Review: Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box and Gradient Light Strip

    Smart lighting solutions have come a long way in recent years and as consumers, we’re happy to entertain a variety of lighting solutions in our homes and businesses.

    What started with the Philips Ambilight TV, has now evolved into lighting solutions that are available for essentially any TV. This solution takes the content on-screen and extends it beyond, expanding the colours of the content to multicoloured lighting that extends far beyond the frame of your TV.

    Philips understands that not everyone will buy their Ambilight TV that offers this feature, so to solve this, the company has now created the Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box.

    This device takes input from as many as 4 HDMI sources, reads the content of each frame and sends the light information to the Hue Gradient Light Strip to create virtually the same experience on any brand TV.

    The Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box lets you seamlessly mirror the colours of your on-screen TV content, whether it’s from your cable box, gaming console, streaming services or direct input from a laptop, it uses this data to surround the visuals with lighting effects that makes every viewing session vivid and captivating.

    After using the solution for a couple of weeks, its now time to detail what’s great and what’s not in a full review.


    Curves in all the right places

    The HDMI switcher from Philips offers 4x HDMI inputs from your devices and a 5th HDMI port which output from the switcher to your TV. What Philips is able to do here is capture the RGB values of the pixels sent to the outside of the display, then multiple them through their lighting technology.

    This provides an experience that goes beyond the size of your TV and provides a greater, more impactful experience. The design of the switcher is fairly subtle and could easily be at home in your entertainment unit, there to function, device is fairly lean in size, black in colour, easily fading into the rest of your home entertainment system.

    Attaching the light strip to the back of the TV is an interesting process. First, you start by attaching 5 black plastic strips on the back of the TV. These light strip does come in different lengths to suit different sized TVs, and while I have a 65″ and 75″ wall-mounted, I fortunately also had a 55″ 4K TV that was perfect for this review.

    The lightstrip is available three sizes. The 55-inch lightstrip is recommended for 55 to 60-inch TVs, the 65-inch lightstrip for 65 to 70-inch TVs, and the 75-inch lightstrip for 75-inch and larger TVs. If the size of your TV falls in between these recommendations, use the next size down (for example, a 62-inch TV would use the 55-inch lightstrip).

    Once you have the black plastic supports in place, you can route the light strip which is really thick, which can make bending it around the corners a little tricky. Once you work through the light setup, you’ll connect it to the power and let the HDMI switcher perform its magic, syncing with a control module at the end of the light strip to do the magic.


    How does it perform ?

    Naturally being a smart connected light system, there’s a mobile app to interface with the switcher and light strip. Essentially you have a choice between 3 modes to choose from, Video, Music and Game. These translate to different levels of intensity, although this can be overwritten. You can also select the brightness on the light strip and I can tell you the max, is really bright, I found around 80-90% to be the best setting, but this will depend on the ambient light in your room.

    With the Sync activated on the HDMI switcher, the light then responds to the HDMI source, be it gaming with an Xbox, or video content through a set-top-box or even a phone or camera connected via USB-C to HDMI.

    The effect really is quite spectacular, something not possible with a basic light strip on the back of your low-line entertainment unit.

    I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of the light changing, particularly when on Game mode and set to the highest intensity. If there were delays in the changes to colours and the content on screen, it would really break the experience, but thankfully Philips has done a great job of dealing with any latency in the HDMI chain.


    Stand out features of this device.

    While a HDMI switcher and light strip don’t immediately indicate a long list of features, there are actually quite a few available.

    • Sync lights with your home theatre
    • Connect up to 4 HDMI devices – 4 x HDMI input & 1 x HDMI output (HDMI 2.0b with HDCP 2.2)
    • Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa compatible
    • Supports 4k at 60Hz, 1080p and 1440p at 120Hz
    • HDR10+ & Dolby Vision
    • CEC
    • IR remote
    • Sync lights with your home theatre
    • Bluetooth v4.2 (for installation)
    • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4 GHz
    • Rated for up to 25,000 hours of operation


    Not everything’s perfect

    Being a man-in-the-middle of the HDMI chain is a great approach and will accommodate many setups. What is an interesting challenge is the fact that increasingly out Smart TVs are coming with an array of smart apps that mean we don’t need HDMI 1, 2, 3 or 4, anywhere near as commonly as we did a few years ago.

    This means if you fire up Netflix on your Smart TV, there’s no opportunity for Philips to capture the colour information from the signal and leverage it to create this lighting experience.

    Unless you’re going to buy a Philips TV, then this configuration means the product won’t apply to you. On the other hand, if you want to add it to a TV for the kids in the games room or rumpus.


    How much and when can you get one ?

    The 55″ version of the Philip Hue Play gradient lightstrip has a standard cost of A$399.95 at stores like JB Hi-Fi, but I found it on Amazon for $355.90.

    If you step up to the 65″ Gradient Strip, you’ll pay $382.90 at Amazon, while the standard price is $439.95 RRP.

    For the largest version, supporting 75″ displays, you’ll pay $449.90.

    The Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box costs $499.00 at JB Hi-Fi, or $398.46 at Amazon.

    To make the Light strip and the HDMI Sync box play together and be able to control it with your phone, you’ll also need the Philips Hue Bridge. Some of you may already have this if you’ve bought Hue lights previously, but if you’re new, you’ll need to add another A$86.61 to the price.

    This means the total solution that I reviewed (the 55″ version), could be yours for A$840.97 if you shop around. This certainly isn’t cheap and if you buy it at retail will be the best part of $1,000. If you found a great deal on a TV leading into Christmas, maybe you have some extra money burning a hole in your pocket and this will be a great present for yourself.


    Final thoughts

    It is difficult to say that anyone actually needs this in this life, but there’ll be plenty that wants it. I first saw the concept many years ago with a Kickstarter project that I invested in and at the time it suffered many limitations that made it wasn’t practical for most households. At the time, they used light strips, adding to the complexity of setup, while Philip’s solution is now more elegant and easy to setup.

    The biggest challenge facing Philips is the smart TV app platforms and I actually wish there was a lighting standard for this built into non-Philips TVs, that could be leveraged by solutions like this to leverage the HDMI pixel information, at least colour sampling of it.

    The effect you get when watching a movie, or playing a game is pretty fantastic, extending the image far beyond the bezels of your display with ambient light thrown to the wall behind it. It’s a really neat trick, it’s something I loved using but not sure I’d find my way to justifying the price tag easily at 39, but my 20yo self with some disposable dollars would certainly be hard-pressed to resist.

    Jason Cartwright
    Jason Cartwright
    Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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