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Home Theater Hacks by Brett McLaughlin

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Hack #16. Cover Black Bars with Letterbox Mattes

Cover the black bars that appear on the edges of your screen with mattes, creating a better-looking image and sharper picture.

The nature of the display technology inside a television set is such that it sometimes has trouble "holding black at black." The color displayed as black on your television screen is often only relative. When a scene is composed mostly of light color elements, it is said to have a high picture level in terms of brightness. When viewing these high-picture-level scenes, an area on the screen that is supposed to be black often appears gray. The overall picture level of the image affects the black level; light from the brighter objects often spills over and influences the darker images.

As a result, if you watch the letterbox bars at the top and bottom of your screen, they will shift in color from solid black to a much more medium gray depending on the picture level in a scene. Although you might not consciously notice this shift, it does have an effect on how you see the image.

By covering these bars with mattes you remove the distracting shift in color, allowing your eye to truly ignore this unused area. The letterbox bars become more neutral to your eye and the contrast and color level in the picture seem much more vivid. This hack is not only an excellent example of how a small investment can make a sizable difference, but also, an interesting demonstration of how our minds play a starring role in how we process ...

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