We've been testing color-changing smart bulbs for years now -- but lately, the trend's been moving more toward all-in-one fixtures that splash color across your walls, or even ones that seek to serve as standalone pieces of high-tech art in and of themselves.
All of them offer a sort of geek-chic aesthetic, and most will work with some, if not all, of the most popular smart home platforms, including IFTTT, Alexa, Google Assistant and the Siri voice controls that come with Apple HomeKit. All of that might have you tempted to splurge if you like the way these lights look -- scroll through this handy gallery to take a gander at your options.
Previously known as Nanoleaf Aurora panels, these triangular LED light panels change colors and sync up with all of the major voice control platforms. The $230 starter kit comes with nine panels -- arrange them on your wall however you like with the easy-to-use connector tabs, then have fun creating your own custom scenes and animated effects for a geektastic in-home light show.
The newest version of that starter kit comes with the Nanoleaf Rhythm module, a tiny plug-in accessory with a built-in microphone. Add it to your setup, and you'll be able to turn on "rhythm presets" that get the panels dancing in sync with whatever music or media you're listening to.
Rhythm presets range from subtle to striking, and most did a good job of syncing up with different kinds of music when we tested them out.
Another nifty Nanoleaf accessory: the $50, dodecahedron-shaped Nanoleaf Remote. You can pair your favorite Nanoleaf lighting and rhythm scenes with each of the 12 sides, then trigger those scenes by rotating that side to the top. Like the panels themselves, the remote is also compatible with Apple HomeKit, which means you can use it to trigger your HomeKit scenes, too.
Coming this December: new, square-shaped Nanoleaf panels called Nanoleaf Canvas. The $200 starter kit includes nine panels with a built-in Rhythm accessory, and the panels are touch-sensitive now, too. Plus, you can expand your setup to include up to 500 panels on a single power supply. Color us intrigued.
Nanoleaf's not the only game in town anymore, though. There's also Lifx, which recently began branching out past bulbs and into dedicated fixtures, including these new Lifx Tiles. You get five of them in the $250 starter kit, and unlike Nanoleaf, each one can put out multiple colors at once across 64 independent "zones" of light. That's a key advantage.
As a result, Lifx Tiles allow you to craft scenes that are more complicated and intricate than you'll get with Nanoleaf. They aren't touch-sensitive, but you can write on them in the Lifx app, for instance, or set them to swirl through a preset mix of colors like a funky, wall-mounted lava lamp.
Another option from Lifx: the Lifx Z Multi-Color Light Strip. Unlike other light strips from competitors like Sylvania and Philips Hue, the Lifx strip can put out multiple colors at once. And since it uses Wi-Fi, you won't need any extra hub hardware to connect with it. At a retail price of $90, the starter set isn't cheap, but it's hard to deny that it looks great behind a TV or beneath a cabinet.
At $60, Sylvania's light strips are a lot cheaper than comparable Lifx or Hue products, but they still offer compatibility with Apple HomeKit. That makes them the cheapest lights of their kind that you can control with Siri, and while they aren't quite as bright or as feature-filled as the competition, they'll definitely get the job done.
Just keep in mind that those Siri controls require a dedicated HomeKit relay device under your roof -- an Apple TV, an Apple HomePod or an always-on iPad. Without one of those, you'll only be able to control the lights using Sylvania's app -- and only from within Bluetooth range.
Here's another behind-the-TV option -- the $250 DreamScreen 4K starter kit, which pairs a smart, color-changing light strip that runs the entire perimeter of your screen with an HDMI pass-through box. Plug your streaming devices, cable boxes and gaming consoles into that pass-through box, and it'll match the lights to the color of whatever media it's piping through to your screen.
DreamScreen's individually controllable LED lights can track the color and movement of whatever's on your screen. The effect works better with some media and games than with others, but it might be a great fit for a gaming room.
Another interesting option for TV backlighting: the new Philips Hue Play fixtures. They're those little guys on either side of the TV, and at $60 each, they're designed to cast color-changing light on your walls. In an interesting and unique design move, you can also mount them directly on the back of your TV, or lay them on the floor to cast light up onto your walls from below.
Philips wasn't done, there -- you can also pick up the new Philips Hue Signe fixtures for the same color-casting effect. Available in two sizes and starting at $160, each one is a fixed vertical wand with built-in LEDs that you'll direct at your walls.
Both new offerings play right into Hue Entertainment, a new initiative from Hue that seeks to sync your lights up with whatever's on your screen. The software still needs work (you can currently only mirror PC and Mac screens, so you'll need to connect your computer to your TV, for instance), but the effect is pretty striking with the right media. And, for the record, the effect also works well with Hue's light strips and existing fixtures, like the Hue Go lamps seen here beside the TV.