Transforming your house into a smart home can cost as much or as little as you’d like.
For years I’ve dabbled in cheaper options.
A basic $40 Lenovo light strip for the TV unit was quickly joined by a cheaper Laser branded strip for the office desk, a few bulbs and Wi-Fi plugs all synced and controllable via a Google Nest Audio and Google Home Mini.
Each performed well and served their purpose, but as you’d expect, none have blown me away quite like the $1200 triple-threat Philips Hue sent 9News to review.
Unboxing the $314 starter kit, $399 Play Gradient Lightstrip and $499 HDMI Sync Box (currently on sale for $251, $289 and $398 respectively), I was initially put off. Each demands more to set up and the $499 HDMI Sync Box is all but useless for lighting without the wireless “bridge” included in the starter kit.
Get it going though and it’s the most impressive and powerful piece of tech I’ve used in a long time. It transforms movies, music and gaming into a more immersive experience, casting a dazzling array of colours that match the picture on-screen onto the wall around it.
It works like a set-top box. I plugged my PS5, Nintendo Switch, laptop and Apple TV into its four HDMI ports, which all connect to the TV via a single HDMI out. You can switch between them in the Philips Hue Sync app or by pressing a button on the front of the Sync Box.
Now that it knows what’s on screen, it analyses the picture to quickly and accurately sync the colours cast by the Gradient Lightstrip via the Hue Bridge.
If it sounds like a gimmick, it is. Try it, though, and you won’t want to go back.
The interactivity adds to the atmosphere of anything you can play, listen to or watch without ever being overpowering. The light dimmed in darker scenes like The Lord of the Rings’ jaunt through the mines of Moria and roared to life with vibrant splashes of orange, red and white as Obi-Wan and Anakin clashed on Star Wars‘ lava planet Mustafar.
The more colourful the scene, the better the effect. Something like the trailer for Disney’s upcoming Encanto film is a shining example. Music videos also impress with their quick cuts and often vibrant colours, instantly creating a party atmosphere that gamers won’t be disappointed by.
I didn’t notice any hit in frame rate, image quality or latency while blasting through the opening levels of Square Enix’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which cast wonderful purples and pinks onto our living room wall while exploring an intergalactic wreck held together by pink organisms.
The Gradient Lightstrip quickly and easily attaches to the back of 55-60″ TVs with guiding ‘rails’ (you only get one shot with the sticky backing so make sure you get it right). The rail holds the strip so it projects light out at a 45-degree angle compared to the cheaper options I used on my desk and entertainment unit, which point directly at the wall. The result is a far bigger and brighter effect that leaves the competition I’ve tried in the dust.
Unlike cheaper options, which can only manage one colour at a time, Philips Hue’s Gradient Lightstrip easily casts different and multiple colours to each side of the screen. The effect is dazzling, even when you’re paying more attention to it than what’s on screen.
The only real issue I encountered were videos in the old 4:3 aspect ratio or cinematic widescreen with thick black bars on any side of the screen. The Sync Box rightly recognises those as darker areas but as a result, you get a greatly reduced effect, which isn’t what you want when tapping into the nostalgia of Nelly Furtado’s Promiscuous.
Unfortunately, live TV and apps built into smart TVs are also a no-go without a fancy workaround. The Lightstrip can only react to what the Sync Box can see, so I had to log in and boot up Stan, Netflix, Disney+ and everything else via my PS5 or Apple TV to get the effect, rather than go straight to the apps installed on my Samsung TV as I usually would.
At best and current sale prices, it’s a $751 effect (you can buy a Hue Bridge on its own for $65).
That will put off most people and drive them to cheaper, albeit much more limited stocking stuffers, this Christmas, but those willing and able to spend the cash have an instant hit on their hands that will make their home the go-to destination for every movie night to come.