If you want to extend the TV experience with lighting that is synchronized with the image, you have previously had to rely on Ambilight from Philips TV. That is now changing, with the Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box from Signify. With this small device you can have everything that appears on TV synchronize with the Hue lighting in your living room or home theater. We put it to the test and equipped our Hue-equipped home cinema with this box.
What is the Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box?
The Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box is a compact HDMI box on which you can connect sources and allow the Hue lighting in your room to take on the colors of what is happening on TV. There are four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output on the box. You can connect your sources to the inputs, for example a Blu-ray player, a game console or a set-top box. The HDMI box analyzes the signal that comes in and adjusts the colors of your linked Philips Hue lamps accordingly. You can connect up to 10 Hue lamps in your cinema or living room, all of which exactly match the image on the screen. The TV is connected via the HDMI output so that all your sources go to your television via a single HDMI cable.
The Hue Play HDMI Sync Box is equipped with HDMI2.0b ports and currently only supports 4K, HDR10 and HLG. Dolby Vision and HDR10 + can be passed on but the lighting does not cooperate. Signify does indicate that Dolby Vision may be supported in the future. The Hue Play HDMI Sync Box must be on sale from October 15 for a price of 249.95 euros.
Before we get started with the installation it is good to say what you need exactly to use the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box. For example, you already need a Hue Bridge 2.0, and associated lights that you want to use in combination with the box. You can use all types of Hue lamps, but only the color variants (White and Color Ambiance) are supported. The Hue lamps that are placed in the space of the box must therefore be able to display colors. You can connect a maximum of 10 lights to an Entertainment room, and therefore the box. We have used our home cinema as a test room. There are six color spots, two E27 lamps and two Hue Plays behind the TV. The sources are a Blu-ray player and a receiver, with an OLED TV as a screen.
Important to know
Our advice is to use only Hue lamps with rich colors (Rich Colors). These are the newest lamps with the largest color range. If you do not do this, some colors may not or may not be displayed properly. Our six spots on the ceiling are a bit older and therefore no Rich Color versions, and you can see that especially in green and purple colors. The other lamps that do offer rich colors can reproduce these colors much more intensively and correctly. That is not a major problem, but it is striking and for the perfect experience it is therefore desirable to use the Rich Color versions. In addition, it is important to know that the Hue lamps that you use cannot be controlled by LED, unlike Ambilight. The entire lamp reacts with one color. So even if you were to stick four Lightstrips (LED strips) around your TV, then each strip would only display one color and not every LED can take on its own color. Herein, the Hue solution differs from Ambilight. Moreover, it must be said that many people who link an Ambilight TV with Hue lamps experience too great a delay.
For the installation of the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box you have the standard Hue app and the Hue Sync app required. You start with the second app, with which you connect the box to your WiFi network and then to the Bridge. It is a matter of physically linking the box (via HDMI) with your sources and the TV, opening the app, following the steps and you can get started. Unfortunately, that did not go very smoothly for us, since the button on the Bridge (for linking) was not always registered. Rebooting the Bridge and performing the installation again solved this problem. Once the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box is installed, you can get started setting up the Entertainment Room, which you do via the Hue app.
Create Entertainment Room (Hue App)
Before entering the additional settings of the Hue Sync diving app you must first set up your Entertainment room. This is a special setting in the standard Hue app found under “Settings”. Select “Entertainment spaces” and create a new space with your own name here. You can then select the lamps that you want to use in that specific room. In other words; select the lamps from the room where the box is located that should also work with the box. When you have selected all the lamps, make sure that they are switched on. In the next screen you can place the lamps exactly where they are in the room. The lamp you drag begins to blink. If you tap a lamp, you can determine the height; on the floor, at the height of the TV or on the ceiling. Make sure you set this as accurately as possible as this will soon perfect the experience. When all lamps have been placed in the correct position and height you can test the room. All lamps must color as shown on the screen, and if that’s correct you can proceed to the next step. Here, by blinking each lamp, it is tested whether the position is correct. If that is also correct, you have created the Entertainment space.
If you now click on the space that you have created, there are a few options. This way you can indicate the behavior of the lamps as soon as the synchronization with the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box stops. You can choose between “do nothing”, “off”, “last status” or a number of specific light recipes. This is a personal choice but we miss the opportunity to activate our own scene. Certainly in our cinema that would have been nice. Another option is the Performance option. This option searches for the most central lamp in the room to optimize performance. It is best to leave this option on ‘automatic detection’.
The Hue Sync app
Now that the Entertainment room is set up, you no longer need to look at the standard Hue app. . If you want to change the way the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box works, you will need the Hue Sync app. Here you will find a number of important settings to adjust the synchronization to your liking.
The homepage of the Hue Sync app offers the most important settings with which you influence the synchronization and which you will therefore use most often. Here you can choose the mode; video, music or game. Below that you can indicate what the intensity of the display should be. This ranges from subtle (very quiet transitions) to extreme (exact and hard transitions). Finally, you can adjust the brightness of all lamps here. Unfortunately, it is not possible to adjust the lamps individually in terms of brightness, which in our view may be useful for some configurations. At the top of the home screen you will find the button to turn Hue Sync on or off, and at the bottom you can see the status of the current HDMI input, you can change HDMI input and you can start or stop the light synchronization.
In the settings menu you will mainly come across the first time use. Here you can change various basic settings, including giving a name to each HDMI input, activating or deactivating certain inputs and choosing a specific Entertainment room. In addition, you can have the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box automatically select the active HDMI input, let the box automatically start light synchronization with an active input and have the box automatically switched off via HDMI-CEC (or USB) or switched on when the connected TV is switched off whether it is switched on. Finally, you can still activate HDMI ARC and you can set a minimum brightness as “background lighting” for when black / dark images appear. If you do not activate the latter option, the lights go out completely with dark images and then turn on again with a lighter image. The flashing can be experienced as disturbing.
The Hue Sync app offers various useful options to set up the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box, but the experience is not perfect. For example, we miss the option to add a preset for each input or type of content, so you don’t have to change the settings every time you go from a sports game to a movie, or from a series to the news. You will therefore continue to grab the app. In addition, the whole also does not function stably. Quite often the app / Bridge loses connection with the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box. The only solution is to get the box off the power. After that the connection is immediately back and everything works again. In short, you can still make some profit here.
Start the light show
Once everything has been set to your own taste, it is of course time to enjoy the light show. And let’s start immediately with the positive; that is an impressive experience that certainly adds something to the film (or game or music) experience, especially when you use multiple lights in the room and think about the placement. All the lights in the room react impressively quickly to what is happening on the screen and also height and depth are surprisingly well taken into account. All linked lamps respond to the colors that appear on TV, taking into account the position of the colors on the screen. If there is an orange explosion on the left, you will only see the lamps on the left light up. If there is a blue glow at the top of the screen, the lamps on the ceiling turn blue. And a green car in the distance is mainly taken over by the lights at the front, and not the lights next to or behind you. For music, all linked lamps can rhythmically co-color with the music, which gives a nice and disco-like experience.
The response time is more than sufficient for films, series, sports and TV programs. It is hardly noticeable that there is a very minimal delay between image and lamps. Even with games this is nil, but I can imagine that the very fanatical gamers who play games where reaction speed is of great importance think about this. We have never noticed it negatively. In advance we had some doubts about an extra device and an extra HDMI cable between the source and the TV. After all, we already have a receiver, so the picture already runs via two HDMI cables and a receiver to the TV. Fortunately, that doubt was quickly removed. Although it is of course better to go from source to display with as few intermediate steps as possible, the addition of an extra cable and an extra box does not appear to be detrimental to the image quality. We have also experienced no insoluble problems with lip sync. However, keep in mind that you have to work with extra cables, you have to get rid of an extra box and for box and extra lamps you also need two (or more) power points with the TV. Incidentally, the adapter of the box has two outputs to which two Hue Play lamps can be connected, so that you need a socket less again.
Signify has it with the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box so very nice for each other to create a very sleek and beautiful light experience in an entertainment room, which of course largely depends on the lamp arrangement you use, the type of lamps you use and how you have set everything up. As far as the institutions are concerned, the High setting is the best for (action) films and games. If you watch some quieter content, such as a TV program or series, Subtile or Moderate is a more comfortable setting. We have set the brightness around 60% since much higher is too intense and the lamps also direct more towards white.
Now that we have had the positive, a little less point must also be mentioned, and that is mainly about stability. As stated above, our box regularly loses its connection with the app and / or the Bridge, after which the box cannot be operated and / or the light synchronization suddenly stops and only helps to get the box from the power. This sometimes happens randomly, after adjusting a setting or when the box is in standby. Fortunately, the box switches itself on and off automatically, based on the HDMI-CEC function. The automatic switching between box inputs is also successful in 99 percent of the cases. Make sure that you first switch off the active input and then switch on the next input. Finally, there is the HDMI ARC function. If you want to continue using ARC, and therefore want to send audio back from the TV to, for example, a receiver or soundbar, then you need to activate the ARC Bypass option. This only works with one active connected input. Apart from the fact that the TV sometimes gets disturbed by the box and plays the audio on the internal speakers, this function works well without delay. Please note; the light synchronization does not work with ARC. If you are dependent on this function, then the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box is not recommended either.
Regarding the light synchronization itself, the impression is very positive, although lamps sometimes want to switch off completely with dark images, despite the ‘background lighting’ option being enabled. This is disturbing since the complete switch-off can be experienced as a flashing light. We have tried all types of content with the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box, including SDR, HDR, SD and 4K (up to 60p). Everything works without problems, but support for Dolby Vision and HDR10 + is not there yet. When you turn on content in Dolby Vision or HDR10 + you get the right image in the right HDR mode, but without light effects. In fact; our lamps turned pink during Game of Thrones in Dolby Vision. Hopefully an update will be released soon to add support for these HDR formats.
Since we still had two extra Hue Play lamps and the six GU10 spots do not have rich colors, we decided halfway through the test to change the setup. The spots have been taken out of the entertainment room and two xtra Play lamps have been placed on the back of the TV instead. We do, however, keep the two E27 lamps active on the sides. The two Play lamps on the underside of the TV we slide out a little for a broader effect.
It is and remains personal and dependent on your own space and lamps, but this arrangement gave in our optically a better effect. The spotlights on the ceiling are too intense for rapid color changes and are constantly in view, making it uneasy. In addition, they do not always color perfectly. Another advantage of two Play lamps behind the TV is that you can now adjust them more precisely; two lamps are concerned with the colors at the bottom of the screen, and the other two lamps are concerned with the colors at the top of the screen. This gives a wider and richer color palette behind and around the TV, and that is precisely the place where you want to see the most indirect light effects for an optimal experience. In short, experiment for an optimal light arrangement in the room.
With the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box, Signify has introduced an interesting new product with which an existing Hue system on your TV or in your home theater adds an extra dimension to the film, music or game experience. The Hue lamps respond quickly, provide an impressive effect and draw you even further in the film or game. A prerequisite for all this is that you have a number of (suitable) Hue lamps, you can place them in a good position near the TV (and around the viewing position) and use a Bridge. If you have already made that investment, then 250 euros is still a lot of money, but for the real film and game fans it certainly has added value. It will not be really Ambilight around your TV since Ambilight works with individual LEDs that can adopt their own colors, while this system works with one color per Hue lamp. But still the effect is impressive and sleek. And Ambilight has the disadvantage that the connection with other Hue lamps in the room causes a significant delay. Perhaps Ambilight plus the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box is a solution for those who want the best of both worlds. However, the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box is not yet a perfect device, mainly due to some bugs and missing functions. The box often loses connection with the Bridge and / or app, lamps can blink despite the “background lighting” option, no presets per input / type of content are possible, and the latest HDR formats are not yet supported. We would also like to be able to adjust the brightness per lamp. However, these are (probably) all issues that can be solved through updates and we hope that this will happen quickly so that we can increase the figure. Until then, you better keep the app up to date and sometimes it’s just a 10 to count. After all, the result is impressive. The Hue Play HDMI Sync Box offers a super cool effect and is a very nice, but expensive solution to involve your lighting in your viewing experience.
Update: A problem has been added in the last two days. The HDMI connection became more and more unstable, causing the image to drop out at random moments. Sometimes a few seconds, sometimes complete. Changing HDMI input sometimes helped, but at the moment, two of the four HDMI ports are no longer usable as the connection is too unstable. Direct connection from the source to the TV gave no problems so it depends on the input on or processing of the box. Whether this is a hardware problem of our model or a software problem is not yet clear to us. We will update this review as soon as we know this.