If you're trying to save some money, choosing the right outdoor TV can be a little frustrating.
Researching outdoor TVs online will give you a mixed bag of technical specs and cautionary tales.
Top that off with sales pitches on smart tv features and waterproof remotes, and you can start to wonder what is really important.
Which features should you be investing your money on?
Understanding what makes a TV good for the outdoors is an important first step.
What is an Outdoor TV?
In my previous article about How to Choose the Best Outdoor TV, I define the two distinguishing features of an outdoor television to be its ability to:
- Withstand outdoor elements; and
- Provide good picture in outdoor light.
In this article, I'm going to talk about that second feature—providing good picture in sunlight—and how brightness comes into play with outdoor TVs.
Weatherproofing is important, sure. But, I think that most people already understand that we have to protect a television from water, rain and snow.
It's also unlikely that you'll be putting your TV outside in the freezing cold or dessert heat. Very few people want to watch TV outdoors in those environments.
Additionally, the weatherproofing required for moderate environments (which is more common) is less expensive, and can even be added to standard indoor TVs with an outdoor TV enclosure.
So, when it comes to getting the best watching experience from outdoor tvs, weatherproofing tends to come second to picture quality.
Brightness is the more important factor in whether you can actually see the TV image in sunlight.
It also happens to be an area in which you can potentially save thousands of dollars.
How Bright Should My Outdoor TV Be?
Two Simple Rules of Thumb for outdoor TV brightness:
- The brighter the surrounding sunlight, the brighter the outdoor TV should be.
- The brighter the outdoor TV, the more expensive it will generally be.
I think it's easy to understand that the brighter the TV's surroundings, the more light the picture has to compete with, and so, the brighter it should be.
But, that doesn't mean you should just run out and just get the brightest outdoor TV available.
(I mean, you can if you want to, and if money is no object. But then you probably wouldn't be reading this.)
For example, if the TV is in a shaded area, then there's not as much sunlight to compete with, and you can save money on the brightness.
How is brightness determined?
TV Brightness is measured in a number of “Nits.”
What is a Nit?
A “nit” is a measure of light emitted per unit area, used to specify the brightness of display devices such as TVs, monitors, and smartphones. The higher the number of Nits, the brighter the display image.
*1 nit = 1 candela per square metre (cd/m2)
I know that's a techy description that doesn't mean very much.
And actually, you don't even need to understand Nits too deeply, because TV manufacturers have simplified this for you by classifying their outdoor TVs into one of 3 different categories of Sunlight Conditions, which I've outlined in the next section.
But hang with me for a minute as I put it into context with a couple real-world examples. I think it will make it all clearer for you:
On average, normal indoor TVs might be as bright as 200-300 nits. (Although they can be turned up brighter, there isn't much need indoors.)
The latest smartphones are usually set to somewhere between 600-700 nits. (Their brightest setting can be as high as 900 to 1,000 nits.)
That level of brightness makes the picture clearly visible in bright daylight.
But, that's way too bright for viewing at night, or in a dark bedroom in the morning, or in a movie theater*, and we tend to turn down our phone brightness in those situations.
*(Please, don't turn on your phone in a movie theater.)
There are three main categories of sunlight conditions to consider when it comes to outdoor TVs:
- Full Shade
- Partial Sun
- Full Sun*
*(Not to be confused with Direct Sun, discussed below)
What it comes down to is the amount of direct sun that might shine onto both:
- The outdoor TV itself; and
- The viewing area around where your TV is located.
By “viewing area” I'm talking about everything in your line of site while watching the TV. That includes:
- The seating area;
- The wall behind/around the TV;
- Furniture between the viewer and the TV;
- Everything behind the TV (if not mounted on a wall).
I hope this makes sense.
Let me expand on these categories a little further, because understanding the differences can potentially save you up to $1,000 or more on your choice of outdoor TV.
A fully-shaded area is the most ideal location for an outdoor TV. There is less light to compete with, so the TV doesn't have to work as hard to outshine the ambient light.
Fully-shaded areas include covered patios, screened gazebos, or a screened-in porch or deck—places with a cover that extends over both the outdoor TV and the areas where the people watching will be.
Mainly, any outdoor living space that's lit by outdoor light, but into which the sun doesn't directly shine.
Full Shade Outdoor TVs will be in the 350-500 nit range for brightness.
They will often be advertised as “50% brighter than” or “twice as bright as” an indoor TV.*
*(This is to avoid technical terms like “nits” in the marketing.)
Partial Sun / Partial Shade
Clouds appear and disappear. The angle of the Sun changes throughout the day, and from season to season.
If your outdoor TV is in a partially-shaded space that sometimes allows sunlight to shine directly into the viewers' watching area—or, onto the TV itself—your outdoor TV should be able to keep up.
These Partial Sun outdoor living areas will include partially covered patios, decks, backyards, and so forth.
In addition to the appropriate level of brightness, look for outdoor TVs with these options:
- Auto-Brightness Control so your screen automatically readjusts its brightness to adapt to the movement of the sun or cloudiness of the day.
- Anti-Glare Screen to make sure sunlight doesn't reflect into the viewer's eyes, or obstruct their view of the picture.
Partial Sun Outdoor TVs will be in the 500-800 nit range for brightness.
You'll see them advertised as “200% brighter than” or “up to 3x as bright as” an indoor TV.
Only the most ambitious and zealous outdoor entertainers would opt to have their TV out in the full sunlight all day long.
A Full Sun environment is where both your TV and viewing area are unshaded, open and exposed to light from the Sun. Sometimes, even direct sun.
This is most commonly found in a professional or commercial entertainment situation, such as an outdoor bar, or pool area. This is why you'll often see these promoted as “Professional” or “Commercial” outdoor TVs.
Full Sun outdoor TVs will sport some of the same advanced image features as Partial Sun outdoor TVs, such as Auto-Brightness and Anti-Glare.
Full Sun Outdoor TVs are super bright! They overlap the brightness range of Partial Sun outdoor TVs, and you'll see them in the 500-1,500 nit range—sometimes brighter.
You'll see them advertised as “300% brighter than” or “4x or 5x brighter than” an indoor TV.
*This is not really a category for outdoor TVs, but I'm adding this here because I think it's important to consider the effects of direct sunlight on your outdoor TV.
First, let me distinguish “Direct Sun” from “Full Sun” situations.
Direct-Sun vs. Full-Sun
In a Full Sun situation, as I mentioned above, your TV is out in an open unshaded space, exposed to sunlight bouncing around illuminating the entire area.
Everything is brightly lit, competing for the attention of your eyes.
The Sun may shine directly on the TV screen at some point—depending on the season, time of day, and the angle of the Sun—but, only temporarily.
A Direct Sun situation is when the front of the TV screen is facing the Sun all the time, getting directly hit by its rays throughout the day, rather than being lit by all the light bouncing around everything.
(An example of this would be if the TV is facing South in North America.)
Direct Sun: A Caution
Direct sunlight as a constant is not an ideal situation for your outdoor TV.
The direct sunlight can potentially heat up your TV to much higher than its operating temperature range, damaging the unit or inhibiting its ability to function.
Partial Sun and Full Sun outdoor TVs are both designed to adapt to sunlight shining directly on them, and still provide a good viewing experience.
Again, however, this is usually a temporary situation, and not damaging.
While the best outdoor TV will give you an amazing picture with sunlight shining directly on it, the Sun is still stiff competition. Why compete?
The manufacturers of outdoor TVs even suggest avoiding direct sunlight in their manuals, and recommend adding a cover or hood of some sort.
This not only helps you see the TV better, but helps to protect the screen, and the TV's overall longevity as well.
Buying an Outdoor TV with Brightness in Mind
Ok, now that you understand all about the brightness levels for outdoor TVs, how do you apply it to making your purchase?
It depends on which of these two situations you're in:
- You already know where you want to put your TV; or
- You're still designing your outdoor TV viewing space.
If you already know where you plan on mounting your outdoor TV, determine the sunlight conditions of that location, then select from televisions with the proper brightness.
Or conversely, if you're still designing your space, you can pick out the best outdoor TV first—based on your budget, waterproofing, and other features—then, find or create a properly shaded area to accommodate the brightness.
I hope this article has been helpful in your research for buying an outdoor TV. If you have any questions, or additional advice for other readers, please feel free to leave them in the comments section, below.
Thanks for reading,