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Light Bulbs

Overwatch, but better? Hands on with Hue-enhanced PC gaming

A new Hue Entertainment integration with Razer lets you connect your color-changing lights with popular PC games for real-time lighting effects as you play. We tested it out at the CNET Smart Apartment.

Hue Entertainment is Philips' latest attempt to sync color-changing light with the stuff you watch. The effort dates back more than decade, back to the age of Ambilight TV sets, as well as recent lighting integrations with "Sharknado" and with the "12 Monkeys" TV series. None of those efforts ever took off in a significant way, but Philips hasn't given up on the idea.

Now, after launching at CES 2018, Hue Entertainment's first integration is live and ready for you to try out. The partner is Razer, maker of PC gaming accessories like keyboards and mice, including ones with built-in color-changing lights. Razer lets users sync the lights in those color-changing Chroma devices with compatible games -- now, they can add Philips Hue's smart lights into the mix, too.

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Color your world

The nice thing about the Razer integration is that you don't actually need any Razer devices to take advantage of it. All you need is a compatible game, Razer's free Synapse 3 software and some color-changing Hue lights (the white light bulbs won't work). Luminares that cast light against a wall, like the Philips Hue Lightstrips, the Philips Hue Bloom and the Philips Hue Go all seem like especially good fits.

hue-entertainment-area-app-setup

To get started, you'll need to define your "Entertainment Area" in the Hue app.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

To get started, you'll need to open the Hue app and create an "Entertainment Area" -- basically just the group of lights you want to use, along where they're located in relation to your TV or monitor. The app makes this easy, letting you drag little icons representing whatever bulbs, fixtures or light strips you want to use into position.

From there, you'll open Razer's Synapse 3 software on your Windows PC and follow the instructions to pair the program with your Hue Bridge. Hue will import your Entertainment Area into Razer's software, and you'll be all set. Just launch a compatible game with the Synapse 3 program running in the background and your Hue lights will automatically begin to respond.

Effects vary from game to game. Some, like the puzzler "I, Zombie," keep things simple, with atmospheric lighting during gameplay and flashing lights when you die or beat a level. Others, like Overwatch, go a lot deeper, offering lighting effects specific to the character you're playing as or the weapon you're firing.

That's the approach that intrigues me as a gamer. If done correctly, contextual lighting cues could add a lot to the experience, and even affect the way you play. For instance, imagine a first-person shooter where your character has the ability to sense threats outside of their immediate field of vision. A red light fading on to the right of your monitor could indicate an approaching enemy and serve as a cue to turn and shoot.

razer-chroma-overwatch

In Overwatch, your lights will change color to match your weapon or special attack.

Philips

Is this a game changer?

Not yet, but the appeal is there. As I tested the integration out at the CNET Smart Apartment, I never felt as if the lighting effects were improving the gaming experience all that much. The lights flashed red when my health ran low in the top-down shooter Ruiner, adding a fun, extra layer of urgency to the situation, but they didn't make me any more inclined to play the game than I already was. Take the lights away, and I don't think I'd miss them very much.

Some games keep the effects simple, while others, like Outlast 2, offer effects that are more complex. Your mileage may vary.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

In fairness, it's early, and a lot of these integrations are just extensions of effects initially programmed for Chroma-enabled keyboards and mice. I'll be curious to see how things look once developers have had some time to experiment with effects that are more specific to a bulb-centric lighting setup. The potential is there, but it's up to them to run with it.

It's also worth pointing out that there are already a lot of Chroma-supported games that will work with Hue, and I've only played a handful of them so far. The stealth and suspense-specific lighting effects for the horror survival game Outlast 2 sound pretty intriguing to me -- that might be one of the next games I try out (the horror genre as a whole seems like particularly fertile ground for these kinds of lighting effects).

Overall, I was impressed by how snappy everything was. In Overwatch, you trigger certain lighting changes by changing your weapon or activating a special attack. I was worried that laggy lights would slow the moment-to-moment gaming experience, or worse, serve as a distraction. Fortunately, that wasn't the case -- the lights always changed right on cue, and in some cases, actually helped me keep track of what I was doing or which weapon I was toting. They didn't make a dramatic impact in my experience, but they definitely didn't hurt.

That snappiness bodes well for Hue Entertainment's future. The team at Philips is staying fairly tight-lipped about its plans (they won't say if they're working on an app for PlayStation, XBox and Nintendo consoles, for instance), but more integrations with more kinds of media are on the way -- movies, music, you name it.

The other thing to watch for is an upcoming PC platform called "Hue Sync" that will let your lights mimic the positional colors of whatever's on your screen, games or otherwise. I'll be curious to see if that software ever makes the jump to things like cable boxes and streaming devices, or if a cloud-based version is ever able to sync up with services like Netflix.

The final question: will any of this connect with users in a way that Philips' past efforts to colorize entertainment haven't? That remains to be seen, but one thing that may work in Philips' favor this time around is the focus on gaming right out of the gate. Plenty of hardcore PC gamers have already incorporated colorful lighting into their setups, and they're demonstrably willing to save up to splurge on upgrades, too. And, as popular as live game streams have become through apps like Twitch, it isn't hard to imagine the integration catching on with gamers eager to show off their rigs.

If nothing else, Hue Entertainment adds some extra appeal to the expense of color-changing light, and gives people another reason to consider buying in. The integration with Razer seems like a good start, but I'll be waiting to see more. Stay tuned.