Philips Hue Play Sync Box and Graduated Light Bar Review: Totally Unnecessary, Totally Fun

Am I wrong in thinking that our TVs must be much cooler now? We can pretend 3D TVs didn’t happen because they were bad, and curved TVs were a gimmick at best. Yes, image quality and form factor have improved a lot since the ’80s, but it’s 2022! Where’s my cool sci-fi TV?

All of this means that when I finally had the chance to test Philips’ Hue Play HDMI Sync Box And the Turn on the gradient light barI was hoping this would raise the bar for my TV experience. It claims to synchronize the color-changing backlight (and any other color-changing bulbs you may have) with the content on your TV for a more immersive experience. It’s a concept of “ambient lighting” in keeping with the surround sound we’ve known for years.

This ambient lighting experience isn’t exactly sci-fi, but it’s still pretty cool. And after using it almost every night for the past two months, I’ve sold it. I know, I was shocked too.

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Let’s break this system down into its component parts. The $250 to run an HDMI sync box She is the mind of the process. It is, as the name implies, a square measuring approximately 7 x 4 x 1 inches. On the back there are four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. This is how the system knows what’s on your TV screen so it can match colors to your lights; All images are routed through it. It’s a clever design that greatly reduces lag, so your lights stay tightly synchronized, although there is one major drawback to this method, which we’ll touch on in a bit. It was somewhat limited when it first launched, but it now supports Dolby Vision, Atmos, and HDR10 Plus, so your software should look as good as it normally does.

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

The other key piece is the Play Graduated Lighting Bar, which varies in price depending on the size required for your TV ($250 for 55 inchesAnd the $270 for 65 inchesAnd the $300 for 75 inches). This is a flexible LED strip that attaches to the back of the TV. The 65″ strip I finished with has about 80 individual LEDs, but they don’t all have to display the same color at the same time, which is how they can create a representation of the many colors that are displayed on the edge of the TV screen. The idea is that the colors bleed from the screen to the wall behind it, making the screen appear larger.

There’s another mandatory item (yes, that’s getting expensive) as well as some other goodies. Mandatory piece is $60 from Philips Hue Bridge, which connects directly to your Wi-Fi router and acts as a central hub for all things Hue. This is how the sync box will tell the gradient bar which colors to display and when.

The flexible graduated light strip comes in three sizes and has slots in the channels that you attach to the back of the TV.

Gentles are any other color-changing Hue lights around your living room. They can all be linked in a sync box flow so that the colors on your screen not only extend behind your TV but also throughout your room, which turns out to be cooler than you thought it would be.

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

After doing this, my first task was to add the gradient bar to my TV. The system includes a few plastic guides with double-sided tape that attaches to the back of the TV. Then you just open the elastic gradient strip into the groove in the guides. This was more complicated for me because I have a 55 inch TV, and Philips accidentally sent a 65 inch bar. Fortunately, since the strips bend, I was able to add some curves to the straight lines, and everything fit and aligned as intended. (Although I recommend getting a tape just the right size for your TV.) From there, simply plug it into a wall outlet and add it to your home system via the bridge and the Hue app.

Setting up the sync box was easier. Just take the HDMI cables coming from streaming devices, video game consoles, Blu-ray players, etc., and instead of playing them in the TV, you can play them in the sync box and then plug the sync box’s HDMI out. TV and power connection.

From there, you have to install a separate Hue Sync app on your phone. This is where you will set up and control the impending light show. If you have several Hue lights around a room, you will put each into a 3D diagram of the room. This is so the sync box knows which color to direct the light and when everything will flow smoothly. You can also create several “entertainment zone” settings in case there are times when you just want to light up the TV.

The sync box is set up and controlled by an app separate from other Hue lights.

The app prompts you to place the lights in a 3D model of your room.

At this point, you’re basically fine. Start playing some content through the sync box and start tweaking the settings in the Hue Sync app to make the system work as you like. On the app’s home screen, you can change between video, music, and game modes, adjust the intensity between fine, medium, high, and extreme, and adjust the brightness using the slider.

I learned pretty quickly that I really like to tailor the experience to the specific content I was watching. For example, if I’m watching a movie like Everything everywhere at once, I want it in high intensity video mode with about 65 percent brightness. For films that had a slower pace, I preferred moderate intensity. If I wanted sudden, almost instantaneous feedback, I switched to Gameplay and Extreme Intensity. If I want to play music through my TV and have a party vibe, I’ll switch it to Music mode, which doesn’t really look at the colors on the TV but instead makes the lights pulse to the beat.

Each of these modes worked amazingly well once I tweaked them to my liking. As a movie buff, I really thought I wouldn’t want to use this system for movies, assuming it would be a distraction, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. As long as the brightness and intensity are set correctly, the film will not be overshadowed. Instead, he brought me into the world of film. I felt like I was sitting in the same room with the characters instead of watching them through the TV window.

Watch The Simpsons I filled my living room with bright Springfield pastels, and it was a cheerful feeling. While I don’t currently have a game system setup, I watched a lot of gameplay videos while in game mode and it was a blast with my apartment lit up with explosions, laser fire, or rustic grass plants depending on the game. While Music Mode is probably not something I use unless I’m throwing a party, I have to say the beat matching was exceptional, and I loved seeing my apartment beat along with Anderson’s beats. Paak, Beyoncé, and J. Cole’s Music. (It worked well with music videos, too.)

The sync box and gradient light strips can work in conjunction with other Hue lights in your home.

The big difference between Hue lightstrips and cheaper options is the response time when playing, which is where the Hue lights up.

It’s worth noting that even though I had eight Hue bulbs in my living room to play with, I spent a lot of time using the sync box with only the gradient bar on the back of the TV and all other lights off. This alone works very well. It delivers a great deal of light (1100 lumens, roughly equivalent to a 75 watt bulb but spread out in a long ring), and I often use it even when the TV is off because it adds more light to my living room and is just as manageable as any other light Using the regular Hue app. Nature documentaries really popped up. When watching movies, I felt like it reduced my eyestrain, but it didn’t pull me out as if the regular lights were on.

For games, the response time is very fast and makes them more immersive. Last year when Thomas Ricker reviewed the (significantly less expensive) Govee Immersion TV Backlight, he found it prone to lagging on onscreen content, but that wasn’t an issue for me with the sync box, especially in gaming mode. For films, the slower transitions of moderate intensity made the effect more subtle, feeling soft and natural.

Incorporating other Hue lights into my living room was not a smooth experience. Whenever I’ve been watching a movie or TV show, I’ve discovered that I really don’t like seeing any of my lights straight on or it will distract me. The way around this is to create an “entertainment zone” in Sync that doesn’t include those lights. Creating a new region is a bit annoying, and for some reason, the app doesn’t allow you to modify regions you’ve already created.

The biggest problem is that once you start syncing content to the TV, those lights you’ve now turned off stay in whatever state they were previously. So if they’re on, you have to exit Sync, open the regular Hue app, and turn them off manually. It’s just a few clicks away, but it’s really annoying that you can’t do all this with just one app. The sync box works with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, but while it does respond to some voice commands, I still have to automate this process. I’d also like to see the ability to switch between entertainment zones added directly to the home screen, so I don’t have to dive into the settings too much (although that wouldn’t be a problem if the gradient bar was your only Hue light).

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

Now to the biggest flaw in the system. As the name of the HDMI Sync Box suggests, this whole thing only works with content that comes via an HDMI cable. This means that 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 Govee system mentioned above can do just that. (Although it does require placing a small camera in front of the TV screen, it doesn’t run smoothly, and doesn’t work well with other smart lights.) Personally, this wasn’t a problem for me because I hate my TV. -In apps, so I use Chromecast with Google TV for everything. The same will be true if you are using a Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Xbox, PlayStation, or a cable box that works over HDMI. However, there are a lot of people (including some of my close relatives) who only use the built-in apps on their TVs, and if you’re one of them, you don’t want this product.

It also has to be said that, together, the sync box and gradient bar cost over $500 (more than $600 if you need to buy a Hue bridge as well). That’s more than the cost of a lot of very decent TVs, and that puts this in the realm of luxury products. Among smart home products, Hue has a reputation for being polished, performing well, adding features consistently, playing well with other smart home items, and often costing more lighting than the competition as a result. Lots of people have already bought into the Hue ecosystem (as I did), and for them, while this is still cheap, it adds a whole new dimension and a bag of tricks to your home’s lighting system.

Photography by Brent Rose for The Verge

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