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Philips Hue Play Sync Box and Gradient Light Bar review: Totally unnecessary and totally enjoyable

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Am I wrong to think our TVs should be cooler now? We can pretend 3D TVs aren’t there because they suck, and curved TVs are a gimmick at best. Yes, image quality and form factor have improved a lot since the 1980s, but it’s 2022! Where’s my awesome sci-fi TV?

That said, when I finally get a chance to test the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box and Play gradient light strip, I hope it will improve my TV experience. It claims to be able to sync color-changing backlights (and any other color-changing light bulbs you might have) with content on your TV for a more immersive experience. It’s a “surround lighting” concept that complements the surround sound we’ve known for years.

This surround lighting experience isn’t very sci-fi, but it’s still cool. I’m sold on it after using it almost every night for the past few months. I know, and I was shocked too.

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Let’s break this system down into its components. The $250 Play HDMI Sync Box is the brains of the operation. As the name suggests, it’s a box about 7 x 4 x 1 inches. On the back are four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. This is how the system knows what’s on your TV screen to match the color of your lights; all images are routed through it. It’s a clever design that greatly reduces lag and keeps your lights in tight sync, although there is one major flaw with this approach, which we’ll get to later. It was a bit limited when it first launched, but now it supports Dolby Vision, Atmos, and HDR10 Plus, so your shows should look as good as they sound.

The sync box itself sits between your HDMI device and the TV and takes care of all the lighting processing. Another major piece is the Play gradient light bar, the price of which depends on the size your TV needs ($250 for 55″, $270 for 65″ , $300 for 75 inches). This is a flexible LED strip that attaches to the back of the TV. The 65″ strip I ended up with contained about 80 individual LEDs, but they didn’t have to display the same color at the same time, which is what they were able to create a display on the edge of the TV screen. The idea is that the color will bleed off the screen and flow onto the wall behind it, making the screen feel bigger.

also has a mandatory component (yes, this changes getting more expensive) and some other nice components. The mandatory product is the $60 Philips Hue Bridge, which connects directly to your Wi-Fi router and acts as a central hub for all Hue. This is how the sync box will tell the gradient bar which colors to show and when.

The flexible gradient light bar is available in three sizes, Inserts the channels you have pinned to the back of the TV.

-haves Is any other color changing Hue light around your living room. These can all be looped into the stream of the sync box, so the colors on the screen can extend not only behind the TV but around the room, and the result is much cooler than I thought.

Setting up the system is easy, but I There’s a head start because I already have Hue lights scattered around my apartment (accounting for all the lights in my living room), which means my Hue Bridge has my Wi-Fi and account set up.

After finishing, my first task is Added gradient bars to my TV. The system includes some plastic rails with double-sided tape that you can attach to the back of the TV. Then you simply insert the flexible gradient strips into the grooves of the rails. This is a little more complicated for me because I have a 55″ TV and Hue accidentally sent me a 65″ strip. Luckily, I was able to add some curves to the straights due to the curved strips and everything fit and aligned as expected. (Though I recommend picking the right-sized strip for your TV.) From there, you just plug it into a wall outlet and add it to your home system via the bridge and the Hue app.

set the sync box more easy. You simply connect HDMI cables from streaming devices, video game consoles, Blu-ray players, etc. to the TV, but instead connect them to the sync box, then connect the sync box’s HDMI to the TV and plug it in.

From there, you have to install a phone on the separate Hue Sync app. Here you can set up and control your upcoming light show. If there are multiple Hue lights around the room, place each of them in the room’s 3D diagram. This way the sync box knows which color to turn on and when to get everything going. You can also create multiple “entertainment zone” settings, in case sometimes you just want your TV to be backlit.

At this point, you can basically here we go. Start playing something through the sync box and start modifying the settings in the Hue Sync app to make the system work the way you want. On the app’s home screen, you can switch between video, music, and gaming modes, adjust the intensity between subtle, medium, high, and extreme, and use the slider to adjust brightness.

I’m very Come to know, I really like customizing the experience to the specific content I’m watching. For example, if I’m watching a movie like Everything Everywhere All At Once I want it to play in high intensity video mode The brightness of the lamp is about 65%. For slower paced movies, I prefer medium intensity. If I wanted it to have a sudden, near-instantaneous response, I would switch to Game Mode and Extreme Intensity. If I wanted to play music through the TV and create a party vibe, I’d set it to music mode, which doesn’t actually look at the colors on the TV, but instead makes the lights pulse to the beat.

Each mode is valid Once I adjusted them to my liking, it worked really well. As a fan, I really don’t think I’d want to use this system for movies assuming they would be distracting, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. As long as the brightness and intensity are set properly, it won’t overwhelm the film. Instead, it brought me into the world of cinema. It felt more like I was sitting in the same room with the characters than watching them through the TV window.

Watch The Simpsons filled my living room with the bright pastel colors of Springfield, which was a delight. While I don’t currently have a game system setup, I’ve watched a ton of gameplay videos in game mode and my apartment is lit up by explosions, laser fires, or bucolic greens depending on the game, which is awesome. While I probably wouldn’t use music mode unless I was throwing a party, I have to say that the beat matching was excellent and I loved the music at Anderson .Paak, Beyoncé and J. Cole. (It also works for music videos.)

It’s worth noting that while I have eight Hue lights in my living room to play with, I’ve spent a lot of time with the sync box, only the fader bar on the back of the TV and all the other lights are off. This alone is very effective. It puts out a lot of light (1,100 lumens, roughly equivalent to a 75W bulb, but spread out in a long ring), and I turn it on often even when the TV is off, as it adds more light to my living room, and It can be controlled like any other light using the regular Hue app. Nature documentaries are really popular. I think it reduces eye strain when watching movies, but it doesn’t pull me out like turning on regular lights.

is used for Gaming, with lightning-fast response times, feels more immersive. When our Thomas Ricker reviewed the (much cheaper) Govee immersive TV backlight last year, he found that it easily lags behind what’s on the screen, but that’s not an issue with the sync box for me, especially in game mode . For movies, slower transitions of medium intensity make the effect more subtle and feel soft and natural.

Integration The other Hue lights in my living room are not that smooth though. When I’m watching a movie or TV show, I find that I really don’t like seeing any of my lights directly, otherwise they’ll be distracting. The solution to this problem is to create an “entertainment zone” in the Sync app that does not contain these lights. Creating a new area is a bit of a pain, and for some reason the app doesn’t let you edit an already created area.

The bigger problem is that once you start syncing content with your TV, those lights you’ve now excluded will still stay where they were before. So if they’re open, you’ll have to quit the Sync app, open the regular Hue app, and close them manually. It’s really annoying that you can’t do all of this with just one app with just a few clicks. The sync box works with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, but while it can respond to some voice commands, I haven’t been able to automate the process. I’d also like to see the ability to switch between entertainment areas added directly to the home screen so I don’t have to dig into the settings too often (though if the gradient bar is your only tint light, that wouldn’t be a problem).

Even when you’re not watching TV, the light strip is bright enough to be used as accent lighting or supplemental lighting.

is now the biggest flaw in the system. As the name of the HDMI Sync Box suggests, this whole process only applies to content coming in via the HDMI cable. This means that if you’re using the built-in app on your smart TV, or even a digital antenna, to receive local broadcasts, you’re out of luck, as the sync box simply can’t handle that content. Even the $90 Govee system mentioned above can do it. (Although it requires a small camera in front of the TV screen, it doesn’t work well and doesn’t work with other smart lights.) Personally, it’s not a problem for me, since I hate my TV’s built-in- in the app, so I’m using the Chromecast with Google TV. The same is true if you use a Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Xbox, PlayStation, or a cable box that runs over HDMI. Still, tons of people here (including some of my close relatives) just use built-in apps on their TVs, and if you’re one of them, you don’t want this product. It must also be said that the sync box and fader bar add up to over $500 (and $600 if you need to buy the Hue Bridge). That’s more than the cost of many very decent TVs, which puts it into luxury territory. Among smart home products, Hue is known for being refined, working well, adding features steadily, and complementing other smart home products, often costing more for lighting than its competitors. A lot of people have bought into the Hue Ecosystem (like me), and for them, while it’s still not cheap, it adds a whole new dimension and a bunch of tricks to your home lighting system. Photo by Brent Rose for The Verge
Update, 6:10 PM ET, August 17, 2022:

Changed brand from Philips to Hue or Phili Mention of ps Hue.



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