Philips Hue Play Sync Box and Gradient Lightstrip review: Totally unnecessary, totally delightful

Am I wrong in thinking that our TVs should be pretty good by now? We can pretend that 3D TVs didn’t happen because they were bad, and curved TVs were a gimmick at best. Yes, picture quality and form factor have improved a lot since the 1980s, but it’s 2022! Where’s My Fabulous Science-Fiction TV?

Just to say that when I finally got a chance to test out Philips’ Hue Play HDMI sync box and Play Gradient Lightstrip, I expected it to enhance my TV experience. It claims to sync the color-changing backlight (and any other color-changing bulbs you have) with the content on your TV for a more immersive experience. It’s a “surround lighting” concept that we associate with the surround sound we’ve known for years.

This surround lighting feel isn’t quite sci-fi, but it’s still pretty cool. And after using it almost every night for the past few months, I am selling it. I know, I’m surprised too.

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Let’s break this system down into its component parts. The $250 Play HDMI Sync Box is the brainchild of the operation. As the name suggests, it is approximately 7 x 4 x 1 inch box. On the back are four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. That way the system knows what’s on your TV screen so that it matches your lighting; All imagery is routed through it. It’s a clever design that greatly minimizes lag so your lights stay tightly coordinated, although this method has one major drawback, which we’ll go over in a moment. It was somewhat limited when it first launched, but it now supports Dolby Vision, Atmos and HDR10 Plus, so your programs should look and sound as good as they normally would.

The sync box itself sits between your HDMI devices and your TV and does all the lighting processing.

The other key piece is the Play Gradient LightStrip, which varies in price depending on the size you need for your TV ($250 for a 55-inch, $270 for a 65-inch, and $300 for a 75-inch). This is a flexible strip of LED lights that attaches to the back of your TV. With a 65 inch strip I ended up with about 80 different LEDs, but they don’t all have to display the same color at the same time, that way they are able to represent multiple colors being displayed. on the side of your TV screen. The idea is that the colors detract from the screen and the wall behind it, making the screen feel larger.

There’s another essential ingredient (yes, it’s getting expensive) as well as some other cool stuff. The essential piece is the $60 Philips Hue Bridge, which connects directly to your Wi-Fi router and serves as the central hub for all things . Thus the sync box will tell the gradient strip which colors to display and when.

The flexible shielded LightStrip comes in three sizes and channels slots that you affix to the back of your TV.

Any other color-changing hue lights are good for around your living room. All of these can be looped into the sync box’s stream so that the colors on your screen can be spread not only behind your TV but around your room as well, which turned out to be a lot cooler than I thought.

The system was simple to set up, but I had a head start because I already had Hue lights scattered around my apartment (accounting for all the lights in my living room), which meant my Hue Bridge was already Was set up with my Wi-Fi. and account.

Having said that, my first task was to add a gradient strip to my TV. The system includes some plastic guides with double-sided tape that you affix to the back of your TV. Then you insert the flexible shield bar into the groove in the guide. Made it a little more complicated for me because I have a 55 inch TV, and Philips accidentally sent me a 65 inch strip. Fortunately, because the strips are bent, I was able to add some curves to the straightway, and everything fit and aligned as intended. (Though I’d recommend getting the right-sized strip for your TV.) From there, you simply plug it into a wall outlet and add it to your home system via the Bridge and Hue apps.

The sync box was even easier to set up. You simply take the HDMI cables coming in from your streaming device, video game console, Blu-ray player, etc., and instead of playing them into the TV, you run them into the sync box and then connect the sync box’s HDMI. Plug in TV and power.

From there you’ll need to install a separate Hue Sync app on your phone. This is where you will set up and control your upcoming light show. If you have multiple Hue lights around the room, you would place each of them in a 3D diagram of a room. This is so that the sync box knows which color to switch to and when everything flows smoothly. You can also create multiple “entertainment area” setups if there are times when you only want the TV to be backlit.

The Sync Box is set up and controlled through a separate app from other Hue lights.

The app prompts you to apply lights to a 3D model of your room.

At this point, you are basically good to go. Start playing some content through the Sync box and start tinkering with the settings in the Hue Sync app to make the system work as you’d like. On the main screen of the app you can switch between video, music and game modes, adjust the intensity between micro, medium, high and extreme, and adjust the brightness with a slider.

I learned very quickly that I liked to tailor my experience to the specific content I was watching. For example, if I was watching a movie like everywhere together, I want it in video mode with lights on at high intensity with 65 percent brightness. For slow-moving movies, I preferred medium intensity. If all I wanted was sudden, near-instantaneous reactions, I switched to Game Mode and Extreme Intensity. If I want to play music through my TV and have a party vibe, I’ll turn it to music mode, which doesn’t actually see the colors on the TV, but lights up as well as the beats.

Each of these modes worked shockingly once I tweaked them to my liking. As a cinematographer, I actually thought I didn’t want to use this system for movies, assuming they would be a distraction, but I didn’t feel that way at all. As long as the brightness and intensity were set properly, it did not dominate the film. Instead, it brought me into the world of film. It felt like I was sitting in the same room with the characters instead of looking through the TV window.

watching simpson Filled my living room with the bright pastel colors of Springfield, and it was a soothing feeling. While I don’t currently have a gaming system setup, I did watch a ton of gameplay videos while in Game Mode, and it was a blast with my apartment blazing, laser fire, or puzzling grass greens depending on the game. While the music mode probably isn’t something I’d use unless I was throwing a party, I must say the beat matching was exceptional, and I loved watching my apartment pals with the beats at Anderson. Pak, Beyoncé, and J. Cole’s music. (It also works well with music videos.)

Sync boxes and gradient lightstrips can work in conjunction with other Hue lights in your home.

One big difference between the Hue Lightstrips and the cheaper alternatives is the response time when gaming, which is where Hue shines.

It’s worth noting that while I have eight Hue lights in my living room to play with, I spent a lot of time using the sync box with only the gradient strip on the back of the TV and all other lights turned off. Alone did a great job. It puts out a significant amount of light (1,100 lumens, roughly equivalent to a 75W bulb but distributed in a long ring), and I often have it even when the TV is off as it adds more light to my living room and Can be controlled with the regular Hue app like any other light. Nature documentaries really pop up. While watching movies, I felt it eased eye strain, but it didn’t take me out like normal light.

As for gaming, the response time is lightning-quick and makes it feel more immersive. Last year, when our Thomas Ricker reviewed the Govi ​​Immersion TV Backlight (significantly less expensive), he found it prone to falling behind on-screen content, but for me that wasn’t a problem with the Sync Box, Especially in gaming mode. For movies, slow transitions to medium intensity made the effect more subtle and felt soft and natural.

Integrating other Hue lights into my living room wasn’t as easy of an experience, though. When I was watching a movie or TV show, I found that I didn’t like to see any of my lights straight or they would be distracting. The way around this is to create an “Entertainment Area” in the Sync app that doesn’t include those lights. Creating a new region is a bit of a pain, and for some reason, the app doesn’t let you edit areas you’ve already created.

The big problem is that once you start syncing content with the TV, the lights you’ve turned out now stay in the same state they were in before. So if they were on, you’d have to exit the Sync app, open the regular Hue app, and turn them off manually. It’s just a few clicks, but it’s really annoying that you can’t do it all with just one app. The Sync Box works with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, but until it responds to a few voice commands, I’ve yet to be able to automate that process. I’d also like to see the ability to switch between added entertainment areas directly on the homescreen so I don’t have to dive into settings as often (though that won’t be a problem if the gradient strip is your only Hue light).

The LightStrip is bright enough to use as accent or supplemental lighting even when you’re not watching TV.

Now let’s talk about the biggest drawback of the system. As the name HDMI Sync Box suggests, this whole thing only works for content that is coming in via an HDMI cable. That means if you use the built-in app on your smart TV or even a digital antenna to pick up local broadcasts, you’re out of luck because the sync box won’t work with that content at all. . Even the $90 Govi ​​system mentioned above can do this. (Although it requires a small camera to be placed in front of your TV screen, it doesn’t work smoothly, and doesn’t play well with other smart lights.) Personally, this wasn’t a problem for me. Wasn’t because I hate my TV. -In apps, so I use Chromecast with Google TV for everything. This will be true if you use a Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Xbox, PlayStation, or cable box that plays via HDMI. Still, there are plenty of people (my close relatives included) who use built-in apps on their TVs, and if you’re one of them, you might not want this product.

It should also be said that, together, the sink box and gradient strip cost well over $500 (more than $600 if you also have to buy a Hue Bridge). That’s more than the cost of a lot of decent TVs, and it puts it in the realm of luxury products. Among smart home products, Hue has a reputation for being polished, working well, adding features consistently, and playing well with other smart home items, and its lights often cost more than the competition. Many people have already bought into the Hue ecosystem (as I have), and for them, while it’s still not cheap, it adds a whole new dimension and bag of tricks to your home lighting system.

Photography by Brent Rose for The Verge

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