Here in Arizona winter is our prime outdoor recreation season. While other folks around the country are huddling inside and taking refuge from monumental snowfall, we’ve just completed the annual process of emerging from our air conditioned enclaves to enjoy long dreamed of Reasonable Weather. Yes, we swelter in 118 degree heat during the Summer months (and Spring months and Fall months…) but it’s all for the payoff of bright, sunny Thanksgivings by the pool and New Year’s celebrations in t-shirts and shorts.
Outdoor kitchens, sunny backyard pool decks, and vibrant winter grass are just a few of the rewards we’re not afraid to collect after the brutal summer months. We also love our sports here in Arizona, and winter is definitely one of the highlights of our sporting year. There’s absolutely nothing like sitting on a patio sipping margaritas and munching on fresh guacamole while your favorite football teams slog it out on the frozen tundra. The college football bowl season is a terrific lead in to what most Arizonans consider the High Holy Day of Sports, Superbowl Sunday. Cruise through neighborhoods in the suburbs of Phoenix and you’ll smell BBQ grills churning out epic fajitas and Sonoran dogs while marveling at the sheer number of cars lining the streets as people gather to watch The Big Game. You’ll also hear the familiar sounds of commentators arguing, fans shouting, and bone crunching tackles from the multitude of outdoor televisions bringing the game outside to the jubilant fans.
If there’s one downside to this fantastic tradition of outdoor living in the winter that Arizonans are forced to come to terms with it’s the sun. It’s just so darn bright! I know, I know, we can hear the violins singing their mournful song as millions of Americans huddle together under frigid cloud cover, but seriously the sun is just ALWAYS there. It beats down on our furniture, it beats down on our necks, and it beats down on screens of the televisions we count on to bring us all of the sporting greatness of the season.
Glare, washed out images, and faded plastic housings are the eventual diagnosis for any outdoor television, particularly those that find themselves on the back porch of a Phoenix suburb. Back in the “olden days,” I had a monstrous 27-inch tube television mounted precariously on the wall of my back porch. We loved floating in the pool and listening to ball games. I say listening instead of watching because there’s no way the glass tube of an old Magnavox TV set (complete with built in VHS player!) can compete with the afternoon sun in Phoenix. And the sound, oh the sound! I’ll never forget the buzzing of the cheap mono speaker encased in plastic when Luis Gonzlez would smack a deep ball to center field and the crowd would go nuts. It was awful, memorable to be sure, but absolutely awful. We tried, briefly, to add a flat panel screen to the patio of our new home. It would be much easier to mount, for sure, but unfortunately even at maximum brightness we couldn’t ever really get a clear picture visible for more than a few feet. The plastic buzzing speaker was a welcome reminder of yesteryear but even that was destined not to last.
Other than sunlight there is another enemy of outdoor televisions, any electronics really, in Arizona. Dust. There is dust everywhere. We have monumental dust storms that are a sight to behold, but that’s only a tiny piece of the constant, irritating, ever-present swirling of dust that fills every nook and cranny of our desert homes. That old 27-inch Magnavox must have nearly doubled in weight with the amount of dust that accumulated inside it during its years of duty on my back porch. We lost a flat panel TV to dust in less than a year; heat sinks and cooling fans require relatively clean environments to keep the electronics inside these sets from overheating and burning out. There are probably people who are much more dedicated to cleaning and maintaining their outdoor paradise than I am that can make it work, but for me the prospect of ever having a TV on the back porch was dim to non-existent.
Enter SunBrite! We get pitched a lot of products for review here at GeekDad but there are times when something comes across the desk that makes me nearly jump out of my seat with anticipation. When we got offered a chance to review a set from SunBrite, a manufacturer dedicated to producing high quality outdoor TVs, I jumped at the opportunity. We were just getting ready to start our outdoor season and were anticipating a long winter filled with company and meals enjoyed outside on the patio so we couldn’t wait to get our hot little hands on one of these gorgeous television sets.
Soon the set arrived and my appreciation for the work SunBrite had done began to build. This wasn’t a plastic covered screen destined to become brittle and crack in the blast furnace of our Arizona summer. This set was heavy (not 27-inch Magnavox heavy but most definitely not one of the new “hang it from a single screw” sets that fill department store shelves these days) and it was heavy for one fantastic reason. The 42-inch LCD screen was wrapped in a gorgeous, powder coated black frame that looked like it could not only stare down the anger of a blazing afternoon day in June but also take a few shots from a kickball during its life in our backyard. Let me be clear, and I think you can tell from the pictures, this isn’t an ugly thing designed for a factory or the waiting room of the DMV, this is high class industrial design that is destined to hang on the wall of even the most fabulous outdoor patio and make a statement for all to witness that it’s going to stick around for a good long while.
It doesn’t stop there, though. SunBrite puts a lot of thought into the manufacture of these televisions and you can’t help but notice it in the details as you’re installing one. I got a table mount with the sample unit (though I’m dying to hang it on the wall) and as I unscrewed the fasteners to put the mount on each, one came out coated in a nice layer of weatherproofing grease. The base itself has a nice set of slots for use in securing the set to whatever kind of table, cabinet, or platform you’ve got on your patio. The bolts pre-installed for use in a wall mount scenario are heavy duty as well and look to be a high grade stainless steel.
It doesn’t stop there, though. The power cord and the exposed control buttons are weatherproofed as well. This is a real necessity for mounting the television outside in areas that can be exposed to water and it’s also simply nice to know that you won’t have to contend with loose cables when the wind picks up. In my previous experiences leaving electronics outside, the gritty dust so common in Arizona winds up getting into the contacts and making it difficult to operate the Power, Input, Volume, etc. controls over time. I’m really pleased to see that these are sealed up and seem to be ready to go the distance.
What about the inputs, you might ask. This is another standout feature of the set. There’s a sealed compartment with a locking door that is lined with weather stripping to completely enclose the data connectors. Two thumbscrews operate easily by hand and allow you to swing open the door and provide ample access to the multitude of connectors. The model I have has two HDMI ports as well as a number of trusty analog connection options but I’m sure each model varies (spec sheets are available). One of the more impressive and forward thinking features that I found inside the connection compartment are a pair of auxiliary power plugs, one 5V USB and the other a standard 12 V 5.5mm barrel plug (the kind of connector you’d have on the back of your wireless router or other consumer electronics equipment). That’s a really handy feature and allowed me to plug in my Roku streaming stick and also power it without needing to run any additional cables.
One thing that many consumers might find strange about these SunBrite television sets is that they don’t come with speakers on board. At first I was taken aback by this but then I realized that often times in these outside installations you might have ceiling speakers powered by a separate amplifier or some other type of larger audio solution you’d want to integrate with your screens. Much to SunBrite’s credit, they also sent me a soundbar built specifically for the review unit and it provided more than adequate audio quality for testing. There is a proprietary 5-pin DIN connector inside the connection compartment that allows you to plug in one of SunBrite’s soundbar options but there are also digital and analog sound output connectors as well. The weatherstripping on the door of this compartment is thick and there are several cutouts that allow cables to come out while still maintaining a weather tight seal, something I was very pleased to discover. I worried that someone needing to run extra cables might have to violate the integrity of the weather proofing but I don’t think there will be any problems in that department.
Finally, in talking about build quality and the efforts SunBrite has gone to in order to ruggedize their sets, I can’t ignore the level of excellence they have achieved in dealing with dust. As I mentioned earlier, in Arizona dust is a killer and I lost a decent set once before to accumulated gunk on the electronic components. SunBrite has added a set of filters on the back of the set in order to protect internal components. The instructions that came with the set included a cautionary note reminding users that these filters need to be maintained and flushed out every so often; I’m interested to see just how long they last during our monsoon season here in Arizona when the air is thick with dust. Either way, I think this is the kind of attention to detail that really sets this company apart from any other outdoor television manufacturer I’ve run across in my search for something that will really last.
SunBrite offers three distinct models for residential customers: Veranda, Signature, and Pro (not to be confused with Commercial). The Veranda Series is designed for use in full shade situations; the screen is brighter than a normal television set but the value is primarily coming from the higher build quality and weatherproofing. The Signature Series is meant for partial shade areas with high levels of ambient light, imagine a pergola or a deck that is only partially covered. The Signature models will also have a high quality anti-reflective coating on the front glass that should improve outdoor performance many times over any other television set. The Signature Series is advertised as being “up to 3X brighter” than indoor sets and I’m a believer. Finally, the Pro Series is the full Monty. This is the model I was provided for my review and with the extreme temperatures we get during our Arizona summers I have no doubt it’s the right choice for fellow residents of the Valley of the Sun. Super bright, incredible anti-glare treatment, heat resistant, tempered safety glass. This television is meant to be mounted in full sunlight situations and should handle even the most extreme situations you can throw its way.
OK, let’s cut to the chase. How does the screen look during a sunny afternoon? This could wind up being the most rugged, long lasting set on the market but if you can’t see the screen during a sunny afternoon it might as well be an overpriced radio. I fired up the Roku and started streaming Planet Earth from Netflix. Even in the middle of a bright afternoon I had no problem sitting across the patio and enjoying the show. The picture was bright and crisp and the colors were spectacular. There are no tricks going on here, it’s just a super bright picture and a really well made anti-glare screen. I think you can see clearly in my snapshots that the windows on my patio are full of glare and reflections but the SunBrite television screen is hardly disturbed at all. This is with the television mounted at eye-level on a table. I can only imagine that putting it in a slightly elevated position on the wall would completely eliminated any of the reflection issues that popped up (which were minor anyway, in my opinion). I cruised through the mend and set everything to “Auto” where possible. I would guess the picture quality could be improved even more if someone took the time to properly calibrate the set using any of the available tools. The one setting that I did adjust was the “Ambient Light Sensor”; it was off by default and I wanted to see how it adjusted itself during the daylight/nighttime transition. One thing I worried about with a set that can only be described as “super bright” was how it would look at night. Namely, would our entire backyard be illuminated by the flickering images on the screen after the sun set? Thankfully, the television dimmed itself to a perfectly acceptable glow once darkness rolled in and it was hardly noticeable from inside the house while it running on the back porch.
Overall I could not be more impressed with this television set. SunBrite has done a fantastic job bringing a product to the residential market that people are going to be excited to include in their outdoor living spaces. I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing how it holds up to our harsh climate and fully expect it to last years and years. Furthermore, the model I received to review is a suddenly boring 1080p set and SunBrite now has UHD 4K panels in all of their sets and I am more than a little jealous! If you’re in the market for an outdoor television set I highly recommend that you check out what SunBrite has to offer, you will not regret it!
A review unit was provided to GeekDad by SunBrite.