36 Philips Hue Play bSometimes it’s all about the things they don’t tell you. I speak from bitter experience. A few years ago my wife and I rented an expensive glamping tent near the spectacular Bungle Bungles in Western Australia, the ad listing everything that opened and shut being included in the price. Even a balcony. We discovered what it didn’t have when it got dark; electricity.

I was reminded of this while trying the latest addition to the Philips range of Hue lighting products. Hue is a clever and flexible system that lets you operate lights throughout the house with your phone.

This one is called Hue Play and while it’s primarily aimed at gamers, what caught my attention was its home theatre application. “With Hue Play you can now bring the mood of your favourite movie into your living room or bring the football stadium atmosphere to your sofa,” the promotional material enthused. “Hue Play visually lengthens the playing field making users feel like they’re in the stands.”

The footy finals being on I thought I’d give it a go.

The $220 system consists of two lights (each 25 x 5 x 4 cm LxDxW) that can be placed on supplied stands near or under the television (horizontally or vertically), or affixed with adhesive pads to the rear of the telly. These backlight the screen and create a soft, colourful and constantly changing ambience reflecting the on-screen action.

36 Philips Hue Play aThe only other thing in the box was a power pack for the lights. How, I wondered, was this going to talk to my home theatre for “explosions that light up the room” and “firing effects resulting in bright strobing stabs of colourful illumination.” The answer: It didn’t. I downloaded the suggested app to my phone and… nothing. Just plain white illumination from the two lights behind the screen.

I emailed the Philips folk. Turns out I also needed the $90 Hue Bridge which the promotional material didn’t mention. It’s a small, square device about the size of an Apple TV that must remain hardwired to a router. And it needs a second app.

With this operational I could change colours, dial in brightness and pick from a range of light shows with changing colours and intensity back there behind the TV. These were accompanied by nature sounds and wistful new age music. But the music played on my phone, rather than through the home theatre and thus sounded tinny and thin. I searched the set-ups of both apps to ‘let the action leap off the screen’ to no avail.

36 Philips Hue Play dSo I contacted the Philips folk again and asked what I was missing. They sent me a set-up video from a gaming website and there it was; Hue Play only synchs with what’s on the screen when the program is coming from a suitably set up computer, connected directly to the TV with an HDMI cable.

I could work up no enthusiasm to get this going. As well as having two screens showing the same show it meant bypassing my DAC and region-free Blu-ray player and re-routing the television’s sound so it still played through the home theatre. After mucking about I had colour and movement happening behind the television. It was good for the first few minutes.

Hue Play is maybe worth it for fundamentalist gamers, for whom a computer and monitor are the devices of choice. They may find the $310 involved a viable proposition but to be brutally blunt, for a home theatre it’s a lot of money and effort for a marginal result.

First published by smh.com.au September 2019.


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