Light Pack cover
Tue, 03/04/2014 - 14:20

Lightpack is set of RGB LED strips, thanks to which you can add backlight similar to Phillips Ambilight to any display, with a slight difference - you can set it up as you like and you don't need to buy new TV to get this effect. All you need is computer screen you already have and Lightpack. Id default setting you can use backlight asi extended light, which averages color and brightness from what's on screen and illuminates wall behind your display, this creates effect of larger screen, is easy on your eyes and looks nice. Or you can use Lightpack to create psycho effects, in time notifications via IFTTT, or with different plugins and provided API anything you can code.

This project has been developed for few years as open-source (software and hardware). To make Lightpack available for people without skills or time to make their own, authors created Kickstarter campaign. Here could anyone order Lightpack and thus help to fund mass production. Goal was se to $261 000 and succeeded with almost double that value.

Unboxing and first contact

One Lightpack package is only slighter larger than average Harry Potter book in black color with interesting opening. After opening the packaging you'll find everything you need - foolproof instructions, all components, one spare LED strip and 10 spare adhesive strips.

If you've got too large screen, you can use more sets than one. Components you need for one set are one control unit, power supply (with adapter for different sockets), USB cable for connecting to PC, 10 LED strips.

Package contents Manual Manual with unicorn

Installation and configuration

While installation I recommend to first test if everything works and after everything works, start sticking strips to backside of screen. Of course, I first sticked everything in place and then checked if it works. I've been lucky, everything worked. I also recommend to spend some time with manging cables, so no cables create shadows when lights are on.

Backside of display

After everything is connected, hardware part is done, now just look at software. That's when you downdload app Prismatik, which controls lights and settings. It's available for Linux, Windows, OS X and Android. During first start installation wizard launches, which detects Lightpack, and lets you choose LED strip "constellation", and sets which part of display corresponds to which module. It will be a bit more complicated in cas of more Lighpack, but I've got 23" display so one was enough for me. For sizes from 50" to 65" are recommended 2 Lighpacks and for sizes above 65" you'll need 3 for optimal effect.

Distribution of areas for modules can be adjusted after inital setup. Other things you can change in configuration are refresh frequency, grab delay and type of luminosity function. It's recommended to have at least 25 FPS. I've tried 30 FPS and cpu usage (on i7-2700K) vas 1-2%, with 160 FPS, cpu usage has risen to 4-5%, but also Xserver (on Linux) went from 2 to 10% cpu. I haven't used any special tools to measure cpu usage, so this values are just indicative.

Areas configuration

There are other settings, but I'll leave that to user manual. What's important is that default settings set up so you don't have to do anything to start using Lightpack, but there are options you can change to suite your needs.

How does it work?

Simply, it works great. For every area is calculated average color and corresponding LED module is lit with corresponding color. I've tested it while standard PC usage (browsing, coding), watching movies and playing games. I haven't encountered any problems, even when I was affraid it won't work well with games on Linux, but it worked great.

While working at night, you don't have to have light in your room turned on, ambient lights works nice, and your eyes are more rested. While playing games it helps with immersion, game flows beyod your screen. The same works with movies.

And now some examples I've recorded.

Problems and little things

After a month of usage, I haven't encountered anything critical. But there are some things, which could irritate you. After a while, power supply started to make noise, but that can be fixed by buying new one or it will go away with time.

Little discrepancy on project website is written that every LED can be controlled separately (1 strip/LED module has 3 RGB LED), but after time I used Lightpack it doesn't seem they are controlled saparately. On the other side it doesn't make such difference and I don't know it would make immersion effect to work better. And when I imagine that I'd have to set direction of every strip, it would be quite unpleasant.

After area configuration I encountered slight problem. I've maybe skipped constellation wizard and thus I've set up everything mirrored to what I've had in real. It took few minute to change it, but then I found out, that 3 modules were swapped. They were in row in Prismatink, I've connected them one by one to control unit, but maybe there were some insied wiring problem. Anyway, solution was easy, I just disconneted and reconnected cables so every strip was in right place.

After turning screen off (video signal) backlight won't turn off, but only in case you've set minimum brighness level. This could be fixed by switching "Eyes care settings" to less care setting: Dead-zone. And maybe it's only problem with my system.

Last detail - if you're using tools like Redshift of f.lux, with Lighpack it won't be optimal, because LP captures video output before readshift/f.lux filter.In other words, backlight won't be affected by red filter, your wall be shining white while screen will be reddish.

Future

What avaits us in the future? They should finish what they promised, integration with IFTTT, some plugins, which are not working (they are for Prismatik 5.9.6 and new version is 5.10.1). But API is open, so nothing holds you to code something or wait till someone else does it for yourself. There could be also integration with LIFX bulbs.

How, where, how much

I've got my Lighpack from kickstarter, early birds for $50, others for $80 (+ shipping $10). Now you can buy it directly from lightpack.tv for $119. Good thing is, that it went through customs without problems, looked like some priceless electronics and cables, so I didn't have to pay EU import tax. But I've had to wait from May 2013 till January 2014. Now you can get Lightpack in a week or two, depends on slowness of post office.

Overall rating

I think, this were good invested money, the feeling from watchin movies is better and your eyes will thank you after wakeful nights. And with extension like music visualisation, mobile control and other stuff, it could be interesting.

Article was first published at spaceunicorn.sk.