Beyond Immersive Audio and Video: Synchronized Lighting, Motion and Smell

Syfy channel synchronizes Philips Hue lighting effects with on-screen action via clever Syfy Sync technology. IoT could push immersive entertainment into so many more dimensions.

Beyond Immersive Audio and Video: Synchronized Lighting, Motion and Smell
With new Syfy Sync technology, the Syfy channel broadcasts cues that tells Philips Hue bulbs how to enhance the drama. The lights stay in sync as the app listens for the audio currently playing in the movie.
Credit: Syfy

Julie Jacobson · January 29, 2016

When you think of immersive entertainment, you usually consider object-oriented surround sound like Dolby Atmos, or video immersion via big curved screens, 3D images and virtual reality.

But entertainment is taking on even more dimensions. Makers of motion chairs, like D-Box and Guitammer, call their amenities the fourth dimension of entertainment.

D-Box hand-codes movies to define the movement for any given scene. The motion chairs take their cues from that metadata. ESPN has worked with Guitammer to broadcast motion metadata from the National Hot Rod Association. Sensors are attached to speeding cars, and the 4D data broadcast as a separate stream to Guitammer Buttkicker transducers in the home.

And the new dimensions in entertainment keep coming.

Syfy Channel Integrates with Philips Hue

In a post-CES call with the CEDIA Tech Council, Legrand’s Walt Zerbe said he was watching the Syfy channel and saw an ad about Philips Hue, specifically how certain Syfy shows could sync with Hue to create a light show that complemented the on-screen effects.

Sure enough, this is a year-old development called Syfy Sync, created through the production company’s Syfy Labs. Unlike color-syncing lighting systems that respond automatically to on-screen colors, Syfy Sync codes lighting cues manually – just like Kaleidescape does with movie bookmarks, D-Box does for motion chairs, and Dish Hopper does for commercial skipping. 

“We’re making these by hand and effectively scoring the episodes with light,” Matthew Chiavelli, senior vice president at Syfy Digital, told JWT Intelligence.

More interesting is Syfy’s method for syncing the bulbs with the movie. The mobile app listens to the movie soundtrack and times the Hue effects with the audio.


“Listening technology” or “audio analytics” is one of CE Pro’s Top 5 Home Tech Trends for 2016. Using the Syfy technique (and others) you can imagine where immersive entertainment might take us next.

One reviewer of Syfy Sync – I can’t find the reference now – suggested Syfy missed some opportunities when police lights and sirens were whirring in the movie. Surely some red flashes could have dramatized the action, although Syfy says it avoids gimmicks in its lighting effects.

Even so, the comment stirred up some ideas on how else we might immerse ourselves in entertainment, utilizing connected devices already in the home.

Smell-O-Vision, already tried in a few commercial cinemas, might return to the home, about 16 years after DigiScent claimed it could encode odors for digital download. Today, the “digital scent technology” market is a “thing,” with an estimated value of $691 million by 2020.

At CES 2016, I counted six or seven IoT devices that diffuse scents digitally (SensorWake, Febreze, Lumiere, Aroma Therapeutics, Beewi and Myxyty, for starters).

Why couldn’t they work with SyFy Sync?

Another likely candidate for new dimensions in home entertainment: things that make noise. Smoke detectors, alarm panels and door bells are all good candidates.

How about simulating nightfall or sunrise by integrating motorized shades into the immersive exeprience?

Finally, there’s nothing like the whir of a fan or a blast from an in-room air conditioner to enhance the mood. Haiku with SenseME from Big Ass Fans could be just the ticket.

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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at

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  Article Topics

Home Theater · Control & Automation · Lighting · News · Blogs · Products · Philips · Philips Hue · Syfy · All Topics
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