How to sync your Philips Hue lights to the movies you're watching

Hue's latest party trick is a blockbuster - here's how to get involved

Philips Hue sync guide

You've set up your home theatre, got the latest Hollywood blockbuster queued up, and settled down with a big bucket of popcorn — so how about some smart syncing lights to put the finishing touch to your movie night?

Using the official Hue Sync app from Philips, you can use any of your multicolour Hue bulbs to create lighting effects to match the colours and activity of what's being shown on screen. It's not quite like being there, but it adds to the feeling of immersion for sure.

Here we'll guide you through the whole process, assuming that you've already got your Philips Hue system set up. A night in with a movie will never be the same again — though it works with TV shows, video games and the football too.

Note that this isn't the only app available to sync your Hue lights to your TV, but it's the best available at the moment out of the ones we've come across — coming direct from Philips and running on the same device as your videos certainly helps.

Sync My Lights (for iOS and Android) is worth a look and uses timings programmed by users rather than trying to watch what you're watching, while Hue Matcher for Android uses your phone's camera to keep your lights in sync with your movies. Hue Camera for iOS does a similar job on Apple devices.

The hardware you need

In order for the Philips Hue Sync app to work its magic, it needs to be running on the same device that you're watching movies on — in other words, a computer with macOS Sierra (or later) or Windows 10 installed.

That's fine if you're watching films on a laptop, or a computer with a big monitor set up wherever your cinema room is, but if you want to get this working with a standard television then you'll need to hook up your computer to it directly.

This shouldn't be too difficult on most modern laptops or desktops — check the video output options on your computer, and the video input options on your TV, and get a cable to match. In most cases, on hardware bought in the last few years, a simple HDMI connection will be what you need, though you can also use an AirPlay connection if you're on a Mac.

Both macOS and Windows can automatically detect a second screen once it's attached, and will let you run your video on it. The Hue Sync app can automatically handle second screens as well, so configuring an external display shouldn't be too much extra work.

Set up your entertainment areas

How to sync your Philips Hue lights to the movies you're watching

Before you install the desktop application on your computer, you need to set up what's called an "entertainment area" in the Hue app for iOS or Android.

In the mobile app, head to the Settings tab, then tap Entertainment areas. Pick Create area, then select the rooms with the lights you want to use — you'll only be able to select ones with multicoloured bulbs installed in them. You can then pick individual lights, if needed.

Hit the Lights are ready button when asked to, and the app shows you a typical home cinema setup with a big TV screen and a sofa. Drag the icons on the app screen to match the physical location of your lights.

The app lets you test the positions and colour syncing until you're happy. You can then turn your attention to the desktop app.

Download and install the desktop app

How to sync your Philips Hue lights to the movies you're watching

Head to the Philips Hue website to get the free Hue Sync app. As we mentioned earlier, you're going to need a computer running macOS Sierra (or later) or Windows 10 to get this up and running, but the program works in the same way whether you're using the platform from Apple or Microsoft.

Click through the usual setup screens that you get with most apps (you're fine to stick with all the default settings), and once the program interface proper appears, you have the choice of setting up your Hue lights from scratch or connecting to an existing system.

Choose Search for bridge, then Connect, and then go and push the connect button on the top of the Hue Bridge itself when prompted. The program should automatically pick up the entertainment area we configured earlier, so select it.

You'll then get to the main control panel, where you can choose between four modes: Scenes (like the Scenes function in the mobile app), Games, Music and Video. Each mode operates in a similar way.

Sync your lights to a movie

How to sync your Philips Hue lights to the movies you're watching

We're here for the movie function, so select Video, making sure the right entertainment area is also selected in the panel above.

The buttons below tweak the strength of the syncing effect, because you maybe don't want a disco-style effect for a slow-burning European drama. Your choices are Subtle, Moderate, High and Intense, and the toggle switch directly underneath lets you tell the lights to follow the cues from the movie's audio too.

With that done, click Start light sync, and get whatever movie or TV show you want up on screen. The Hue Sync app works with every video-playing app, whether running as a desktop program or through your browser. For the best results, put the video player in full-screen mode.

Sit back and enjoy the flick, with automatic colour syncing enabled, thanks to the screen monitoring tech built into the Hue Sync app and the settings you've configured. The more lights (and types of light) you have the better the effect, but play around with the configuration options to find a setup you like.

Set program options

How to sync your Philips Hue lights to the movies you're watching

If you click the Settings box in the top right-hand corner of the control panel, you can set up several different options inside the Hue Sync program. One of these, under Display preferences, lets you select a second display if it hasn't been identified automatically.

You can configure some keyboard shortcuts too, via the Keyboard shortcuts panel, to change the brightness of your lights or to switch between modes: this can be handy if you want to make adjustments without stopping the video.

Meanwhile, if you're having trouble with video playback, go to the General preferences pane and change the setting under performance mode. This can ease the pressure on your computer's CPU as it tries to capture colours from the screen.

As we mentioned at the top, other third-party apps will attempt to sync your lights to your movies for you, but we recommend that you start with the official tool and then go on from there if you need to.

TAGGED   lighting

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