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Lights, but no action with Philips’ new Hue Play

The $220 system consists of two lights (each 25cm x 5cm x 4cm) 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.

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The 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.

So 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 syncs 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.

To get movies working, you need to run them through an appropriately set up PC.

To get movies working, you need to run them through an appropriately set up PC.

I could work up no enthusiasm to get this going. 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.

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