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post #1 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 05:26 AM - Thread Starter
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Masking Your Edgelit LCD TV for Better Blacks



Do the gray letterbox bars on your LCD TV distract you? Mark Henninger used a cheap and easy solution that can improve the dark-room viewing experience.

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When it comes to watching movies, a calibrated TV in a darkened room is a magical combination. When I set everything up correctly, and I've eliminated any interruptions or distractions, the act of watching a movie becomes a truly immersive experience. Don't you love the feeling of being in a movie, experiencing it fully, rather than analyzing it? It's one of my favorite pastimes; in fact, learning how to set up a system that achieves immersion is the primary reason I joined AVS Forum nine years ago.

A lot has changed in the past nine years, especially when it comes to TVs and projectors. Today, LED-lit LCDs come in screen sizes that rival small front-projection rigs, and surprisingly excellent image quality is available for under $1000. And LCD technology now dominates TV sales, which was far from the case nine years ago, when plasma was king. Unfortunately, plasma outperforms LCD when viewed in a darkened space, especially when it comes to reproducing deep blacks.

I recently purchased a 60-inch Samsung F5300 plasma as a direct result of the frustration I felt with the dark-room performance of my edgelit 55-inch Vizio M3D550KD. When the lights go out, it exhibits all the trademark flaws of edgelit TVs with pseudo-local dimming—namely, blooming and the dreaded flashlight effect. Those effects were especially distracting when I watched 2.40:1 letterboxed content, as opposed to material presented in a 16:9 aspect ratio.

For the past few years, and continuing to this day, the most popular LCDs are of the edgelit variety, which makes for a very thin TV. However, LED-edgelit TVs suffer in the image-quality department, especially when it comes to how they reproduce shadows and deep blacks. 2014 brings a ray of hope for LED TVs, thanks to the adoption of full-array backlighting by several manufacturers. Backlit arrays boost black level performance by making it possible to shut off LCDs in a very precise manner using local dimming. One of the most prominent examples of the benefits of local dimming is how such a TV can make the black bars in letterboxed content look as dark as what's achieved by plasma panels.

A few weeks ago, before I picked up my new plasma TV, I repainted my studio with a neutral gray shade. I happened to have a bunch of blue painter's tape, which is designed for easy removal. I was re-watching Pulp Fiction with my wife Danya, and I couldn't get over how distracting the edgelit pseudo-local dimming was. Out of frustration, I applied painter's tape over the letterbox bars. I was amazed at how much this improved the entire viewing experience. The main problem was when the lights came up—blue painter's tape looks silly on a TV screen. It's also not practical or economical to tape up a TV every time you want to watch a letterboxed movie. I realized that if I wanted to write about this topic, I'd need to find a way to mask the bars with ease. Whatever I did also had to look okay with the lights on. More importantly, it had to be as easy as possible, and cheap.

I found the solution in the form of a 40 x 60-inch piece of black foam board that I bought at an art-supply store. I put a letterboxed movie up on the screen and took careful measurements of the black bars—on my 55-inch Vizio; each bar measured 3.5 x 48 inches. Using a ruler and a box cutter, I cut two strips to the measured size and attached them to my TV using black gaffer's tape. The tape acts as a hinge of sorts, making it easy to flip open the masks to expose the entire screen. It was one of the cheapest and easiest mods I've ever performed, and the difference it makes in terms of the dark-room viewing experience is dramatic. With many LED-edgelit TVs, it's the only way to achieve plasma-like (and, in fact, OLED-like) black in the letterbox bars—the foam board is entirely opaque, and in a dark room, it is completely invisible.


Here's the $10, 40" x 60" piece of foam board I used



I taped the ruler to the foamboard using painters tape, so it would stay in place for an accurate cut

When I took the THX Video Calibration Class last February, one of the things I learned is the importance of screen masking for front-projection rigs. A black border improves the perception of contrast, and the same principal works when applied to TVs. With LCD-edgelit TVs, there is an added benefit—masking the black bars hides the machinations of the local-dimming mechanism, which bleed into the letterbox region, resulting in a distracting fluctuation in their brightness.

Some of the latest edgelit LCDs have the ability turn off the zones in the letterbox region, and I know that backlit arrays with local dimming often offer that option as well. However, there are many edgelit LCDs (and CCFL-lit LCDS as well) that can benefit from masking when watching widescreen (2.40:1 aspect ratio) content. For those TVs, finding a safe, convenient way to mask the letterbox bars can significantly improve the viewing experience in a darkened room. It may be a bit MacGyver-ish, but if it works, why not at least try it?

Here are some photos that show the effectiveness of physically masking the letterbox bars on my edgelit Vizio M3D550KD:



For 16:9 content, I flip open the foam board masking to reveal the whole screen



With lights on, the masking offers no real benefit and the foam board is visible. I'm sure it could be improved.



Without masking, in a dark room, the letterbox bars are clearly visible and rather distracting



With masking, the letterbox bars are pitch black in a darkened room



Here's the same image displayed on my Samsung F5300 plasma. No masking required.


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Last edited by imagic; 06-23-2014 at 05:53 PM.
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post #2 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 05:30 AM
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Very creative. I will say the black bars on my xbr900a look much much better, so I do not feel the need to make this modification. Nonetheless, it is a great idea!
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post #3 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 05:47 AM
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Mark, you're crazy. And I mean that in the nicest way. I don't think I know of anyone else who approaches the cost-vs.-performance question in the same way you do. I like to think of myself as adventurous in my pursuit of fine sound and visuals, but you show me how afraid I am to think outside the box.
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post #4 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 06:00 AM
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Lol well im glad i dont have that issue with my Lg oled
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post #5 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 06:16 AM
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Glad I followed Scott Wilkinson's advice and bought a Panasonic Plasma before the end.
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post #6 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 06:37 AM
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What if instead of taping the foam board to the tv, you leave the two halves connected by making it a picture frame?
You can connect two or three plastic hangers to this frame so you can hang it from the top bezel of the tv. With this method, you can quickly take it on/off when needed without the chance of leaving tape residue on the bezel or having to realign the bars.

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post #7 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 06:39 AM
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Trying to imagine a $10 black foam board masking my screen in my luxury homes living room in a $12K HT furniture entertainment center on a $3K-$8K TV surrounded by high end furniture and art, rugs - prepare yourself for divorce court if your married if you expect the wife's gonna put up with taping foam board in the living room HT. May work but it's going to look asinine anywhere other than a bachelor pad HT perhaps.

Truly desparate that says if your bothered that much buy a Plasma or OLED for god's sake. This would be a bachelor piece that'll keep you a bachelor!

For God's sake LED is not that bad that it warrants black band aids. You must be genuinely bored. Would your wife permit this in the living room Mark? Putrid in a luxury home and zero WAF!
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post #8 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 06:45 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pioneer_Elte View Post
What if instead of taping the foam board to the tv, you leave the two halves connected by making it a picture frame?
You can connect two or three plastic hangers to this frame so you can hang it from the top bezel of the tv. With this method, you can quickly take it on/off when needed without the chance of leaving tape residue on the bezel or having to realign the bars.
The main issue is the screen is recessed from the bezel, but for maximum effect the mask has to be right up against the screen. Of course at this point it's academic since I bought a plasma.

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post #9 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 06:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post


Without masking, in a dark room, the letterbox bars are clearly visible and rather distracting



With masking, the letterbox bars are pitch black in a darkened room


[/I]


I don't have that effect on my 55" LCD TV. Gorilla glass and proper screen settings pretty much eliminates those light "black bars".

Maybe you should properly adjust the settings on your TV, or get a better TV!
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post #10 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:01 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by J_Palmer_Cass View Post
I don't have that effect on my 55" LCD TV. Gorilla glass and proper screen settings pretty much eliminates those light "black bars".

Maybe you should properly adjust the settings on your TV, or get a better TV!

What does Gorilla glass have to do with it? Nothing AFAIK.

My TV is properly calibrated to 35 foot-lamberts and 6500K in movie mode using CalMAN; how would you define "properly adjust the settings?" Is your TV professionally calibrated?

If you read the article or the comments, I already mentioned that I bought a plasma.
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post #11 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:04 AM
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Glad I don't experience the grey bars on my Sony W900. When they are there the black bars are just that Black! Nice idea though.
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post #12 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:05 AM
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I 'mask' my FALD LCd for at least five years now. I also did this with previous LCd's. I use something similar as imagic on the upperside when watching movies. When watching 4:3 stuff i 'mask' the upper corners. When letterbox stuff is not OLED black all the time i will mask it!


I actually read a post on the Plasma FORUM in which, i believe it was a VT25 owner, 'masked' the upperside when watching movies because he couldn't stand that the letterbox wasn't (OLED)black. So it is not a Edge Lit only thing..
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post #13 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:08 AM
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Wow.. Avs should have a new section called the Sanford and Son Ghetto Home theater fixes..
I think I would be better to turn down the LED back light settings to about 3.. The grey bars should be less annoying.
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post #14 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:11 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 8mile13 View Post
I 'mask' my FALD LCd for at least five years now. I also did this with previous LCd's. I use something similar as imagic on the upperside when watching movies. When watching 4:3 stuff i 'mask' the upper corners. When letterbox stuff is not OLED black all the time i will mask it!


I actually read a post on the Plasma FORUM in which, i believe it was a VT25 owner, 'masked' the upperside when watching movies because he couldn't stand that the letterbox wasn't (OLED)black. So it is not a Edge Lit only thing..
I am tempted to cut out masks for my plasma, to see if it offers any tangible benefit, although I have not been bothered by the letterbox bars on that TV whatsoever. On the other hand, at least 80% of what I watch on the plasma is letterboxed, and the masks do create the illusion of infinite black bars, like you see on OLED.

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post #15 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:15 AM
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I can see myself doing something like this and forget to remove the masking.. Wife goes to watch HGTV (16:9) and people heads and feet are cut off.. I'll will be getting phone calls at my job..
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kevon27 View Post
Wow.. Avs should have a new section called the Sanford and Son Ghetto Home theater fixes..
I think I would be better to turn down the LED back light settings to about 3.. They grey bars should be less annoying.
I know you are just kidding. I prefer a properly calibrated TV versus using overly dim settings to compensate. Not that it matters, since (as I've repeatedly noted) I bought a plasma. However, I'm aware that many people own edgelit LCDs that bleed light into the letterbox bars; this is a fast, easy, cheap way to get much better dark room image quality.
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post #17 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

If you read the article or the comments, I already mentioned that I bought a plasma.

I thought that the title "Masking Your Edgelit LCD TV for Better Blacks" had a meaning. I guess that is not the case!



Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
What does Gorilla glass have to do with it? Nothing AFAIK.

My TV is properly calibrated to 35 foot-lamberts and 6500K in movie mode using CalMAN; how would you define "properly adjust the settings?" Is your TV professionally calibrated?

Gorilla Glass gives you darker blacks.

What makes you think your TV looks right? I would throw my TV in the trash if that was the best that I could get after adjustment. Those so called black bars are way too bright (AKA not near black). They should be near black with a proper calibration.

How do you mask 4 X 3 content?
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post #18 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
I am tempted to cut out masks for my plasma, to see if it offers any tangible benefit, although I have not been bothered by the letterbox bars on that TV whatsoever. On the other hand, at least 80% of what I watch on the plasma is letterboxed, and the masks do create the illusion of infinite black bars, like you see on OLED.

It might be the case that one creates a 21:9 TV effect when masking aside from getting rid of imperfections and non-OLED blacks. With OLED blacks they are still black bars on a 16:9 TV which you can clearly see. When masking there is a bezel effect which will give your TV the appearance of a 21:9 TV.


btw i Always watch TV in a dark room with dimmed lights and my TV is pro-calibrated for that dark environment.
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post #19 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:31 AM
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I just rechecked my 2 year old 55" LCD TV with all of the THX Optimizer video tests. Settings are still perfect after 2 years.

Black bars are black!
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post #20 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:34 AM
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Greetings,

Thanks Mark. While this may not be an option for everyone that fact that it presents a solution for some makes it of value.


Regards,
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post #21 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:35 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by J_Palmer_Cass View Post
I thought that the title "Masking Your Edgelit LCD TV for Better Blacks" had a meaning. I guess that is not the case!


Gorilla Glass gives you darker blacks.

What makes you think your TV looks right? I would throw my TV in the trash if that was the best that I could get after adjustment. Those so called black bars are way too bright (AKA not near black). They should be near black with a proper calibration.

How do you mask 4 X 3 content?
If you don't mind my asking, why are your comments always so negative?

How goes gorilla glass give you darker blacks? If you get a chance, please post a link that supports your assertion.

My LCD TV looks great in the day, and my plasma looks great at night. That's par for the course.

My TVs are perfectly calibrated. Are yours? Do you have calibration gear and training? And/or have you hired a pro to calibrate your TV? Let me know.

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post #22 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:38 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by J_Palmer_Cass View Post
I just rechecked my 2 year old 55" LCD TV with all of the THX Optimizer video tests. Settings are still perfect after 2 years.

Black bars are black!
Using the THX optimizer is not the same as calibrating your TV, but it helps. BTW what TV is it?
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Last edited by imagic; 06-23-2014 at 07:42 AM.
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post #23 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 07:41 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ralph Potts View Post
Greetings,

Thanks Mark. While this may not be an option for everyone that fact that it presents a solution for some makes it of value.


Regards,
Thanks Ralph.
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post #24 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 08:52 AM
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And that's why I never liked the edge lit LED LCD TV even with local dimming option. The lights bleed like anything. LED LCD with full array local dimming is completely different. But at the same time not all FALD created equally.

For reference, here's the scene from movie Battlefield on my 2.5 years old Sony XBR55HX929 looks like.

The top and bottom bars look like inky black.

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post #25 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 09:08 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by J_Palmer_Cass View Post
I thought that the title "Masking Your Edgelit LCD TV for Better Blacks" had a meaning. I guess that is not the case!






Gorilla Glass gives you darker blacks.

What makes you think your TV looks right? I would throw my TV in the trash if that was the best that I could get after adjustment. Those so called black bars are way too bright (AKA not near black). They should be near black with a proper calibration.

How do you mask 4 X 3 content?
I will agree to an extent. I have never in person seen a TV with as bad of black bars as the picture mark posted. I would have immediately taken that back to the store.
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post #26 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 09:21 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Mattopotamus View Post
I will agree to an extent. I have never in person seen a TV with as bad of black bars as the picture mark posted. I would have immediately taken that back to the store.
Cameras don't "see" the way your eyes do. The effects looks exaggerated in a picture. My TV is fairly average for an edgelit when it comes to blooming and flashlighting. I get to see tons of TVs in my job, I have a good idea what's normal.
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post #27 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 09:24 AM
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This is not unlike what theaters do with masking the left and right sides of a screen. Very creative!

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post #28 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 09:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by J_Palmer_Cass View Post
Gorilla Glass gives you darker blacks.
You know, when I clicked on this thread I wasn't expecting this gem.

Yes, Gorilla Glass is only about 92% transmissive, so while it will darken your blacks by ~8% it will also darken everything else by ~8%, which means it ultimately does nothing beneficial from a contrast ratio or black level standpoint.
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post #29 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 09:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
What does Gorilla glass have to do with it? Nothing AFAIK.

My TV is properly calibrated to 35 foot-lamberts and 6500K in movie mode using CalMAN; how would you define "properly adjust the settings?" Is your TV professionally calibrated?

If you read the article or the comments, I already mentioned that I bought a plasma.
so the plasma is not calibrated i mean the colors are totally different on both photos...
if both are calibrated then something is want wrong with the digicam or i don't call this a properly calibrated.

but what this very bad black there? i mean my very bad (and very very cheap) pfl4606h 1100:1 CR display doesn't look that terrible. or are CCFL backlight normally better at this ? based on that screen i would call that TV defect.
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post #30 of 310 Old 06-23-2014, 09:30 AM
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You know, when I clicked on this thread I wasn't expecting this gem.

Yes, Gorilla Glass is only about 92% transmissive, so while it will darken your blacks by ~8% it will also darken everything else by ~8%, which means it ultimately does nothing beneficial from a contrast ratio or black level standpoint.
But it does keep Gorillas from breaking the glass.
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