To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box review: Sync your lighting to your movies, games and TV

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £230
inc VAT

Adds a new immersive layer to films, games and programmes, but the experience will cost you


  • Well-designed app
  • Immersive lighting for TV, films and games
  • Works with wide range of 1080p and 4K sources


  • No Dolby Vision or HDR10+
  • Slow to switch between sources
  • Expensive, and requires a Hue Bridge

Over the last few years, Philips has established Hue as the world’s leading smart lighting system; the one with the best line-up of bulbs, lights and accessories and the strongest range of automation, lifestyle and entertainment features. On that last count, however, Hue had one persistent weakness.

The system has long featured the ability to sync coloured lights in the room to video on your TV, replicating the experience of its Ambilight TVs. Sadly, this only worked when streaming video from a PC or laptop attached to your TV, meaning you couldn’t use the sources that would actually work best with lighting: Blu-ray players, games consoles, streaming sticks and set-top-boxes.

The Hue Play HDMI Sync box is Philips’ attempt to fix this. Hook it up to your TV, plug your sources in and it transforms the content of the HDMI signal into a stream of instructions for your Hue lighting so that the colours sync up with what you’re seeing on the screen.

READ NEXT: Philips Hue review

Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box review: What you need to know

As an extension of the Philips Hue lighting ecosystem, the Sync Box aims to provide an immersive and highly customisable lighting experience that matches whatever you’re watching, playing or listening to.

The Sync’s function is similar to that of Philips’ Ambilight TVs, only with the effects extending well beyond the screen itself, and the more advanced your Philips Hue lighting setup the more dramatic that impact will be. Suffice to say, if you don’t like the idea of multi-coloured pulses of light shooting out from behind your TV as you watch a movie, then the Sync Box probably isn’t for you.

Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box review: Price and competition

The box itself costs £230, so it really isn’t cheap, and you’ll also need a minimum of two Hue Play Smart Light Bars (£62 each or £110 for two) or two Hue Bloom lamps (£60 each) to have much impact. What’s more, if you haven’t already bought into the Hue ecosystem, you’ll need a further £45 to £65 for either a Hue Bridge V2 or a Hue starter kit. It’s also worth noting that Sync doesn’t support third-party bulbs, so if you’ve scrimped by buying, say, Innr smart bulbs, know they’re not going to play nice.

For some, £300-£400 won’t seem much much outlay to enhance their viewing and gaming experience. That’s peanuts compared to their new OLED TV or 7.1 surround system. For others, it’s going to be half the cost of their new 4K HDR TV and more than they’ll have spent on a soundbar, both of which are more important to the home cinema experience than some ambient lighting.

Competition is surprisingly thin on the ground here. Excluding some little-known alternatives such as the DreamScreen’s £190 4K box and Lightpack’s $419 UHD Mini Set, there’s basically nothing to stand in Hue’s way.

Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box review: Design and setup

The plain black box couldn’t be much simpler, with the front blank except for a single power/control button and the rear dominated by five HDMI 2.0b ports. Four of these are used to connect your source devices, and as the spec covers 4K video at 60fps with HDR and HDCP 2.2 copy protection, you’re good for anything from streaming devices to 4K Blu-ray players to the Xbox One X. The final HDMI port is for connecting to your TV.

The setup process involves downloading Philips’ Hue Sync app – an extra on top of the normal Hue app – and then waiting while it uses a temporary Bluetooth connection to find and connect the Sync Box over Wi-Fi. Your phone needs to be connected to the same network as your Hue Bridge hub, and from there it’s just a question of pairing the app with the box, getting it connected to the network and pairing the box with your Hue hub. The app takes you through it step by step so getting it up and running is relatively easy.

The other thing you’ll need to do is set up an Entertainment Zone within your TV’s room. This time, you work within the Hue app and add colour-capable lights to the zone – up to a maximum of 10 – by moving the icons of different lights and bulbs around a virtual TV screen to reflect their position in the room. Again, it’s a simple process, and there’s a helpful video tutorial within the Sync app to help you get through it.

Buy now from Philips

Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box review: Sync app and controls

With no real controls on the box itself, the Sync app plays a crucial role, both switching between your HDMI inputs and turning the sync function on and off. You can also adjust the brightness levels manually, or take your pick from various presets for music, video and games, which tune the lighting effects and intensity to match the activity.

The app is easy to use and offers just enough customisation without overwhelming you with options – personally, I’d rather be playing games or watching movies than fiddling with my lighting setup. However, switching HDMI sources feels unnecessarily slow and clunky, causing a four or five-second pause every time, and you need to have your smartphone close to hand whether you’re using sync or not.

To balance this, there are comprehensive options to configure automatic switching over HDMI-CEC, so you can set the sync box to switch automatically when it detects a signal from a specific source or sources. This is hit and miss in practice – unsurprising given the mess many manufacturers make of HDMI-CEC – and I found that it works best if you only select one device for auto-switch priority. You can also rename the four HDMI inputs to make it easier to track your sources.

There is one limitation that may well kill the HDMI Sync Box for some users: lack of support for Dolby Vision and HDR10+. Standard HDR10 is a go, but if you’ve got a new TV that supports Dolby Vision, you’ll probably want that overactive lighting. Similarly, Hue Sync is of no use whatsoever if you want to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime Video from your TV’s built-in apps, as there’s no way to route the signal through the Hue box.

Buy now from Philips

Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box review: Performance

Is it worth all the effort, then? Using my home system, which is comprised of a Hue Bloom lamp on either side of the screen, a Hue colour bulb in a wall-lamp above it and another one behind it, the answer is yes; Hue Sync really does make for a more immersive viewing and gaming experience, working like a super-sized version of Ambilight. It’s not for everyone or for every kind of content; it’s great for movies and blockbuster TV series, but adds nothing if you’re watching more standard TV fare – and it’s obviously of precious little use when the room isn’t dark.

Within those constraints, though, it’s brilliant. I wouldn’t say the lighting matches the exact colours you’ll see on screen all the time, but the tones support those colours and seem to extend the general ambience outwards, and there’s virtually zero lag. It’s especially great for action movies, fantasy epics and creepy horror films, but it also adds a certain something to well-lit dramas with high production values. To see it at its best, though, watch a film that makes strong use of colour – Mad Max: Fury Road is a treat.

It’s arguably at its best with games, where dynamic lighting often plays a stronger role. Playing Gears 5 on the Xbox One X, the rapid changes of colour and brightness in your peripheral vision bring you even further inside the game, particularly when you’re out in the storms of the frozen wastelands or battling the Swarm deep underground. The 2016 Doom remake is another fantastic showcase, particularly in areas with strong green or orange lighting or where fireball-throwing demons, flaming skulls and exploding barrels are thick on the ground.

It’s not perfect, though. Watch carefully, and you might see the illusion broken by a minor element on the screen triggering an excessive reaction in the lighting, or the odd mismatched colour. But when you spend most of the time watching the screen rather than the lighting, such oddities tend to drift by. 99% of the time, the Sync Box works as advertised.

Buy now from Philips

Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box review: Verdict

Does the experience justify the price tag? There I’m not so sure. Even as someone with a half-decent setup and an extensive Hue system already in place, £230 for a control unit seems like a lot, particularly when it adds a minor layer of inconvenience to switching between HDMI inputs – a layer not everyone in my household has appreciated. It’s great to see Philips making its technology work with the sources we actually use for TV, films and gaming – and the effects are frequently stupendous. I just wish the price of entry was a little lower.

Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box specifications

Video resolution:

Up to 4K 60Hz HDR10


4 x HDMI 2.0b (in), HDMI 2.0b (out)


Wi-FI 802.11 b/g/n/ 2.4 GHz, Bluetooth 4.2 for installation with Wi-Fi

Power consumption:

Adapter voltage 24V, 1W (min), 7W (max)


182 x 99 x 23mm (WDH)