For years, I’ve been a Philips Ambilight addict as well as a fan of Hue Play equipment. It’s a love affair that began when I purchased the Philips OLED 984 in 2019 – both a great TV and the first to introduce me to this color-casting technology. I’ve changed the TV after four years, but I can’t live without the lighting. With my LG C2, I’m now using a Philips Hue Gradient Lightstrip in conjunction with a Philips Hue Play Sync Box. It’s a fantastic lighting setup, but it’s missing a key feature for gaming.
Before I rant about the Hue Play Sync Box’s only real flaw, let me explain why I adore this type of lighting technology. With the announcement that Samsung TVs will soon support Ambilight light-syncing (via an expensive app), I’ve been thinking a lot about these technologies.
If you’re unfamiliar with Ambilight TVs or Hue Play hardware, here’s a rundown of the smart lighting technologies. Both project colors onto the wall behind a TV that match what’s on-screen, giving the impression of a larger screen, but they’re different types of technology. What is the primary distinction between these two pieces of color-projecting equipment? Ambilight TVs have built-in LEDs and can match any image that passes through the TV; a Hue Play system requires lights such as the Hue Play Gradient Strip to be connected to the Hue Play Sync Box, which acts as an HDMI hub – the lights can match any image from sources that pass through the box.
In another (slightly perplexing) twist, neither LED technology is produced by Philips. Signify manufactures Hue Play equipment, while TP Vision manufactures Ambilight TVs. Are you caught up? Lovely.
Observe the Ambilight
I purchased the Hue Play Sync Box after selling my Philips OLED 984 and upgrading to the LG OLED C2 – hands down the best TV I’ve ever owned and the top of our list of the best OLED TVs. It’s a clever little HDMI hub that connects four devices and then syncs the colors of a paired Hue Play lightstrip to match your on-screen content.
The Sync Box and Hue Gradient Lightstrip instantly match whatever array of colors is being displayed on the TV after a quick setup via the slightly fiddly Hue Sync app via smartphone or tablet. I’m currently connected to the Sync Box with my PS5, Xbox Series X, Apple TV, and Nintendo Switch, and switching between sources is mostly painless.
The Hue Play Sync Box and Hue Gradient Lightstrip enhance immersion at every turn, whether you’re playing the best PS5 games or watching one of the best Netflix movies. A good illustration of the effect in action? When you watch The Matrix, the wall behind your TV will be illuminated with a constant array of glassy greens to match the Wachowskis’ masterful, bullet-dodging color palette.
The Hue Sync app allows you to adjust the intensity of the color-syncing technology. When watching movies, I usually use the ‘Subtle’ preset, then raise it to High when playing games. And it’s with games that you really see the Sync Box and lightstrip at their best.
It’s a fantastic effect that makes both games and movies feel more three-dimensional, whether I’m having my corneas singed by searing reds in frantic games of Rollerdrome or feeling the warmth of The Witcher 3’s perpetual autumnal tones expanded beyond the dimensions of my LG C2.
However, there is a catch when it comes to next-generation consoles. With more PS5 and Xbox Series X games supporting frame rates of 120 at 4K, the Sync Box’s flaw becomes clear: it does not support HDMI 2.1. This means it can only handle 4K/60Hz signals or 120Hz at 1440p.
Out of step
While the lack of 120Hz passthrough at 4K isn’t a deal breaker, it does force the Hue Play Sync Box to make compromises. I recently finished last year’s excellent God of War: Ragnarok on PS5, and because I chose the High Frame Rate mode, I was forced into an annoyingly fiddly cycle of switching out HDMI cables on a regular basis.
Ragnarok runs at 90-120fps when High Frame Rate is enabled. To achieve this buttery performance, I had to bypass the Sync Box’s HDMI 2.0 limitations by using a different, hideously long HDMI 2.1 cable connected to a different output on the back of my LG C2 OLED. Sure, all those extra frames make garotting an ogre smoother than ever, but it also meant I couldn’t use my Sync Box and lightstrip to mimic Kratos’ frigid Midgard.
Is this a First World country? Sophie’s Choice moment worthy of the smallest violin ever imagined by theoretical physics? Without a doubt. Still, having to switch HDMI cables on a regular basis when choosing between games that support 4K 120Hz and those that are limited to 60Hz (and that I want to sync the colors of) is inconvenient.
All my future-proofed gaming prayers would be answered if Philips Hue released an HDMI 2.1 version of the Sync Box that supported 4K 120Hz passthrough with Variable Refresh Rate. This is not going to be a cheap solution; the HDMI 2.0 Sync Box is already $250/£230. With an additional $299/£185 for the 75-inch Hue Play Gradient Lightstrip that I pair with my 77-inch C2 OLED, all this creative color has taken a toll on my tattered bank balance.
But the prospect of playing games at 4K 120fps while simultaneously syncing the colors of glorious virtual worlds via Hue Play gear would be worth the assault on my wallet for this ambient light addict. Please, Hue, make that HDMI 2.1 Sync Box compatible with the best gaming TVs.