The screen goes black, and with it the room. Then, a klaxon fires up, bathing the walls with flashes of scarlet. Hangar doors open slowly, spreading pure white light that chases away the red. A new round has just begun in Battlefield 5’s Firestorm mode, and my walls reflected each chromatic second. I’ve been using NZXT’s Hue V2 Ambient Lighting Kit; this is my review.
The idea here is intriguing. By placing light strips on the back side of your monitor, then lighting them up to reflect the colours on-screen, the action seems to bleed out of the monitor and infect your entire room – as long as your lightbulbs are extinguished, anyway. The effect is that your monitor feels much larger and games become more immersive.
After testing the Ambient Lighting Kit for a few weeks, I’m sold on the concept – it absolutely delivers a convincing experience that makes games and videos feel more real – but there are some limitations you should know about too.
For one, not all games seem to work in ambient mode out of the box; you’ll often need to enable borderless windowed mode (aka fake full-screen) so that the NZXT CAM software can peek into your game and see what colours are dominant. That introduces extra input latency compared to traditional full-screen, which you might want to avoid for hyper-competitive games like Counter-Strike or Apex Legends.
Some games also run slower in windowed mode, so you may be sacrificing your frame-rates too. I noticed the former effect much more than the latter, but your mileage may vary depending on the relative strength of your CPU and GPU. For normal desktop applications though, including the web and video players, there’s no messing needed to appreciate the ambient lighting mode.
Secondly, the Ambient Lighting Kit does take some thought and graft to set up. The Hue V2 hub, a module the size of a thick 2.5-inch drive, must be mounted with a hook-and-latch/adhesive combo in the bottom left of your screen. Then, you need to install several LED strips in sequence, with squared-off corner pieces to fill in the gaps and slightly longer cables to connect each sequence of strips to the hub. I used regular tape to temporarily hold each strip in place while I figured out positioning; after that, I went along and permanently adhered each strip in its correct position. I mounted my hub more centrally than I should, so I needed to borrow an additional longer cable from another NZXT Hue accessory box to make the connection work.
Reviews of the first Hue Ambient Lighting Kit stated that the adhesive was too weak, with strips often falling off within minutes of their application. I’m testing the Ambient V2, which has stronger adhesive and new corner pieces to reduce the pressure on the strips. The combination seems to work well; all of my strips are still in place several weeks later.
Once all of the strips are in place, you still need to provide AC power and a USB connection to the hub. If you plug the USB cable into one of your monitor’s USB ports, as I did, you may find that the Ambient Lighting Kit turns back on after your computer shuts down, so I’d recommend connecting it directly to your PC instead. There’s no on/off switch anywhere, so I ended up manually unplugging the Hub each time I switched off my computer for the night – not ideal.
Once the hardware is in place, there’s still a small software component too. Install the NZXT CAM software, then go to the lighting tab. With Ambient Mode enabled, you’ll be asked to calibrate your setup by telling the software where each strip is physically located – so that colours on just the left side of your screen are reflected by just the strips on the left. This only takes 30 seconds to do, but I did find I needed to perform this step multiple times when changing the lighting – perhaps due to the unplugging I mentioned earlier.
After everything is set up, you’re free to enjoy the benefits of the Ambient Lighting Kit. I found that I got the best results when my monitor was relatively close to the wall and my room was as dark as possible. Of course, wearing good gaming headphones or listening to speakers set to 11 also adds a lot to the immersion.
Certain colours seem to come through better than others, with blue being the default for most natural daytime scenes. Interestingly, raising in-game brightness settings seems to produce a corresponding effect on the strength of the ambient lighting; pale green becomes a strong and saturated green. I wish NZXT had included a brightness or saturation setting in CAM so that I could get a strong ambient lighting effect without needing to turn up the brightness to retina-searing levels.
It’s worth noting that everything on-screen is reflected, so browsing the web or editing a Word document means that you’ll get a lot of white on-screen. If I was sitting down to write a long article, then I typically changed from Ambient Mode to a more pleasing shade. It was a lot of fun to change my desktop background – or have it rotate through several favourites purloined from Reddit and Wallhaven – and see green valleys or orange sunsets reflected on my wall.
However, gaming and movies provide the most impressive results. As I alluded to in the introduction, the sequence in Battlefield 5’s Firestorm mode – transitioning from grey to black to red to white – is incredible.
Battlefield 5 ambient lighting, courtesy /u/ClassyHusky11 on Reddit
Similarly, explosions in the game’s campaigns and multiplayer became hair-raising experiences. Shadow of the Tomb Raider also worked well, thanks to the strong contrast between its dank tombs and scenic vistas, while the gunfire and varied terrain of Apex Legends made for an exciting experience. However, less cinematic games weren’t notably enhanced by the ambient lighting. Counter-Strike, for instance, looks basically the same no matter where you are in a particular level, so there’s not much for the ambient lighting to communicate beyond light and dark.
TV and movies seem to play with similar rules; well-shot and dramatic shows like Better Call Saul and Battlestar Galactica looked amazing, while sitcoms or other shows set in a single location weren’t particularly interesting to watch with the Ambient Lighting Kit engaged.
So is this kit worth the £90 asking price? I think it depends a lot on what kind of content you consume. If you play games or watch shows that have a lot of contrast in terms of their lighting, environments and scenes, then the Ambient Lighting Kit definitely proves its worth. If not, then it’s best to save your money.
Here’s one more consideration: If that £90 could be instead spent on a better processor, graphics card or monitor, then these upgrades are likely to be more meaningful in terms of your overall gameplay experience; fluidity and fidelity trump extra immersion in my book. However, if you’ve already got a good PC and peripherals, the Ambient Lighting Kit adds a new and exciting dimension to PC gaming that’s well worth paying for.