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Philips Hue Play Light Bar review: Great, but too expensive

The new Hue Play fixtures are some of the most likable new accent lights in the Philips lineup -- but do they really need to cost this much?

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Ry Crist
Ryan_Crist2.jpg
Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is 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, and home networking.

3 min read

There are tons of new additions to Philips Hue's lineup of smart lights this year, including a couple that want to serve as color-changing accent lights for your living room or bedroom. Chief among them: new Philips Hue Play "light bars" that splash color across whatever you've got them aimed at. The cost: $130 (£120, which is about AU$215) for a two-light starter kit that comes with the power supply unit. Additional light bars cost $60 (£65) each.

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Philips Hue Play Light Bar

The Good

The Philips Hue Play light bars are well designed and easy to mount in a variety of ways, making them a good fit for spots where bulbs aren't an option. You can connect three to a single power supply to help cut down on cord clutter around your surge protector.

The Bad

The Play lights don't feature built-in batteries or any other unique extra features. Despite a high price tag, the starter kit doesn't come with the mandatory Hue Bridge.

The Bottom Line

These are some of the most appealing new Hue lights of the year, but they're too pricey to recommend just yet.

Philips Hue announced a ton of new smart lights this summer

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That ain't cheap, but Philips has always priced its color-changing smart bulbs and fixtures at a premium. For the money, you get the traditional Hue pitch: A full range of RGB and white-light tones that you can control or automate from an app on your phone, or by using Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands. With a directional design that draws attention to the pool of light that these fixtures cast instead of drawing it to the fixtures themselves, the Play light bars offer an interesting change from the usual bulb-based Philips Hue approach.

Of course, all of that requires that you have a Philips Hue Bridge plugged into your router -- and the Bridge isn't included in the starter kit. And, while you can connect up to three Plays to a single power supply to help cut down on clutter around your surge protector, you'll need to buy an additional power supply if you ever decide to expand your setup to four Plays or more. The only way to get that power supply at retail is to purchase the two-Play starter kit, which might be more than you need.

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A two-Play starter kit with the power supply will cost you $130 -- and the mandatory Philips Hue Bridge doesn't come included.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Still, the lights work well as standalone, directional accent lights. Our team's photo and video producer Chris Monroe has even taken to using the things to help his product shots pop, so there might be some sneaky appeal for Instagram addicts here. I also like the variety of mounting options you get thanks to the easy-to-use screw-in base, and the fact that the underside of each light is double-angled to let you aim it up at your walls if you want to lay one on the floor.

All of that that makes the Play light bars a reasonable splurge for existing Hue users who want to add a smart touch of color to a spot where bulbs just won't do. That includes behind your TV or computer, where they'd be a decent fit for Hue Sync, the free software that links your lights with whatever's playing on your screen.

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The Hue Play lights look pretty good behind a PC gaming setup -- and they can sync up with games like Overwatch.

Ry Crist/CNET

That said, I wonder if Philips missed an opportunity to do more with these lights. A built-in battery that let you unplug the things and try them out in different spots like you can with the Hue Go fixture would have been a good start. An even better addition would have been the ability to put out multiple colors at once. You still can't do that with any Philips Hue products, though you can with TV-friendly competitors like the Lifx Z Light Strip and DreamScreen.

All of that would have made the high cost of buying in easier to swallow, but the Play light bars are still pretty decent additions to the Hue lineup, which is increasingly looking beyond bulbs to offer greater versatility for smart home lighting. I can think of a couple of spots in my own home where they'd be a good fit, but at $130 and with no Hue Bridge in the box, I'll be waiting for a significant sale before I consider pulling the trigger.

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Philips Hue Play Light Bar

Score Breakdown

Features 6Usability 8Design 7Performance 7
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