Review: The Philips Hue Play Gradient lightstrip is brilliantly immersive for smart home aficionados

Philips Hue Play Gradient lightstrip
I'd always scoffed at the idea of a lightstrip for my TV. Could I be convinced otherwise? Photo credit: Supplied / Philips

I'm something of a latecomer to wanting the best possible experience while watching television at home.

I used to stream on my phone and save watching movies for the big screen at the local cinema. But the pandemic changed that.

A larger television and a new 9.1 channel soundbar helped improve things markedly, but I had long scoffed at the idea of putting a lightstrip behind my setup. What could it possibly offer?

However, with Hue Play's Gradient lightstrip now available in New Zealand, I was keen to see if my preconceptions were warranted.

I've been using the Philips Hue Play Gradient lighstrip, bridge and HDMI sync box for a couple of weeks now, and here are my thoughts.

The good

Wow. Yes, it's a cliché, but that was the first word I uttered once I got everything set up as it should be.

I put on Pierce Brosnan's first outing as super spy James Bond - Goldeneye - and was utterly absorbed by the experience of the gradient lights synching to what was on the screen.

During the familiar opening credits, where Bond shoots and blood drips down, the lights on the right hand side of the screen turned to red, making it feel like my television was suddenly twice the size it actually was.

The lights work independently of each other, so you get a pretty accurate representation of the different colours all around the screen being projected behind the television at the same time. It was joyous and immersive, and I loved it.

I kept switching movies and loving the experience. I plugged in my Xbox and it was equally as fun.

I know my television didn't get any bigger, but the lights definitely did something to my brain, tricking it into believing things had changed significantly. I'm sure there's a scientific explanation, but I just allowed myself to be absorbed.

The colour-changing LEDs deliver a range right across the visible spectrum. What does that mean? The strip supports up to 16 million distinct hues - which is WAY beyond my eyes' ability to differentiate. And yours too, I suspect.

It will also output up to 1100 lumens of brightness and has an expected lifespan of around 25,000 hours according to Philips. That should keep you going for a few seasons of binge-watching your favourites.

Philips Hue Play Gradient lightstrip
Photo credit: Supplied / Philips

Depending how much you enjoy the experience, you can select from four different intensity ranges, as well as using a slider in the smartphone app to get the brightness just right for your room. I had them turned right up but that might not suit everyone.

If you want something gentler and a little different, you can even choose to switch the lights to behave as if a fire was flickering behind the television for added warmth on these cold nights. I genuinely felt warmer. Magic, I guess?

The physical installation of the lightstrip was very easy, the technological side less so (more on that in a minute).

There are five plastic mounts that attach to the back of your television, and the flexible strip easily pushes into them. It's secure and takes just minutes to get in place - but make sure you get the right size for your television as you can't cut them yourself.

If you've got more smart gadgets in your home, then there are even more advantages. You can use Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant to control things via voice commands or, as I do, use an app to turn all the lights around the house off and on and lock my door.

It almost makes up for the fact that we don't have flying cars yet…

The overall experience of watching and playing with such an immersive setup blew me - and my preconceived notions of the value of such things - away.

The bad

There's no getting over the single biggest issue with the set-up required to use the Hue Play gradient lightstrip with your television - the cost.

Perhaps if the price you pay for the lights was all you needed, then that might not be too bad.

I mean, $439.95, $484.95 and $549.95 for 55-inch, 65-inch and 75-inch televisions isn't cheap, but it's not ridiculously expensive either for the value.

However if you don't already have an HDMI sync box or a Vue bridge, then that's going to set you back an additional $549.95 and $109.95 respectively.

All that in one purchase and you could pick up a new television or a Playstation 5 from Facebook Marketplace for the equivalent.

Philips Hue Play Gradient lightstrip
Photo credit: Supplied / Philips

I don't suppose many technophobes are rushing out to spend that kind of cash on such gadgets, but the very least you're going to need is a deep understanding of the connections into your television if you want to get it to work properly. I'm not sure how many people have that.

That's because to get the lights to sync with your game console, audio player, Chromecast or whatever, those HDMI inputs need to be connected directly to the sync box instead of your telly.

Depending on your existing set-up, that can add complications to switching between sources. Teaching someone who's not very tech-literate to use a phone to change between the Bluray player and the Apple TV instead of a remote control isn't easy to explain.

Between all of the hardware, you also need two separate apps to control it all - the Hue and the Hue Sync apps. I'm not the first and I won't be the last to point out how ridiculous that seems in this day and age. Give me one app that does it all, please.

You also need to be able to plug the bridge into an ethernet port, which required a bit of rejigging in my house with all the ports in my router already in use. It was a bit of a pain.

Worth it in the end, yes. But it's still annoying. As was finding room for the sync box, which isn't the smallest, on my cabinet. There's so much on there already that I've had to stack things up - so if you're lacking in space beside your television, you might have to think about how it'll fit.

All of the above can definitely lead to not insignificant things to consider before splashing out.

The verdict

If you've always dreamed about having the best possible experience while watching movies, television and playing games in your own home then I can thoroughly recommend the Hue Play Gradient lightstrip and associated accessories.

Philips Hue Play Gradient lightstrip
Photo credit: Supplied / Philips

While still a relatively recent convert to a smart home set-up, the near-magical experience of the lights synching to what I was watching is something I'm unlikely to give up any time soon.

The problem comes if you haven't already invested in smart home gadgets. Just to get it working you'll have to end up paying over $1100 for the bridge, box and light strip for a 65-inch television.

That's a lot of trips to the cinema!

It's hard to justify that expenditure as a one-off, in my opinion.

However, if you're intent on making your home smarter and a little bit more fun, then I would be saving hard for the Gradient light strip and some extra light bulbs around your house.

All together, it makes a much more compelling purchase and adds a new dimension to the ever-popular streaming services, as well as giving you more control over all the lighting in your place.

Newshub was supplied with a Philips Hue Play gradient lightstrip, bridge and sync box for this review.