Philips is well known as a TV and lighting brand, and its Ambilight technology brings the two together, delivering cool multi-color LED effects that react in sync with your TV content and music. The Hue Sync Box is a small, black device with four HDMI inputs and with the addition of compatible Hue lights and the Hue Bridge, you can bring an Ambilight-style light show to your TV, regardless of brand.
If it sounds frivolous and expensive, you’d be right on both counts – but it’s also PDC (Pretty Damn Cool) and to see it is to want it. The Sync Box has been on the market for a few years now and it’s something I’ve wanted to experience for a while so I was eager to try it out.
As of this writing, the Sync Box, Hue Bridge and two Hue Play Lights can be had on Amazon UK for £382.98 – so again, not a cheap buy. However, if you already have other compatible Hue lights and a Bridge, you can buy things piecemeal: a pair of Hue Plays alone cost £103.
It’s also worth remembering that for syncing to work, it has to go through the box via HDMI, so your built-in TV streaming apps won’t get any joy from Hue syncing.
The box has received several updates since launch and now supports 4K with standard HDR and Dolby Vision up to 120Hz, so you can get the effect with fast frame rates when playing on the latest consoles – although my TV is not 120Hz compatible, I couldn’t confirm this myself.
Installation was relatively simple, but it was not without problems. It needs to connect to Wi-Fi and only supports 2.4 GHz. Despite having strong coverage, on my network it couldn’t find the 2.4 GHz network and kept failing to configure. Eventually I temporarily turned off the 5GHz and it was able to connect to the 2.4GHz network, then complete the setup, and everything was fine when I turned the 5GHz back on. Philips told me this shouldn’t be necessary, so your experience may vary, but this happened to me and this was my workaround.
If you plug your devices into the Box and then into the TV, setup is pretty straightforward, but I set it up through my receiver. However, there are some frustrating limitations. You probably want to plug the sync box between the receiver output and the TV so you can still switch between your inputs on your receiver as normal – however be aware that in this setup the Music mode may not work – as the receiver must send the audio output to the receiver speakers and the TV at the same time and not all do. If you want to ensure the music mode works, you will need to plug your device into the Sync Box and connect to an input on the receiver.
The Hue Sync Box has its own iOS and Android app, which is separate from the main Hue Sync app. As part of the setup, you add your lights to an “entertainment zone”, where you add up to 10 lights that you want to control and tell the app where they are physically in the room in order to get the best possible synchronization effects. . You can add additional zones, but I couldn’t find any way to modify an existing zone, or for that matter remove it, so if you get more lights or change them, the app might get messy, for so to speak.
On my first try, I set up the Sync box in my dedicated cinema room, with a total of 10 lights (six ceiling GU10 bulbs, two Hue Play lights, and a gradient light strip) – with the gradient light resting on the top edge of my projection screen, and the Hue Play projecting upwards, so quite the setup. However, at first I was not impressed.
It was for two reasons. First, the light show did my projector-based system a disservice, just washing out the image and not adding much to the experience. Second, a feature I was looking forward to was syncing all the lights in the room to Dolby Atmos tracks from Apple Music, specifically Dawn FM from The Weekend. However, it turns out that while the Sync Box supports Atmos from HDMI video sources, it doesn’t recognize Atmos in music mode, which seems like a missed opportunity.
On the plus side, if I switched to stereo music, the music sync effects worked and were impressive. The app lets you choose between four levels of intensity – like how the lights react, and there’s a brightness slider too.
However, it was clear that I wasn’t using the Sync Box to its full potential, so I moved it to my TV in the other room. This also has a receiver and surround sound setup, but that’s where it all started to make sense.
My TV sits in an alcove with a white background. Reconnecting everything was a bit of a hassle, as these things always are, and I only used two Hue Play lights, but as soon as I turned it on, it was an “oh, wow” moment.
The lights illuminated the white alcove in perfect synchronization with the content of the screen. This works particularly well with animation, which tends to have areas of strong color. The episode Zima Blue from the remarkable Netflix series Love, Dead Robots is an excellent test. It has strong colors and the contrast in the dark between the lights and the rich colors of my OLED TV creates a cool effect. What’s impressive is how quickly the lights react to on-screen content, and it really enhances the impact on what you’re watching.
If it gets distracting, you can reduce the intensity and brightness in the app, and you’ll soon find a setting to your liking. Eventually, you’ll really notice it when it’s turned off.
I then tried it out with games through PS5, and it was great to see the lights behind the screen dance around as I made my way through Ghosts of Tsushima.
There was still a problem, however. I sometimes had a momentary frame drop when running content through the switch box. It seems that only the highest bandwidth HDMI cables work reliably and Premium Certified 8K compatible cables are recommended. I bought such a cable to replace the one I thought was the weak link, but the problem persisted and the only new edition was the Sync Box, so you might end up having to spend a bit more on new cables.
If you can afford the cost and potential setup frustrations, the Hue Sync Box takes TV, movies, games and music to another level – it just needs Dolby Atmos music support to making it an almost essential purchase.