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Philips Hue Festavia: we’re testing smart home lights ahead of the holidays

Philips Hue, the Dutch giant’s smart lighting brand, is celebrating the holiday season with its new Festavia string lights, a kind of holiday-specific smart lighting. This strand of 250 LED lights can glow individually to create dynamic scenes, gradients and effects for your Christmas tree and more.

To see the Festavia lights in action and hear my full review, watch the video at the top of this article. For the abridged version, keep reading.

Read more: Philips Hue starter kit will make your vacation brighter (and smarter)

What’s in the box

Festavia string lights are available in one length, 65 feet. The cord features two large power bricks that connect using a cable similar to Hue’s outdoor lights, but these are not permitted for outdoor use.

One set of lights was more than long enough to cover my 6ft tree. You should be able to comfortably cover a tree that is a foot or two taller than mine. When hanging them, you should start at the bottom and leave just enough for the top. You don’t want to have too much excess when you reach the top, because you can’t wrap the lights the other way or it will interfere with the gradient effect of the strip.

You can create a gradient using up to three colors on the Hue app’s color wheel.

Bobby Oliver/CBS

Philips Hue Dynamic Scenes and Effects

There are three pre-installed effects in the Hue app: Candle, Fireplace, and Sparkle, the latter being specifically designed for string lights. Each of these elements creates a comforting effect throughout the garland that looks fantastic. However, you cannot adjust the speed or color of these effects.


There are three pre-installed effects: Candle, Fireplace and Sparkle.

Bobby Oliver/CBS

You can also create custom “scenes” using the Hue color wheel and select from a few different styles. There’s Linear, which creates a gradient using three colors from top to bottom; Mirrored, which uses three colors to create top and bottom gradients that meet in the center; and Scattered, where you choose up to five colors that scatter around the tree.

Once you’ve created scenes, you can elevate them using dynamic scenes that cycle lights through defined colors. You can adjust the speed and set dynamic scenes to play automatically when a scene is activated.

While these effects look great, they seem limited compared to Twinkly, a competitor that sells string lights that offer a better mix of effects and customization features. I’ll go into more detail about Twinkly in a moment.

You can sync Hue lights with music and movies

All Philips Hue lights can sync to music using Spotify, which is built right into the Hue app. The string lights glow to the beat of the music, but there are only six color combinations to choose from – and you can’t create your own. I wish I could set certain colors to match themed holidays and events – and that goes for all my Philips Hue lights.


String lights can sync with music on Spotify using the sync tab in the Hue app.

Bobby Oliver/CBS

You can also sync Hue lights to TV content using the Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box. This device acts as a conduit between your game consoles and streaming devices and your TV to sync Hue lights with video content. It was fun to match the tree to the videos on the TV, but I think I prefer the static tree lights while watching certain shows and movies.

Twinkle lights have more effects and customization

Overall, I’m really happy with the Philips Hue string lights after playing with them for a few weeks. If you already have Philips Hue productsthese will work seamlessly with your smart home setup.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Twinkly, who have been selling smart Christmas lights for a few years now. Its string lights come in a bunch of shapes and sizes, and you can link several together for a full layer of lights that work together to create a whole host of effects. Philips Hue’s Festavia lights can be linked together in a room or zone, but they’re more limited than Twinkly.

The biggest advantage of Twinkly is that its string lights are weatherproof. You can also synchronize the lights with the music thanks to its integrated module which listens to the sound in the room. It’s different from Hue, which relies on Spotify integration.

For Hue to become a real contender here, it needs to add more pre-installed effects in its app and not rely on the lure of linking with the Hue ecosystem, which I admit is very nice. But if you’ve bought some Hue stuff before and are looking to expand your setup for the holidays, these lights might be worth a look.


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