If you’re got smart lights set up at home, then you’ve probably played around with turning them on and off with your phone, and cycling through millions of colors. But if you have Philips Hue bulbs, you can also get them to sync with what’s on your TV screen or monitor.
So, you could have a wash of greens and blues behind your TV when watching Avatar, for example. Or your journeys through the vast world of Red Dead Redemption 2 could be accompanied by shifting colors as you move through deserts, forests, swamps, and snowy mountain ranges.
We’re assuming that you’ve already got your Philips Hue smart lights up and running at home. Then, depending on your setup and what you want, you can either use a desktop app or the Play HDMI Sync Box to have your smart lights react to your favorite content in real time.
Using the Hue Sync app
The easiest and cheapest way to sync your smart lights to your screen is to install the free Hue Sync desktop app for Windows and macOS. A caveat, though: this approach will only sync your lights to what’s on your computer, so it won’t work with your TV. Your laptop or desktop will need to be on the same WiFi network as your smart lights, so the program can see your Hue Bridge and the devices attached to it.
[Related: Find the best smart light for your home]
Download the desktop app and launch it. You’ll have two options: Help me set everything up and Search for bridge. Pick the first one if you’ve just bought your Hue lights and you’re installing them from scratch. The app will then take you step-by-step through the process of getting all the hardware connected. If your lights are already set up, select the second option.
Within a few seconds, the app should easily find the Hue Bridge and connect to it. If you haven’t already done it, turn to the Philips Hue app on your phone to set up what’s called an “entertainment area”: This is just a way of telling your Hue system which lights should be grouped together for syncing with screen content.
In the app, open the Settings tab, then go to Entertainment areas and Create area. Choose For my monitor, give the area a name, and then select the lights to include in it. The app will then prompt you to show the location of the lights within the room, so it knows how to sync them together with what’s on screen.
Once all that is done, head back to the desktop app—the entertainment area that you just created should be selected. Click on the name of the area to bring up the main syncing console: You can choose Start light sync to have the effect enabled on the selected bulbs.
There are also a few options to play around with on the app console. At the top you can choose one of four modes to determine the brightness of the lights: The ones we’re interested in here are Games (optimized for games) and Movies (optimized for video), but you can also pick Scenes to select a fixed Hue scene for your lights, or Music to have the lights sync along with the audio that’s being played.
If you pick Games or Movies, you can then control the strength of the effect: Pick from Subtle, Moderate, High, or Extreme. If the lights are changing color too often and it’s becoming distracting, choose Subtle or Moderate. The last option, Use audio for effect, means the Hue Sync desktop app will take into consideration the sounds in games and movies when choosing colors for the lights.
Based on our testing, the results are usually pretty good, though games and movies with more gradual color changes work best. You can always go back to the Hue app on your phone to tweak the entertainment area settings, as well as adjusting the options in the desktop app, to try and improve the results.
Finally in the desktop app, you can choose Settings to configure different aspects of the program, including which display is used for syncing (if you’ve got more than one), and whether or not the app starts up with your computer. It’s also possible to configure keyboard shortcuts for the desktop app from here.
Using an app can also work when syncing your smart lights to what’s on your TV—but that will only work if you have a Samsung TV from 2022 or newer. Philips Hue makes a Hue Sync TV app for these devices which you can find in the Apps section. The downside is it costs $130, but you might consider the functionality worth it for the seamless integration. The setup process is similar, but you’ll need to choose For my TV when setting up an entertainment area in the mobile app.
Using the Play HDMI Sync Box
If you have another type of TV, then you’ll need a hardware option to sync your smart lights with what’s on it. The Play HDMI Sync Box from Philips Hue is $250 and it comes with accompanying Hue Sync apps for Android and iOS. You can use this little gadget to connect up to four different HDMI sources—just keep in mind that if you’re playing on your console, you’ll need to connect the Sync Box both to your gaming device and your TV.
[Related: Best smart lights of 2023]
There’s support for Dolby Vision, HDR10+, and 4K resolutions, and the box is clever enough to recognize which source is playing and automatically switch to it. The information from the HDMI feed is beamed to your Hue Bridge at the same time as it’s showing up on screen, so your lights have a detailed map of colors to work from.
Setup is similar to the desktop app in that you need to create an entertainment area in the mobile app first. From the original Hue app on your phone go to Settings > Entertainment areas > Create area, and choose For my TV. The platform will ask you which smart lights are in the same room as your TV and where they’re positioned.
Then, from the Hue Sync app, you can turn effects on and off, switch between Video, Music, and Game modes, and adjust the strength of the effect and the brightness level in the same way as you can on the desktop app for computers. The apps also let you link the Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple’s Siri for the box, so you can use voice commands to enable or disable sync and switch between modes.