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If you want to make your Hue lights come alive, use OnSwitch

Many households use Philips Hue automated light bulbs and fixtures to create stunning color scenes depending on the desired mood. But Hue’s app only sets color palettes. It doesn’t “animate” the lights per se, it has only recently implemented dynamic lighting, and its ability to dynamically change colors is subtle rather than obvious. 

If you want lights that respond to sound, you’ll want to look at Philips’ Hue Play Sync a $230 accessory that uses the HDMI signal of your TV to respond to the sound channel of whatever content you are watching. 

But this is overkill if you just want dynamic themed light shows that respond to ambient sound. For that, Hue has an app you can download, Sync, which does this on a PC or Mac, but you’ll need to program your lighting for whatever audio content you want to coordinate with. There are various other software-only solutions for Hue made by third parties that you can download on both the App Store and Google Play, but again, you’ll spend a lot of time programming these to get the effects you want.

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OnSwitch, an app for iOS and Android, solves that problem. You simply load it onto your smartphone, have it search and connect to your Hue hub, and you pick from a list of dozens of themed coordinated colorized light shows. 

Suppose you have friends and family coming over for a holiday gathering. In that case, the app is perfect for this purpose — whether it is Christmas, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, Diwali, Lunar New Year, Independence Day, Easter, or Halloween. These also have soundtracks, so you don’t have to supply music if you don’t want to. The app has various shows set for different styles of music so that the beats work with whatever content you are playing.

But one of the more exciting features is its “Stream” function which responds dynamically to onscreen content, such as concerts and sporting events. These are not just themed light shows; these are coordinated lighting (and sound) experiences that react live to events, such as scores. OnSync does this for specific live events, such as significant basketball and football games.

How OnSwitch accomplishes this is quite fascinating as quite a bit goes on behind the scenes. There are several components that make this work:

The OnSwitch app is the main user experience that presents the live game to the user. When the game starts, it listens for lighting cues from the server. The Event/Game looks just like another lighting effect album in the app, but it’s getting the game information from OnSwitch’s remote servers.

Event Broadcaster: This is a custom Mac app used by an Event Producer, remotely, to run the game. The app presents a custom “game board” with special effects button that triggers scoring animations, commercial breaks, comedic/meme-like flourishes, etc. The Event Producer watches the event and triggers the events as they see it happen on their television, which sends the information to the server that the OnSwitch app listens to.

Real-Time Sync:  OnSync’s lighting signals/triggers register on your phone within 0.25 seconds. But everybody’s game is not happening at the same time!  Some people watch with an antenna; cable TV is delayed 2 – 10 secs, Satellite is 8+ secs, internet streamers 30 – 90 secs. OnSync sends every signal with a timestamp to solve this problem, and the entire game stream is stored on the server. So the OnSwitch app gives the user a “SET DELAY” button which provides a time offset that is added to the presentation of that animation, so it matches what you see on your TV.  

OnSwitch can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play. Some content is free, while others are in-app purchases. A full subscription to all content is $29.99 a year.

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