April 13, 2024


Think spectacular technology

DreamScreen 4K review: The dream is real, but the reality is underwhelming — for now

Here’s the DreamScreen pitch: Color-changing TV accent lighting that syncs with whatever’s playing on screen in real time. Sound familiar? It should — from “Ambilight” to “Hue Entertainment,” Philips has been trying to bring color to the walls behind people’s TVs for well over a decade.

A little company located in Florida, DreamScreen thinks it has Philips beat — and it might be onto something. The solution: smart, color-changing light strips that run the perimeter of your TV, plus an HDMI pass-through box. Plug all of your streaming devices, cable boxes and gaming consoles into it, then plug the box into your TV. DreamScreen reads the incoming audio/video signal of whatever you’re watching and matches the lights accordingly, with basically no perceptible lag and full controls on your phone via the DreamScreen app. Starter kits come in a variety of sizes, and start at around $250.

DreamScreen’s lights can match the color and position of whatever’s on your screen — but note that the reds and oranges don’t really track.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The system worked as promised when I tested it out at the CNET Smart Home, but the colors were surprisingly subtle during video sync, and much less vivid than when I ran the lights in ambient or audio sync mode. Blue and green tones also seemed to overpower everything else, with reds, oranges, yellows and purples often getting almost totally drowned out. In addition, the sticky backing on the LED strips didn’t adhere well to the textured back of our TV, forcing us to tape them up in place when they started falling off after a few days. None of those issues are deal-breakers, but all are notable flaws when you’re spending hundreds.

I remain intrigued by DreamScreen’s approach, and I love that you can use the lights with your Xbox or PlayStation — something you still can’t do with Philips Hue’s video sync feature. I also love that DreamScreen’s lights cover each side of the TV, with positional lighting changes that you won’t get from Hue. But unless you’re dying to get real-time color changes behind your TV (and you’re willing to tolerate an imperfect experience), I say wait for improvements — or wait for a sale.

DreamScreen’s kit comes with a spooled strip of color-changing LED lights that you’ll stick up around the back of your TV.

Ry Crist/CNET

The “DreamScreen 4K” kit that we tested comes with the HDMI pass-through box and a spooled strip of color-changing LED lights. Your first step is to stick those up around the back of your TV, which might be a bit difficult if you’ve already got your TV mounted to the wall. They’ll also have a hard time staying in place if the back of your TV is textured, like the TV in the CNET Smart Home is (we found our lights dangling beneath the TV after just a few days and had to tape them back in place). In fairness, I’ve experienced the same issue with light strips from Philips and Lifx, and I wonder if something stronger, like a Velcro-based adhesive, would be a better choice.

One other request: I’d love it if the DreamScreen app would let you set the specific diodes that sit at each corner of your TV to help fine-tune the position-matching lighting effects. As it is, the app just ballparks it based on the size of your setup. Seems like there’s room for more precision.

With the lights in place, you connect them to the pass-through box, then plug it into one of your TV’s HDMI inputs. Then, you plug your streaming devices, cable boxes and gaming consoles into the three HDMI inputs on the pass-through box. The pass-through box will act as an automatic switcher between those three HDMI inputs, and you can also switch between them in the DreamScreen app. Just open it up on your Android or iOS device and scan your local Wi-Fi network to connect and you’ll be good to go.

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