Lights don’t get much smarter than this

There’s a reason Philips can get away with charging such a premium for its Hue range of smart lighting. It’s the best.

If, like me, you’ve tried a bunch of other products, you might just find yourself in the same smart home hodgepodge I’m involved in; different brands, different qualities and perhaps the most frustrating; different virtual assistants.

I literally have to ask three different people if I want to turn on the lights in my dining room, my bedroom, and on my patio at the same time. How did I get into this mess?

At least I can generally remember which virtual assistant is in charge of which lights. Needless to say, the house manager isn’t impressed with the arrangement and often asks why we can’t just have a light switch on the wall like the good old days.

She’s funny like that.

Anyway…

The more Philips Hue products I use, the more I wish they were everything I use – and the latest addition only emphasizes this point.

The Philips Hue Play gradient light strip is quite annoying when you take it out of the box; a fairly featureless white snake with a black back. Available in 55, 65 and 75 inch models, it is designed to be mounted on the back of your TV, about 5 to 10 centimeters from the edge. I use mine with a 65 inch screen and of course it fits perfectly. The installation is very simple and it is thanks to the clean design of Philips Hue that I expect.

There are several plastic mounting brackets included in the box with 3M adhesive strips on the back. Once you’ve glued them in place, taking care not to block any vents or speakers, simply push the gradient light strip into position, starting in the middle which is marked with a small triangle.

There’s a small controller box that sticks to the back of the TV as well. You plug the strip light into one end of it and the power adapter cable into the other. Assuming you can run this wire through the back of your TV stand, the whole setup should be completely invisible from the front.

Then just add the band to your Philips Hue profile via the app.

Oh yes, I should probably mention that you will need some additional hardware to do this. And that’s the main hiccup when it comes to the Hue ecosystem. To operate any Hue light, you will need a Hue Bridge. (NZ$109.00) This is a small white box that connects your lights to your Wi-Fi. Why?

Well, there’s actually a solid rationale. Do you want all the lights in your house to connect to the same router as your phone, laptop, and TV? Or do you prefer one device that controls them all? That’s the purpose of a bridge like this.

But wait, unfortunately there is more; for a product like gradient lightstrip to do what it is designed to do – ie; reflect the colors of your screen onto the wall behind it – you need a way to tell it what’s showing on that screen and where. This is where the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box comes in. (NZ$599.00)

Instead of plugging your external devices like game consoles, streaming sticks, and set-top boxes directly into your TV, you instead plug them into one of the Sync Box’s four HDMI ports. You then plug the Sync Box into your TV (or monitor) allowing the video signal to pass on its way to the screen.

The good news is that this is actually a pretty handy way to free up HDMI ports on your TV. You will now only need one, whereas you may have needed up to four before.

The bad news is that for your NZ$399.95 Hue Play gradient light strip to work, you’ll need that extra $708.00 gear…assuming you don’t already have it.

How can that mean anything? Maybe only if you’re using other compatible products at the same time – devices like the Hue Play lightbar and White and Color smart bulbs can be added to your Sync Box setup to further enhance your off-screen lighting experience . Essentially, the more Hue devices you add, the more your Sync Box justifies its expense.

But do you really need it?

Of course not. Why on earth would you need to shine some pretty lights on the wall behind a TV that’s already doing reasonably interesting things? Except… you don’t really need the TV either, do you?

On the other hand, if you have decided to To do need a TV and what’s more, you’ve splashed out on a nice big one with narrow bezels around the edge, you might as well go all the way and extend your viewing experience beyond the screen itself. That’s what the Hue Play gradient light strip does admirably – with just a few minutes of installation and setup.

Using the Hue Sync app, you can adjust the brightness and intensity of your light strip, setting it to turn on automatically when one of the connected source devices is powered on and you can even connect to Alexa or Google Assistant for voice control.

In fact, I was quite impressed with the result. The gradient light strip does a consistent job of matching the predominant colors on the screen, regardless of those colors.

While you might think it’s some kind of sensory overload to get the most out of full play sessions and action sequences in superhero movies, I’ve found a few other scenarios where the light strip has proven itself just as effectively.

Visually, dramas can be quite boring. Oh sure, a good director can find unusual angles and use filters and other effects to add to the mood, but usually you’re just watching two people talk. However, add a little Philips Hue Play into the mix and suddenly the director’s tricks come to life. A classic example is the recent (and final) season of Ozark. I have always considered the technical production of this program to be exemplary, especially the sound mixing. However, it wasn’t until I started watching it with the Hue gradient light strip that I realized how the entire show was shot exclusively in shades of blue and green, probably in homage to the exposed water and tree landscape. Very cool.

The other surprise came when I saw the Highlanders beat the Western Force the other night, a game made even After nice by extending the projected height all over my wall – or so it seemed. When there were close-ups, the amplified colors of the players’ shirts made it look like they were in the room with you. I found it all extremely immersive – almost as if I had been magically transported to Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Interestingly, Philips has decided that you don’t need a light strip at the bottom of your TV – it’s just long enough for the top and sides. In the case of those of us who use a soundbar, that’s probably fair enough as the base of our screens are pretty much obscured. On the other hand, modern brackets are usually quite thin and often leave a visible gap under most televisions.

Luckily for me, I have a couple of Philips Hue Play light bars, long, narrow lights that work the same way as the light strip. These can be side mounted and added to the Hue Sync app as part of your setup. I positioned them on my TV cabinet behind the soundbar where they’re out of sight while still managing to complete the overall, full sync effect.

To see? Completely useless but quite fun.

If you’re an avid gamer, I have no doubt you’d find the effect this sort of setup can create to be satisfyingly immersive.

Other than price, the only other downside to this lighting system is that it relies on source video from external devices – there’s no way to mirror content from installed apps and streaming services directly. on your TV. That’s why I instead resorted to Netflix and SkyGo on my phone, streaming through the Sync Box via a Google Chromecast. I wish there was a Hue app that we could sideload on our TVs to avoid this extra step.

Granted, Philips also makes Ambilight TVs with colored LEDs already built into the rear panel to achieve a similar effect, but that doesn’t help much here.

The Hue gradient light strip is one of those nifty products that I love but find hard to recommend because of the price – not just the price of the light strip itself, but the other accessories needed to make everything works. I cannot fault the design, build quality, ease of use and reliability. If it’s something you’ve considered and budget isn’t an issue, I certainly won’t mind.

Click here for more information and prices for the Philips Hue Play gradient light strip.

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