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Light Bulbs

Philips Hue Entertainment is a smart lighting game-changer

Hue adds new ways to sync your color-changing lights with movies, music and video games, plus new outdoor lights and a major update to the app.

Disney Music/Philips

It's been a busy CES for color-changing light. Nanoleaf made a splash by teasing its newest color-changing, touch-sensitive light panels. Then, Lifx followed suit with the impressive-looking Lifx Tiles.

Now, it's the team at Philips Hue's turn, and this year, their sights are set on entertainment, something Philips has long been trying to tie to color-changing light. The latest effort: Hue Entertainment, a new software platform designed to light up your living room in sync with whatever your family is watching. I've been dying to see more after they first teased it this past August, and after finally seeing it in action, I'm more fascinated than ever.

Now that's Entertainment

Hue Entertainment promises to sync your lights up with movies, video games, and music for dramatic color effects that enhance whatever's on your screen. We've long wondered how Philips would line up enough content to make the pitch compelling -- its answer at CES 2018 is new software for your PC or Mac called Hue Sync coming in the first half of this year. Download it and get everything up and running, and it'll match perfectly timed color changes with whatever's on your screen, from Pixar movies to PowerPoint presentations. Hook your computer up to your television, and you'll really be in business.

philips-lighting-philips-hue-entertainment-disney-9445

Hue Entertainment's colorful effects seem like an especially good fit for children's movies.

Philips/Disney Music

"We take a look at what is being played, we define zones on the screen, and then we push out a [lighting] script on the fly," explains Filip Jan DePauw, Hue Entertainment's business lead. He went on to offer several non-scripted demonstrations, each of them with appropriate colors and positioning, and barely any visible latency. It was one of the most impressive demos I've seen in five years covering CES.

To start, you'll need to teach Hue how you've set your lights up. You'll do that in the Hue Sync software by dragging little icons representing your Hue devices around a makeshift mockup of your living room.

"We're not going to provide an ideal setup because every living room is different," says DePauw. "There is no wrong setup."

An affable Belgian docked in distinctive, wire-rimmed glasses, DePauw comes across like a mercurial Hogwarts professor, and his enthusiasm for Hue Entertainment is as authentic as any pitch I've heard at CES all week. At one point, I ask if Philips has any plans to integrate lighting changes with televised sports broadcasts. He blinks, then he smirks, then he blushes a bit and blurts out a "Yes," before quickly adding that his team isn't ready to announce anything just yet.

Sync your Razer Chroma-supported devices and your color-changing lights with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, DOTA2 and Overwatch.

Philips

New partnerships like those will offer lighting effects that are even more carefully-refined than what Hue Sync is capable of on its own, and they'll be key to Hue Entertainment's success, something DePauw is keenly aware of. After all, content makers won't want to sign up for something that makes their stuff less enjoyable to watch. That means there's plenty of incentive for Philips to get Hue Entertainment right from the start -- which likely explains why it's been in development for so long, dating back to early pilot integrations with "Sharknado" and the "12 Monkeys" TV series.

For now, Hue Entertainment's first official partner is the gaming accessory brand Razer. Available now, the integration brings Razer's color-changing keyboards, mice, and mousepads into the Hue fold, making each of them into an extra Hue Entertainment accessory whenever you play a compatible game.

DePauw's team showed off how it works with the popular first-person shooter Overwatch (though we had to wait a bit first for an ill-timed game update to install). Thanks to the Razer partnership, the lighting effects are more focused and refined than the standard Hue Sync approach, with specific color schemes for each character and for the various weapons in the game. Play as Lucio the healer, for instance, and you'll see green effects when you shoot your sonic amplifier's green ammo at enemies, yellow effects when you fire off a yellow healing beam at your allies.

DePauw notes the strong overlap between gamers and color-changing light aficionados (he calls them "RGB lovers"), and claims that Razer was one of the partnerships people were clamoring for as soon as Hue Entertainment was first announced. To that end, Razer seems like a sharp choice for partnership number one. After all, most hardcore gamers are used to saving up and splurging on their gaming rigs, and many of them like to show off their gear online.

There's room for skepticism, though. Philips has been chasing the dream of syncing color-changing light with in-home entertainment for well over a decade (Ambilight, anyone?) But if it's ever going to take off, now feels like as good a time as any, especially giving the soaring mainstream interest in smart home tech.

philips-hue-app-3-0-color-pickers

Philips is bringing back the old-school, multi-device color selector for the third generation of its Android and iOS app.

Philips

Hue app 3.0

There's also a significant update for the Philips Hue app coming this spring that will bring newly-refined controls for grouping lights and creating scenes. It'll also streamline the user experience, making it easier to find the color or setting you're looking for.

"We have so many engaged users, and they are very candid," explains Hue user experience designer David Oldenburger, a knowing smile on his face. Part of his job is to pore through user feedback and criticism, even and especially when the user base finds something to complain about. "It's actually very useful for us," he adds as he highlights some of the more subtle design improvements in the new app.

One of the big new things is an old thing: The multi-device color picker from the original Hue app. With it, you'll be able to drag little reticules around a color palette or drag them on top of each other to easily create groups.

I was more impressed by a new algorithm that lets you select colors using photographs. Before, you could tap a photo and the app would send the color of the pixel you happened to land on to your lights. Now, in a huge improvement, the app will scan your photo, filter out any useless colors that won't work well with your bulbs and create a brand new palette to play with based solely on the remaining shades. To get you started, the app includes over 30 new photo-based scenes in different categories such as "Citylights" and "Twilights," but you can also upload any photo you like.

philips-hue-goes-outdoor-in-2018

New outdoor Hue bulbs and fixtures are coming this summer.

Philips

Hue outdoors

The final Hue announcement of CES 2018: New outdoor bulbs and fixtures, coming this summer. 

The Hue team isn't sharing product specifics just yet, but the idea is to focus not just on entertainment, but on security, too. That's not a bad pitch given that proper exterior lighting can help deter potential intruders from attempting a break-in -- still, I'll be curious to see how Hue ultimately makes the case for picking fancy, expensive smart lights over simple timed-lighting setups. It also seems like having multi-color lights shining in your backyard during a barbecue could actually advertise your disposable income.

At any rate, it sounds like we'll be staying busy this year as we keep up with all of the incoming partners and products. Expect to see more of all of it at the CNET Smart Home as soon as possible. For now, color me intrigued.

What to expect from the smart home at CES 2018: We take a look at the smart home and appliance trends we expect to see this year.

CES 2018: CNET's complete coverage of tech's biggest show.