For as long as I’ve been writing here and podcasting with Stacey, I’ve generally stayed away from Philips Hue products. The main reason is that I haven’t wanted numerous bridges and hubs around the house. Instead, I’d rather have a single hub at most to be the brains of my smart home. But when I saw the $230 Philips Hue Sync Box that became available in October, I was intrigued. So much so that Stacey bought me an early Christmas present and I’ve been happily using the Hue Sync Box for the past week.
If you’re not familiar with the Sync Box, it’s actually quite similar to an older product, the Philips Hue Play. Both sync with audio or video content on your television or computer monitor. There’s a key difference though and it’s the reason I never considered the Play option. The Play uses software for your PC or Mac to synchronize Hue colored lights with on-screen content. The Sync Box removes a computer from the equation by using hardware.
The box itself has 4 HDMI inputs and a single HDMI output, which connects to your television. It does require an electrical outlet as well, but as far as general setup, it’s basically plug-and-play. However, you do need a Hue Bridge and Hue lights for the Sync Box to do anything.
I found a discounted Philips Hue Play Starter Kit for $130 at Best Buy, which included the Hue Bridge and a pair of Hue Light Bars. Since the Play and Synch products are so similar, this is an easy way to add everything you need to a Sync Box.
Setting up the Hue Bridge requires power and an ethernet connection, which is another reason I’ve stayed from Hue. My Google WiFi mesh network access points only have one ethernet port to spare each. Both are typically connected directly to a 4K television set for streaming. I decided to use the wired connection for the Hue Bridge instead of for our main television set. But I do have a $15 network switch arriving later this week to expand my ethernet ports and get my HDTV hard-wired again.
Within three minutes, I had the Hue Bridge set up using the Hue app. It’s a simple process with minimal user input. I then plugged the two Light Bars into the included power brick, which supports up to three Hue devices, and placed them behind my television.
Adding the lights to the bridge is another short, simple process using the Hue app. However, since these lights are for a very specific purchase, I had to create an “Entertainment Zone” in the Hue app and drag icons for each light bar so that the bridge knows where I’ve placed them.
At that point, I had color-tunable lights behind the TV, but there’s one more step before they can synchronize their colors to A/V content. And there’s an app for that. I had to download the Philips Hue Sync app, which configured and controls the Hue Sync Box. In the future, I’d like to see Philips include the Sync features in the main Hue app.
The Sync app lets you choose between three Sync Modes: Video, Music, and Game. You can also set a color intensity level ranging from subtle to extreme. I like extreme, but that’s just me. And lastly, you can have direct control over the Light Bar brightness.
So after a short setup and configuration time, perhaps 20 minutes, how does the Hue Sync Box work with the Light Bars?
In a word: Fantastic! Whether I’m watching movies or playing video games on the new Google Stadia platform, I’ve felt the experience to be more immersive and enjoyable. Movie explosions light the entire wall with a flash while the different game environments reflect the mood and scene ambiance.
And when not consuming video or game content, I’ve been using the lights with some presets in the Hue app to change the room lighting in a subtle way.
I do need to note something important: The Hue Sync Box only works with content over HDMI. We actually use apps on our HDTV to stream content, so I actually had to add a Google Chromecast Ultra 4K device for the video signal to use the Sync Box. I didn’t mind because I need that for Google Stadia games anyway, but it’s worth a mention: You’ll need some sort of HDMI device to use the Sync Box.
And from a configuration standpoint, I found the Game setting to synchronize the best for all content, even for movies. Your mileage may vary as this is likely dependent on your source content.
Since most video content is copyright protected, I’m including a very brief demo of a scene from Altered Carbon on Netflix just to give you an idea of the TV and movie experience. Note that you can see the light bars behind the TV because I hadn’t yet mounted them.
Overall, I’m thrilled with these Philips Hue devices. Even my wife, who generally could care less about smart lighting, likes the Sync Box features for movies. Would I use these for all content? No. When watching a football game over the weekend, I turned the Sync Box on but it really didn’t add much to the experience because there wasn’t a broad range of color changes during the game. But for an immersive movie or game session? The Sync Box and Hue lights are perfect for those.