Ambient lighting that responds to the image on your TV is simpler and cheaper than you might think—and it makes your home theater great.

Originally developed for Philip’s TVs in 2002, this feature is still only available on a limited number of models, and as a result, many people have tried to create their own Ambilight that didn’t involve buying a new TV. So far they have been relatively expensive or low resolution (only a few pixels on each edge) — I even made a single pixel version. a few years ago. Now a new generation of affordable programmable LEDs has arrived — and you, too, can create a high-resolution Ambilight clone for as little as $60. Interested?

Step 1: Demo

First, a demonstration of what we do. If you’re curious, Electric Sheep’s 3-hour psych trance journey is the perfect showcase for Ambilight. Of course, not all videos will produce the same pleasing results — many movies are too hazy or are presented in cinema format, resulting in black bars (and therefore no color data). I’ve found better results with bright, vibrant colors in most animations, as well as action movies with complex CGI effects.

At the moment it only works with some computer-side signal processing — so it’s great for things like VLC, Popcorn Time, Kodi (formerly known as XBMC) or PC games. Unfortunately, processing a standard HDMI input is more complicated — at the very least, we’ll need an HDMI splitter and some kind of converter to a more readable analog format. I’ll save that for a future project — it only works with a computer for now.

Step 2: You will need

Make your own Ambilight for $60 diy ambilight parts

The parts list is short — there are no complex electronics here:

  • Arduino Uno
  • 10A 5V power supply
  • WS2812B 5m led strip
  • Double sided tape (don’t make the same mistake I did — use quality 3M materials)
  • Processing set

The main part of this Ambilight clone is a string of individually addressable WS2812B LEDs. Each LED has its own chipset and a single line is used for communication. I bought mine from Aliexpress for $52 including shipping — that was for a 5m coil (150 LEDs), which is more than enough for the largest TVs — and much cheaper per LED than the $50 filament that Adafruit sells. A standalone 5V/10A PSU can be bought for about $10, but I used an old ATX PSU that I previously converted to a desktop one. If you have a huge TV and plan to combine multiple strips because 5 meters is not enough, be sure to determine your exact power requirements at 60mA per LED.

Step 3: Wiring

Make your own Ambilight for $60 diy ambilight direction1

Let’s test the light first to make sure the power supply is sufficient and the basic link is working. Connect pin 6 from the Arduino to the DIN on the LED strip — your strip should have a tap end at one end, so use a male-to-female jumper. Also connect the GND pin from Arduino to GND on the strip. Don’t try to power the strip on the 5V pin on the Arduino. You will fry the Arduino, very quickly. Instead, use an external 5V power supply. The desktop power supply will happily power an entire 5m test strip (provided you followed our benchtop power supply conversion guide). Calculate at 60 mA per LED; so in my case 114 leds at 60mA is just under 7A. If you think: “7 amps sounds like an awful lot!” This is because it runs at 5 volts — 7 amps at 240 volts would be a lot more!

Note that these bands have a specific direction in which the signal must travel, indicated by the arrows. If you’re connecting multiple strips, you may also need to reconnect the power halfway through to avoid a voltage drop — I’ve found this to be unnecessary with just 5 meters.

Step 4: Upload the Arduino Code and Test

Create your Ambilight for $60 fasted

The project has both Arduino and Processing. First make sure you add FastLED to the Arduino libraries directory and then upload this code. Change line 7 for the number of LEDs you have; and if you find that the color profile is broken, change line 47. The strip I purchased uses the WS2812B chipset and the color order is «GRB». See the FastLED documentation on how to calibrate per strip, but the default should be fine if you bought the same LEDs.

Finally, you need the processing components from the Adafruit project code. For testing open Colorswirl.pde . Change the number of LEDs again on line 29; and a serial device on line 44. If the Arduino is the only COM device connected, Serial.list() [0] fit . If not, try Serial.list() [1] . Launch the app and with any luck, your stripes will show off a beautiful swirl of colors.

Note that you are not limited to processing — anything that is compatible with Adalight (such as Prismatik ) can also be configured to work with that, but we will only cover the procedure for configuring Adalight in this tutorial.

Step 5: Measure and cut to size

Make Your Own Ambilight with diy ambilight sticky tape for $60

Remove the TV from the wall or rotate it and measure. I’m assuming you’ll be sticking the strips directly onto the TV, but if you’re not, you’ll need to build a frame. Make sure you get a pixel directly in each corner, but otherwise this step should be easy. Go ahead and cut the strip into shorter lengths — cut only between the copper spacers where the dotted line indicates; and apply 3M double-sided adhesive tape to each length. Don’t use cheap, generic tape like I did — it just won’t stick.

If you need to leave a gap at the bottom due to the TV stand, do so, but make sure the stripe starts on either side of it and not in the corner — you can adjust those missing pixels later on the software side.

Step 6: cut the plastic

Make Your Own Ambilight for $60 diy ambilight
If your strip is inside an outer waterproof plastic case, cut it off.

Carefully apply a little solder to each copper spacer before attaching it to the TV — this will make it easier to join the parts later.

Step 7: Connect to TV and Join

Create your own Ambilight for $60
Go ahead and attach the strips to the back of the TV, remembering that each strip has direction, which the signal should follow. It doesn’t matter which corner or which side of the TV stand you start from.

To connect the corners, simply connect each of the 3 pads to their counterpart on the next strip. Again, putting some solder on the wires before trying to connect it to the pads is much easier. Leave the last strip as is — don’t connect it to the beginning!

Step 8: Test Again

Make your own Ambilight for $60

Let’s make sure we didn’t mess up the soldering there — download the color swirl app again and check. When you’re happy, return the TV to the correct position and tidy up the wires. Let’s move on to setting up the software.

Step 9Set Up Adalight

Create your own Ambilight for $60

This is the most tedious part of the project — each individual LED must be defined in the software. Download adalight.pde in section « Processing» and first change the variable that determines the number of pixels on the sides and top (ignore any missing for now) — this is on line 87. In my case I used 35 pixels on the top and bottom and 22 on the sides, so this was defined as {0,35,22} .

Right below that, you’ll find «information for each LED» — a long list that identifies each LED around the TV. Each LED is defined as a set of 3 digits:

Luckily, one of our incredible readers, James Rankin, has developed a useful online utility that does the hard work for you. Simply enter your matrix size and starting position, then copy/paste the generated matrix definition into the Adalight Processing application. He also posted a quick fix for working with widescreen movies, where the Processing code typically evaluates to black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, which means no lighting effect. Thanks James!

If you get compilation errors, it means you missed a comma somewhere or you have too many curly braces — double check your code.

Step 10 Sit back, watch a movie!

DIY Your Ambilight for $60 DIY Light Finished

Run the code and run the movie with your favorite software — the Processing debug console tells me that my computer manages a good 15 frames per second (that’s the refresh rate of the LEDs, not video playback) — any modern computer should be able to handle this. There are a few more variables you can adjust, such as the minimum brightness and the fade delay between updates — as always, you’re encouraged to read the code, understand it, and modify it.

Congrats, you now have a wonderful $60 DIY Ambilight system (and some LEDs left, probably). Questions or concerns — contact us in the comments and I will do my best to help. Also tell us — what would you like to do with the remaining LEDs?

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