becomes responsive — in other words, the color and intensity of the light around the edge of your display changes based on the content on the screen itself — it can create a unique viewing experience that further immerses you into your movies and games.
Responsive bias lighting is trickier to implement than standard bias lighting since the system providing the lighting must know what content is currently being shown on the screen and then change and respond rapidly as necessary. This problem has traditionally been solved by systems that use a passthrough box or device: users connect their input devices such as Blu-ray players, PCs, and game consoles to a device that is part of their bias lighting system and then output a single cable from that device to the television or display. This lets the lighting system know what content is about to be displayed on the screen and then change the color and intensity of the bias lights accordingly.
While this can work well in many situations there are two potential problems. First, it increases costs, since bias lighting kits must include the cost of the passthrough box. Second, these kind of kits only work for sources that have HDMI (or HDMI-convertable) video outputs. There’s no easy way to use them with non-HDMI video sources or with the increasingly numerous “Smart TV” apps that are built-into most new TVs.
One solution to this problem is to abandon the use of input passthrough devices and simply look at the screen via some sort of camera or sensor, and one company pursuing this strategy is Govee, one of many newer Chinese-based companies looking to sell consumer electronics devices directly.
Govee offers a number of “smart” RGB lighting kits, including a TV backlight kit that uses a display-mounted camera to detect the colors on the screen. We experimented with the company’s first-generation version of this product about a year ago but found that it had a number of problems both in terms of reliability and responsiveness. But Govee has recently launched an updated version of the product that they claim improves the first generation’s shortcomings.
Govee sent us a review unit so that we could test their claims for ourselves and we found that while this new light kit does improve key areas such as responsiveness, it’s still far from perfect. Read on for our experience with the Govee RGB Bias Lighting Kit.
Box Contents and Setup
Govee sells a number of “smart” LED/RGB backlight kits and, as is typical of these class of products, it goes by many different names. For example, the Amazon listing calls it “Govee WiFi TV Backlights Kit with Camera,” but actual product box says “LED Strip Lights for TV.” Further confusing the issue, the company’s website labels it “DreamColor for TV with Alexa.” Thankfully, the device’s product number remains consistent throughout its various names and product listings: H6104.
Once you’ve settled on the correct product, the other important factor out of the gate is your TV size. Each kit includes a string of RGB LEDs with lengths suitable to a particular screen size, so make sure you choose the correct option or else the lighting effects won’t match up appropriately. In our case, we have a 55-inch television so we chose the kit targeted for 55-to-80-inch screens.
In the box, you get the LED light strip with a USB Type-A connection for power and control signal, the camera and its stand, the control box, a “wall wart” style power adapter for the control box, a small alcohol prep pad for the adhesive components, six wire guides for helping the LED strip stay positioned on its corners, and a brief instruction card.
Setup is relatively simple: when facing the rear of your television, start on the bottom-right corner and affix the LED light strip using its pre-applied adhesive. As you reach each corner, use the wire guides as necessary to help make the turn.
Next, connect the camera to its stand and use its pre-applied adhesive to position on top of your television, directly in the center.
Then use the pre-applied adhesive to affix the control box, making sure to position it so it can easily reach the USB cables from your LED strip and camera. Finally, connect the power adapter to the control box and plug it into a power outlet.
You’ll need the free Govee Home app for iOS or Android to complete setup and configure the lighting system. With the lighting kit powered on, just launch the app and follow the instructions. The app initially detects the kit via Bluetooth but you can then sync the configuration information for your WiFi network for easier connections in the future.
The most important step during setup is calibration, so that the camera knows where the edges of your television are in order to display the correct colors in the correct locations. Calibration is done by viewing a wide-angle image of your screen and then dragging five reference points to the four corners and top-center. Make sure that the TV is displaying a bright, screen-filling image during this part to aid your positioning of the calibration points.
Once calibration is complete, you can choose to use the lighting kit via various modes. The most obvious is Video mode, which uses the camera to try and match colors based on the image on the screen, although there are other options such as Music, which changes based on audio levels, Color, which displays preset colors regardless of image or audio, and Scenes, which enables certain color presets such as “Sunrise” or “Romantic.”
Users can also set custom brightness levels, change the sensitivity of the light response, and decide if the lights should change color on a more granular scale or all together based on the average color of the screen. Those going for the popular “Ambilight” look will want partial light changes on a relatively high sensitivity.
The lighting kit must be controlled via the app; there’s no way to have the lights turn on and off with the TV automatically (unless you cut power to a common power strip that controls both the TV and lighting kit). However, users can enable Alexa support, which allows for voice control to turn the lights on or off and change brightness, mode, and color.
Pros and Cons
When the Govee LED Lighting Kit works well, it offers a good experience. The responsive bias backlighting really draws you into the content, be it movies, sports, or video games. At $70, the kit is also relatively affordable compared to the aforementioned passthrough options.
However there are quite a few negatives that we feel outweigh the positives at this point. First, although responsiveness is good, it still has a slight delay compared to true passthrough setups. Many users may not notice, and even those that do will likely grow accustomed to it, but it can be a bit distracting if you’re sensitive to light latency.
Second, the lighting accuracy isn’t always great. We noticed that whites, yellows, and greens in particular aren’t reproduced well. It works great for reds, purples, and blues, but some content just won’t look right because the backlighting will differ significantly from the on-screen colors.
Third, the pre-applied adhesives failed quickly in our experience, especially for the light strip and camera. The control box adhesive was solid, but our lights started to fall off after only a week, and the camera started to droop not long after. The camera may also be an issue for those with increasingly thinner televisions, since you need a good centimeter or so of thickness on the top of the TV to keep it in place. Users could rig up a workaround for thinner sets if necessary, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Finally, and most importantly, the software is just too buggy, which was also an issue during our test of the initial version of this kit last year. For example, the kit frequently “forgot” its calibration and had to be reset every few days. On several occasions, the lights also stopped responding and required a power cycle of the control box to get back up and running. These issues aren’t too bad for patient users who are technically inclined, but I certainly wouldn’t leave this setup long-term in the hands of my wife, parents, or other inexperienced users who may be daunted by the frequent troubleshooting it requires.
In short, the concept behind this Govee TV backlight kit is interesting, and it gives new options to users who can’t otherwise use a passthrough-based responsive backlight setup. But in its current state it’s still far too buggy, with too many compromises, to justify the price and effort.