This is opulence. Suddenly, there is extra light blasting from behind my TV screen, making a day-glow title sequence positively atomic. The DreamScreen, a backlighting system that’s designed to make your TV viewing more immersive, is a luxury that I absolutely don’t need. In theory, the supplementary lights change color based on the pixels on the TV screen for an “immersive theater experience.” In practice, it’s an overstimulating, distracting, nauseating novelty, and I can’t get enough of this shit.
I’m a fan of the Phillips Hue wireless LED lights, and find the ability to change the color of my room with my phone delightful. DreamScreen, loosely based on the original Philips Hue-adjacent Ambilux television, works in the same vein, so I was keen on it. I do a lot of stupid things to entertain myself, like acquiring a 55-inch Samsung television with a gimmicky curved display. DreamScreen seemed like an upgrade. I was naive. I didn’t realize how much I could loathe and love one product.
Depending on what kind of TV you have, the kit costs between $150 and $305 (depending on whether you have HD or 4K, and the size of your screen). The setup is a small feat in and of itself. There are chunky LED light strips to tape to the back of a TV, differently spaced depending on the size of your tv (there’s a guide). There’s a smartphone app that works with your wi-fi to download and set up. Then you need to plug your video source into the video input of the round HDMI splitter, and plug the output into your TV. There are also two optional “sidekick” lights for extra glow ($66 each, sold separately) that plug into the splitter, and so many cords. This thing takes up three fucking outlets. Get ready for a wire rat king.
You do get the “bigger, brighter” TV the product’s website promises, but the lights don’t exactly extend the screen space; they sometimes echo, and sometimes compliment the colors of pixels around the very edges of your screen, sending rays of color from behind your television across your walls in time with whatever is on.
In the case of a dramatic explosion, this is all very sensible, as a good part of your wall will look on fire. It really shines with material intended to be trippy—like whatever the hell that was in episode eight of Twin Peaks: The Return (above), or that psychedelic 2001: A Space Odyssey sequence. The more you give it—pink and blue neons, deep reds—the more you get.
But it can be confounding in undramatic sequences, with bright blurry bits of clothes and other immovable objects echoing off screen, like dislocated fuzzy chunks. Daylight and black-and-white sequences result in a bright bluish-white screen halo. Letterboxing also presents an obvious, chasmic problem—gaps.
I want to emphasize the visual loudness of this thing. Even at the lowest brightness, without the two sidekicks, the DreamScreen is really bright. I like to watch movies in complete darkness and concentrate on the screen. With the DreamScreen, the entire room is illuminated, including the dirty laundry in the far corner that I’m trying to ignore. Say you’re the type of person with serious respect for cinematography. The screen bleeding out of the frame in blurry puddles every which way might not be what the cinematographer intended. Despite and because of its flaws, this truly is an accessory of visual excess.
There’s also the product’s weird “health benefits” claim that it “reduces digital eye strain.” The claim cites a single 2006 study which concludes that “subjects were less likely fatigued and experienced less eyestrain with surrounding illumination present,” meaning additional light will make the TV not hurt your eyes so much. But the study also says that these results are “modest” and sometimes even the opposite. Speaking from personal experience, staring into a significantly brighter TV area is the opposite—my eyes ache after a while. So I wouldn’t take this study very seriously.
Where DreamScreen really shines is gaming. I sit closer to the TV while I game and my focus is more sharply drawn to specific sections of the screen. This position allows the peripheral edges of the game space to blend with the DreamScreen light extensions and I’m significantly more immersed, just as DreamScreen wanted. When I’m not watching the entire screen, the patchiness of DreamScreen’s illumination isn’t a big deal. It’s also more dynamic because more is happening faster, so it’s swishing around me. That’s neat.
For most everything else, it’s immersive, but kind of like watching TV wasted is immersive. You’re going to get pulled into the light. You’ll want to squint. Your eyes might skid. You might ask yourself, do I really need to do this? Am I enjoying it? Why am I doing this?
Excess and novelty are perfectly good reasons to try something. Getting overwhelmed and bored is a great reason to stop. Until then, the trick is getting used to something completely unnecessary. Awhile back, I saw Wonder Woman in 4DX, which is extra 3D, with moving theater seats and “effects.” For two hours in the theater the seat jostled me back and forth and gently spit water into my hair. It was completely unnecessary. But now I wonder, how am I supposed to watch another movie again without steamy, bumpy smell-o-vision? I wasn’t even sure I liked 4DX, but I’m going back, obviously. Maybe I want to be thrown around. Maybe I’ll always want a “bigger, brighter” TV. Maybe I want to be perpetually overstimulated by entertainment technology. Maybe I want bright lights strapped to the back of my TV, for extra explosions.
Nothing in life is perfect. A lot of the things aren’t even good. I think this thing is bad, but also good. No one really needs it, but it’s awfully easy to get used to. When I don’t use the lights, I miss them. Sometimes I’ll even put them on the ambient setting when I’m doing something else. Like “rainbow.” Or “fireplace.” Twinkling in the background. Completely fucking with my head.
- It takes up to three outlets.
- It’s really bright and dramatic.
- Best for really bright and dramatic sequences in movies and games.
- Great for gaming and explosions, not so much for movies you respect.
- How much you’ll like it really depends on your definition of “immersive.”
- Easy to hate, hard to leave.