Philips Hue's $130 light bars change color depending what you're watching on your computer or TV - they're impressive for their accuracy
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- The Philips Hue Play light bars offer surprisingly bright and diffused ambient lighting for your desk or home theater setup.
- With the Hue Sync app, you can set the lights to dynamically adjust to whatever's on your screen, offering a level of immersion that few other systems can muster.
- That said, the Hue Sync app still needs some work, particularly with TVs.
A new addition to the growing Philips Hue lighting system is the Hue Play bars, which add ambient lighting to any room and can sync with what's displayed on your TV. At around $130 for a pack of two light bars, the price isn't low, but for the power and flexibility of the lights, it's worth it.
Like most other Hue lights, the Play bars are LED-based, dimmable bulbs in the form of a bar that can produce in the neighborhood of 16 million colors. Those colors can be selected using the Hue app on your phone or by matching the lights to an image. The new Hue Sync app is a hands-off approach, though, that allows the bars to match whatever's on your screen.
Setting up the Play lights is simple. In this bundle, you'll have two lights with attached cables, two stands, an outlet, and a few screws. Instead of having an individual plug for each of the light bars, there's a multi-plug that allows you to power up to three Hue devices. While convenient in some situations, it's a pain in others.
If you wanted to, for example, purchase the two-pack and use the bars in two different areas, you'd have to buy another outlet. In most cases, you'll buy separate packs of Play light bars for different areas, but it's something to consider.
Once powered on, the bulbs will show a bright, white light. The built-in diffuser on the front does a lot of work. About an inch away from the wall, the bars manage to spread light evenly, with a smooth gradient from the center outwards. This is mood lighting at its finest.
Note that if you're using a lot of Hue products, you can add the Play bars to an existing room. If you've used any Hue products before, this is standard procedure.
However, after that, the setup deviates and you'll have to download the Hue Sync app on Windows or macOS. You'll be asked to create an entertainment area, which will establish how the lights will sync with content on your screen. The app shows a diagram of where the lights should be positioned in the room - say, for example, behind your TV - so it knows what colors to display on which light.
After that, the lights have most of their functionality unlocked. You can set routines, create scenes based on the color schemes of photos, and integrate it with smart hubs for voice command. The best feature of the Play bars requires your computer, though.
Read more: The best smart light strips you can buy
What makes it stand out
The star feature of the Play bars is Hue Sync. This app, which is available for both Windows and macOS, syncs your Play bars to the content that's on your screen. During setup, it's important that you position the lights in the virtual space as close to real life. The lights can operate independently of each other, meaning a flash on the right side of the screen may not make the left light flare as much.
There are four modes of intensity for games and video, and the app defaults to "high." I'd recommend leaving it there or moving to "intense" for any noticeable effect. The lowest level, "subtle," really is subtle so there's only a hint of the light on your screen with the ambient white light.
Also with games and video, you can choose to have the Play bars sync with the audio. In most cases, that means whenever something loud happens on screen, the lights will quickly flare white. The intensity of the flare will, of course, depend on the intensity you've set previously.
While I initially thought the syncing would be horrendous, it's actually very good. The system picks up most loud noises with minimal lag and is surprisingly accurate to the color that's on screen. That said, it's not perfect, and for those that are dreaming of ambient light that perfectly matches the action, it can pull you out of the experience.
Especially on the "intense" setting, some of Hue Sync's faults are too noticeable. Sometimes it might pick up a loud explosion but completely disregard another. Despite having what seems like the same relative volume, the two sources are treated differently by the application. Thankfully, this situation is rare and only if you're syncing based on audio. The color matching of the Play lights is amazing, going as far as to slowly fade color across the two lamps to match what's happening on screen.
The final mode, "music," allows you to select a color palette with which to sync your music. Once again, there are some issues detecting the correct beats on the song. I can only assume Hue Sync is adjusting the lights based on the transients - the loudest points in the audio - in a music file, which can cause them to fail in certain situations. Overall though, the syncing is very impressive.
Cons to consider
Hue Sync is only available for Windows and macOS, and that's it. The Play bars also don't natively support TVs or consoles, so if you want to mount your bars behind your TV - which is a big selling point for the Play system - you'll either need to cast to your device with something like a Chromecast or have your computer connected to your TV. It also shares a high price tag - the two-piece kit is $130, which is very expensive considering the light bars are small and made out of plastic.
The bottom line
It's clear that Hue Sync is very impressive despite some of the flaws. It's fast and accurate in most cases, providing excellent ambient lighting for basically anything, though a few app updates will do it justice. The same goes for the Hue Play itself. As is the case with a lot of smart home products, Hue Play is almost there. It has a lot of impressive features that mostly work, but it needs a few updates before being everything that it could be.
The performance is worth the price though, and the excellent color matching and beautiful ambient lighting makes the bars a solid addition to your Hue setup.
Buy a two-pack of the Philips Hue Play White & Color Ambiance Smart LED Bar Light from Amazon for $129.98
Buy a two-pack of the Philips Hue Play White & Color Ambiance Smart LED Bar Light from Best Buy for $129.99
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