Philips Hue Play sync box and gradient lightstrip review: wholly unnecessary, totally delightful


Am I unsuitable for considering our TVs needs to be loads cooler by now? We will fake 3D TVs didn’t occur as a result of they had been dangerous, and curved TVs had been a gimmick at finest. Yeah, image high quality and type issue has improved loads because the Nineteen Eighties, however it’s 2022! The place’s my superior sci-fi TV?

All that’s to say that after I lastly obtained an opportunity to check Philips’ Hue Play HDMI Sync Field and Play gradient lightstrip, I used to be hopeful that it will elevate my TV expertise. It claims to sync the color-changing backlight (and some other color-changing bulbs you might need) with the content material in your TV for a extra immersive expertise. It’s a “encompass lighting” idea to associate with the encompass sound we’ve identified for years.

This encompass lighting expertise isn’t fairly sci-fi, however it’s nonetheless fairly cool. And after utilizing it practically each night time for the final couple of months, I’m offered on it. I do know, I’m shocked, too.

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Let’s break this method down into its element components. The $250 Play HDMI Sync Field is the brains of the operation. It’s, because the identify suggests, a roughly 7 x 4 x 1-inch field. On the again are 4 HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. That is how the system is aware of what’s in your TV display so it may coloration match your lights; the entire imagery is routed by means of it. It’s a intelligent design that vastly reduces lag so your lights keep tightly synced, although there’s one main flaw to this methodology, which we’ll get into in a second. It was considerably restricted when it first launched, however it now helps Dolby Imaginative and prescient, Atmos, and HDR10 Plus, so your packages ought to look and sound simply nearly as good as they usually do.

The sync field itself sits between your HDMI gadgets and your TV and does all of the lighting processing.

The opposite main piece is the Play gradient lightstrip, which varies in worth relying on the scale wanted on your TV ($250 for the 55 inch, $270 for the 65 inch, and $300 for the 75 inch). This can be a versatile strip of LED lights that affixes to the again of your TV. The 65-inch strip I ended up with contained roughly 80 particular person LEDs, however they don’t all must show the identical coloration on the identical time, which is how they can create a illustration of the various colours being displayed on the sting of your TV display. The concept is that the colours type of bleed off of the display and onto the wall behind it, making the display really feel bigger.

There’s yet another obligatory element (yup, that is getting costly) in addition to another nice-to-haves. The obligatory piece is the $60 Philips Hue Bridge, which connects on to your Wi-Fi router and acts because the central hub for all issues Hue. That’s how the sync field will inform the gradient strip which colours to show and when.

The versatile gradient lightstrip is available in three sizes and slots into channels that you simply affix to the again of your TV.

The good-to-haves are some other color-changing Hue lights round your front room. These can all be looped into the sync field’s stream so the colours in your display can lengthen not simply behind your TV but in addition throughout your room, which turned out to be approach cooler than I believed it will be.

Establishing the system was easy, however I had a head begin as a result of I already had Hue lights scattered round my condo (accounting for the entire lights in my front room), which meant my Hue Bridge was already arrange with my Wi-Fi and account.

That carried out, my first process was so as to add the gradient strip to my TV. The system features a few plastic guides with double-sided tape that you simply affix to the again of your TV. Then you definitely simply slot the versatile gradient strip into the groove within the guides. This was made barely extra sophisticated for me as a result of I’ve a 55-inch TV, and Philips unintentionally despatched me the 65-inch strip. Fortunately, as a result of the strips bend, I used to be ready so as to add some curves to the straightaways, and all the things match and aligned as meant. (Although I’d suggest getting the appropriate measurement strip on your TV.) From there, you simply plug it right into a wall outlet and add it to your house system through the bridge and the Hue app.

Establishing the sync field was even simpler. You simply take the HDMI cables coming out of your streaming gadgets, online game consoles, Blu-ray gamers, and so forth., and as a substitute of operating them into the TV, you run them into the sync field after which join the sync field’s HDMI out to the TV and plug within the energy.

From there, it’s a must to set up a separate Hue Sync app in your telephone. That is the place you’ll arrange and management your impending gentle present. When you have a number of Hue lights across the room, you’ll place every of them in a 3D diagram of a room. That is so the sync field is aware of what coloration to show which gentle and when so all the things flows easily. You too can create a number of “leisure space” setups in case there are occasions while you solely need the TV to be backlit.

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The sync field is about up and managed by means of a separate app from different Hue lights.

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The app prompts you to put lights in a 3D mannequin of your room.

At this level, you’re principally good to go. Begin taking part in some content material by means of the sync field and begin tinkering with the settings within the Hue Sync app to make the system work such as you need it to. On the app’s foremost display you may change between video, music, and recreation modes, regulate the depth between delicate, average, excessive, and excessive, and regulate the brightness with a slider.

I realized in a short time that I actually appreciated tailoring the expertise to the particular content material I used to be watching. For instance, if I used to be watching a film like All the pieces In all places All At As soon as, I’d need it in video mode on excessive depth with the lights round 65 p.c brightness. For films that had been at a slower tempo, I most well-liked the average depth. If I needed it to have abrupt, near-instantaneous reactions, I switched to recreation mode and excessive depth. If I needed to play music by means of my TV and have a celebration vibe, I’d flip it to music mode, which doesn’t actually have a look at the colours on the TV however as a substitute makes the lights pulse together with the beat.

Every of those modes labored shockingly properly as soon as I’d tweaked them to my liking. As a cinephile, I actually thought that I wouldn’t need to use this method for films, assuming that they’d be a distraction, however I didn’t discover that to be the case in any respect. So long as the brightness and depth had been set correctly, it didn’t overwhelm the movie. As an alternative, it introduced me into the world of the film. It felt extra like I used to be sitting in the identical room with the characters moderately than viewing them by means of the window of my TV.

Watching The Simpsons crammed my front room with the brilliant pastel colours of Springfield, and it was a pleasant feeling. Whereas I don’t at present have a gaming system setup, I watched a ton of gameplay movies whereas in recreation mode, and it was a blast with my condo lighting up with explosions, laser fireplace, or bucolic grassy greens relying on the sport. Whereas music mode most likely isn’t one thing I’d use until I had been throwing a celebration, I’ve to say that the beat matching was distinctive, and I beloved seeing my condo pulse together with beats in Anderson .Paak, Beyoncé, and J. Cole’s music. (It labored properly with music movies, too.)

The sync field and gradient lightstrips can work along with different Hue lights in your house.

An enormous distinction between the Hue lightstrips and cheaper choices is response time when gaming, the place the Hue shines.

It’s price noting that whereas I’ve eight Hue lights in my front room to play with, I spent numerous time utilizing the sync field with solely the gradient strip on the again of the TV and all the opposite lights turned off. That alone labored extraordinarily properly. It places out a big quantity of sunshine (1,100 lumens, roughly the equal of a 75W bulb however distributed in an extended ring), and I typically have it on even when the TV is off as a result of it provides extra gentle to my front room and may be managed like some other gentle with the common Hue app. Nature documentaries actually popped. When watching films, I felt prefer it decreased eyestrain, however it didn’t pull me out like having regular lights on would.

For gaming, the response time is lightning-quick and makes it really feel much more immersive. Final 12 months, when our Thomas Ricker reviewed the (massively cheaper) Govee Immersion TV Backlight, he discovered that it was susceptible to falling behind the content material on-screen, however that wasn’t a problem for me with the sync field, particularly in gaming mode. For films, the slower transitions of average depth made the impact extra delicate and really feel smooth and pure.

Integrating the opposite Hue lights in my front room wasn’t as clean of an expertise, although. Once I was watching a film or a TV present, I found that I actually didn’t like seeing any of my lights immediately or they might turn out to be distracting. The best way round that is to create an “Leisure Space” within the Sync app that doesn’t embody these lights. Creating a brand new space is a little bit of a ache, and for some cause, the app doesn’t allow you to edit the areas you’ve already made.

The larger downside is that when you begin syncing content material with the TV, these lights that you simply’ve now excluded stay in no matter state they had been in beforehand. So in the event that they had been on, it’s a must to exit the Sync app, open the common Hue app, and switch them off manually. It’s just some clicks, however it’s actually annoying that you would be able to’t do all of this from only one app. The sync field works with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, however whereas it responds to some voice instructions, I’ve but to have the ability to get that course of automated. I’d additionally prefer to see the flexibility to change between leisure areas added on to the homescreen so I don’t must dive into the settings as typically (although that gained’t be a problem if the gradient strip is your solely Hue gentle).

The lightstrip is shiny sufficient to make use of as accent or supplemental lighting even while you’re not watching TV.

Now to the most important flaw within the system. Because the identify HDMI Sync Field suggests, this complete factor solely works for content material that’s coming in by means of an HDMI cable. That implies that should you use the built-in app in your good TV or perhaps a digital antenna to choose up native broadcast, you might be out of luck as a result of the sync field won’t work with that content material in any respect. Even the $90 Govee system talked about above can try this. (Although it requires inserting a small digital camera in entrance of your TV display, doesn’t work as easily, and doesn’t play as properly with different good lights.) Personally, this was not a problem for me as a result of I hate my TV’s built-in apps, so I exploit Chromecast with Google TV for all the things. The identical can be true should you use a Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Hearth TV Stick, Xbox, PlayStation, or cable field that runs by means of HDMI. Nonetheless, there are tons of individuals (a few of my shut kin included) who simply use the built-in apps on their TVs, and should you’re certainly one of them, you do not need this product.

It additionally should be stated that, collectively, the sync field and gradient strip value greater than $500 (greater than $600 if it is advisable to buy the Hue Bridge, too). That’s greater than the price of numerous very respectable TVs, and that places this within the realm of luxurious merchandise. Amongst good house merchandise, Hue has a fame for being polished, working properly, steadily including options, and taking part in properly with different good house objects, and its lighting typically prices greater than the competitors consequently. Lots of people have already purchased into the Hue ecosystem (as I’ve), and for them, whereas this nonetheless isn’t low-cost, it provides a complete new dimension and bag of tips to your house lighting system.

Images by Brent Rose for The Verge

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