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Philips Hue's new TV gadget matches colored lights to whatever you watch or play

Plug in your favorite media streamer, game console or set-top box, then prepare for a light show whenever you use your TV.

Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
Expertise Smart home technology | Wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
5 min read
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The Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box reads the incoming signal from your media streamers and game consoles, then matches your color-changing lights with whatever's playing on screen in real time.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The folks behind Philips Hue have already released a lot of new smart lights this year. Now, the brand's newest product wants to help you sync those color-changing smart lights with whatever's playing on your TV screen. It's called the Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box, and it's a significant upgrade for the brand's Hue Entertainment feature -- but at a preorder asking price of $230, it won't come cheap.

Like the name suggests, Hue's new sync box is an HDMI pass-through device similar to the one we tested out with the DreamScreen 4K TV lighting kit. You'll connect it to your TV, then take your media streamers , game consoles , set-top boxes and anything else that connects to your TV via HDMI and connect them to the Hue Play Box instead. From there, Hue reads the incoming video signal of whatever you're watching or playing and uses that data to quarterback color-matching smart lighting effects in real time, with virtually no lag.

Now that's Entertainment

The original Hue Entertainment pitch forced you to connect your laptop to your TV in order to enjoy effects like this. Now, you can sync your lights up with any device that connects to your TV via HDMI cable.

Ry Crist/CNET

All of that is a big step up from the original Hue Entertainment pitch, which didn't include the pass-through approach at all. Instead, users had to download Hue Sync software to their computer to match the lights with whatever was playing on their monitor or laptop screen. That's fine for PC gaming, but it forced you to connect your computer to your TV in order to enjoy the feature on a full-size screen from the comfort of your preferred spot on the living room couch, and it left things like gaming consoles out of the mix altogether.

The arrival of a new, dedicated Hue Sync app marks another point of progress for Hue Entertainment. Before, you'd set the feature up in the original Hue app, with somewhat limited controls for things like brightness and the position of your lights in relation to the screen. Philips Hue parent company Signify says that you'll be able to adjust the brightness and the speed and intensity of the lighting effects, as well as your default preferences for each HDMI input.


Apart from the HDMI output that connects the device to your TV, each Hue Play box includes four HDMI inputs to sync it up with your streaming devices, gaming consoles, Blu-ray players and DVR boxes.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

By the way, there are four of those HDMI inputs on the back of the Hue Play box, which means you can sync your lights with up to four separate devices. From there, it'll automatically switch between those devices as you use them, with full support for 4K resolution and HDR10. Signify says that the box doesn't store any information about what you watch, and adds that the Hue Play box supports simultaneous color-matching with up to 10 Hue lights at once.

You can use any of Hue's color-changing lights with the feature, but the best bets are TV-friendly accent lights like the Philips Hue Light Strip. Fixtures you can hide behind or beside the TV are a good fit, too -- most notably, the Philips Hue Play light bars, which can stand on their own or mount directly on the back of your TV.

It's no coincidence that those Hue Play lights share a name with the new Hue Play HDMI box. Signify tells me that the HDMI box is compatible with the same plug-in power supply as those Hue Play bars, with a plug that's designed to power up to three devices at once. That means that you could use a single Hue Play plug to power an entry-level Hue Entertainment setup with two lights and the HDMI box. 

That's a nice approach that might help free up some of the cord clutter behind your entertainment center. I also wonder if Signify won't ultimately start selling Hue Entertainment starter kits that package the HDMI box with those Hue Play lights at a discount. 

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The Hue Play HDMI Box seems like an especially good fit with the color-changing Philips Hue Play light bars, seen here on either side of the TV.


An expensive outlook

That Hue Play approach is also the setup we'll probably use when we test the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box for ourselves at the CNET Smart Home. It might make for a contentious movie night, though, as our team is somewhat split on the feature. Some find it fun and immersive, some find it too distracting and others land in a meh middleground. Let us know where you land in the comments -- and feel free to toss out movie or game suggestions you'd like to see us test.

Personally, I'm excited to finally try Hue Entertainment with console gaming, especially with games that already put a lot of emphasis on immersion. I can just imagine oohing and aahing while landing on a colorful new planet in No Man's Sky, for instance. Minecraft and Super Mario Maker 2 jump to mind as other good fits with distinctive color schemes that vary from setting to setting as you play. At any rate, your experience will definitely vary depending on what you're watching or playing, so experimenting with different titles and different settings in the Hue app will likely be key.

Watch this: Philips Hue wants to light up your next Overwatch match

And, apart from convincing people that this is more smart lighting game changer than smart lighting gimmick, Hue's biggest hurdle here is obviously the price. $230 gets you an HDMI box -- and remember, the PC software that came before it was free. That's expensive enough on its own -- but you'll need Hue lights, too. A two-pack of those Hue Play light bars with the power supply costs $130, which brings the total to $360 if you're building a setup from scratch.

And you're still not done. Despite the fact that Hue's newest lights include Bluetooth radios that let you connect direct with your phone for basic control, you'll still need a Hue Bridge plugged into your router in order to try out advanced features like Hue Entertainment. It's currently available for $50 on Amazon, which would bring your total buy-in to $410. 

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The research firm IHS Markit predicts that the global smart lighting market will grow to $2.8 billion by 2023.

IHS Markit

I'm skeptical that many outside of the true Hue die-hards will adopt the feature at that price, but time will tell. Signify is banking on the accuracy of rosy smart lighting forecasts from research firms like IHS Markit, which predicts that the global smart lighting market will grow from $241.6 million in 2017 to $2.8 billion in 2023. That's more than a tenfold increase.

IHS Markit analyst Blake Kozak suggests that Signify has an opportunity to take the category "to the next level by adding 'immersion' as a descriptor of smart-home lighting."

Kozak says, "Although its newest smart plugs and filament lighting solutions will be far more popular and mainstream, colored lighting now has a new use case and interest and growth could be strengthened globally, especially in North America."

With preorders open now with an expected ship date of Oct. 15, I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Hue Play box packaged with one of Hue's smart light starter kits as a Black Friday special this November. We'll have a better sense of whether a deal like that would be worth pouncing on after we try the new device out for ourselves, so stay tuned.

Originally published Sept. 17, 9 a.m. ET.
Update, 11:25 a.m.: Adds information about Hue Play support for 4K and HDR10 and comment from IHS Markit.