The Bottom Line
Before writing for TweakTown, our employment path had lead us to a local appliance store. In that time frame, we recall when ambient lighting first made its entry with the Sharp Aquos televisions, many moons ago. Since then, we have seen all sorts of lighting make its way to the PC segment. Anything from cold cathodes, individual LEDs, pucks, strips of LEDs on a wire wrapped in sleeving, EL cables, and the list goes on and on, but most of them pertained to the chassis. After many years, strips of low-profile LEDs became super affordable, and the craze to backlight TVs and PC monitors in the DIY area took off. While kits are out there to accomplish this task, a new entry to the game has arrived, which has raised the bar to an all-new, and easy to use, take on what RGB backlighting for a PC monitor should be!
Ambient lighting may not be new, but how this system was developed is the best implementation of the tech so far, outside of what can be found already built into a screen. In many instances, you can hunt eBay or Amazon and find RGB LED kits which say they will offer ambient illumination, and they will, but sadly, there is a camera involved, which creates latency and can ruin the immersion. NZXT looked at things another way. Since the PC is already handy, usually right next to the monitor, why not drive the signaling over USB! What this does is allows the PC to send the colorations the strips will need, sends that to a hub which you configure, and with the flick of a switch, you have proper ambient lighting behind the monitor, with much less latency involved then with the kits mentioned above.
Today we are testing the NZXT HUE 2 Ambient V2 RGB Lighting Kit, more specifically, the AC-HUEHU-B2, for 26 to 32-inch monitors. There is also a second set, the AC-HUEHU-A2, which is intended for use with 21 to 25-inch screens, and even for 34 and 35-inch UltraWide monitors, and the kits differ in the lengths of the eight strips of LEDs offered with them. Initially, we were a bit skeptical about what was possible with the NZXT HUE 2 Ambient kit, but suffice it to say, we have been nothing but impressed, and we are touching on just one aspect of this setup, as it is, at its base; also an RGB LED lighting kit that can do static colors and modes, but we have a feeling that once you go with the ambient backlighting, you won't be moving back to them anytime soon!
This might be the one time where we have seen a box that does not do the product the justice it deserves! In the typical white and purple packaging, we are presented the HUE 2 Ambient RGB Lighting Kit, and immersive desktop lighting system. However, under the product name, while we do see the RGB LED strips presented with a purple glow, and we can also see the hub attached to the screen, but with what can be done, a solid color choice is only one of the multitude of presentations possible!
On the back of the box, we see that at the top, there is an image of the ambient mode in action. The text covers why this is a thing, and also notes that all HUE 2 products can be synced to this kit. To the right are system requirements and specifications, while the bottom row shows us CAM software control, the eight strips of RGB LEDs, and that it is easy to install and use.
The part that drives this system is the HUE 2 hub. Both sides of this matte-finished hub are ventilated to allow for some passive cooling of the internal components, and near the top, on the right side, is power indicating LED. The NZXT name is visible on the top of the hub, and while there are feet present on the underside, it is intended to be mounted behind the screen with a pair of hook and loop strips pre-applied to it.
In this application, the HUE 2 Ambient hub powers two channels, which is what the two 4-pin connectors on the left are for. Next in line is the Micro-USB connector so that the PC and software can talk to the hub, and lastly is the 12V DC connecting point for power. Note too, that once installed, all of the connections will be near the bottom edge of the monitor for a clean finished look.
This is where the two HUE 2 Ambient Kits will differ. In this image, you see four 300mm long strips, and four 250mm strips to fit the back of our 27" monitor. In the other A2 version, you will get only two 300mm strips, four of the 250mm ones, and a pair of 200mm strips. All of these are typical 4-pin connectable, and you need to ensure you align the arrows when connecting the power leads, and the L-shaped corner connectors.
Aside from the hub and the LED strips, we still need all of the accessories to make this happen. On the left are the pair of 150mm long channel power leads which connect the hub to the strips. Next in line is the USB 2.0 to Micro-USB cable, which is 2.5 meters long! That leaves us with what is at the right, where we find the 3M double-sided tape used to mount the L-shaped corner connectors next to them, and the wet cleaning and dry cleaning wipes to ensure the Velcro and double-sided tape, and now stronger strip adhesive properly adhere to the back of the monitor.
To power the Hue 2 Ambient, NZXT has opted for this universal power adapter. This adapter allows for various prong arrangements to be used, no matter what part of the globe you live on! As to the power side of it, it will take 100 to 240V of AC power and converting it to a 12V DC input of 2A.
To be slid into the power adapter are one of the four options sent in the box. There are power adapters so that if you are in the EU, in Australia, in the US, or the UK, you are good to go right out of the box. While this may cost a tad more for all customers, we like the idea, and it keeps inventory down not having to make a certain amount of units that can only be sold in a single region.
When it comes to literature, NZXT ensures you cannot mess this up. On the left is the installation guide, where you will be instructed, step-by-step, with text explanations, through the entire process. Nothing is left to chance, every detail, even the finest points, are covered here. On the right is the configuration guide as to how to layout the channels of RGB strips. You can see a single channel is configured for the screens the A2 kit covers, while the reverse shows the B2 configurations.
As to the B2 channel configurations; what you will do is what you see here. The hub is said that it needs to be at least 7.5cm from the corner, on any flat area that will support the size of the hub. Channel one starts with a 300mm strip, gets the L-shaped connector at the corner, and we then linked a pair of 250mm strips end to end. The second channel is the exact reverse, where we power the pair of 250mm strips first, hit the corner adapter, then put the 300mm strip at the end. Depending on the design and layout of the monitor, concessions may have to be made, like when accessing the buttons on ours!
Once the lighting is installed, you boot the PC and go to NZXT for their latest CAM software. Once downloaded and installed, you can jump directly to the lighting section. On the basic level, the strips will allow any of the twenty-two standard effects to work right out of the gate; all you need to do is select the channel, and pick the mode. They can also display one mode on either channel that does not match if that is your desired choice. However, the point of this kit is to have ambient lighting as well, which takes a tad more work. Once the slider is moved to the right after Ambient Mode, a new setup opens where you need to confirm on a monitor layout, what lights are active so that CAM can associate the strips for illumination. Once done, the lights will mimic anything on the outer edge of the monitor, whether it be at the desktop or in a game or video.
We felt that the need to show all of the modes was a bit ridiculous to do, so we opted for the best-case scenario with an image we pulled from Pixelz for our background at the desktop level, allowing us to flood the wall behind the monitor with as many colors at once as possible. Games and benchmarks tend to be a bit bland around the edges, but while using and testing the HUE 2 Ambient, it has nothing short of amazing! There is a single issue we did discover along the way, both on Intel and AMD systems, but we will get to that in a moment.
The HUE 2 Ambient is a kit anyone will appreciate, especially those who already opted for LED backlighting on their monitor, as this is a huge step forward! NZXT ensures all regions that this kit will sell in are covered with power requirements, all right in the box, it is simple to install, and you get all the parts you need, even down to the cleaning cloths. From box to use, we spent maybe ten minutes of our time, and most of that time was disconnecting the monitor, cleaning it, and reconnecting it to the PC. Every part of the kit is designed for simplicity, down to the improved adhesive on the RGB LED strips, also used on the L-shaped connectors, and with the hook and loop tape, the hub stays mounted securely to the screen as well.
There are some downsides to this setup though. While NZXT covers many of the most utilized screen sizes, for now, if your screen does not fit within the range, it could still be used, but the effects would be much less immersive due to the gaps in the strips. We do wish there was a kit for a larger setup, as our 55" 4K screen we use every day is now jealous of the 27" 4K monitor we used for this review! The other part, which we alluded to earlier, is that when it comes to running benchmarks, the USB bus must be taking a massive hit with the loads presented in many benchmarks we used to test this. What happens is that the HUE 2 Ambient cannot keep up with the action on the monitor, and we also noticed that with anything that shimmers, like many of the 3DMark benches, the lights could flicker to the point of making the user feel "ill" In our testing, after three or four benchmarks repeating this behavior, we felt some ill effects from it.
We all know that you can hop on eBay or Amazon and pick from many RGB kits out there, and many of them are a fraction of the cost of what the HUE 2 Ambient is, but we have yet to see any of those kits offer what the HUE 2 Ambient can, without an odd-looking camera in the room. At $109.99 at both Newegg and Amazon, it is hard to say that the price will not affect many when it comes to buying such a product, but we feel the opposite. The HUE 2 Ambient is something you have to see for yourselves, and once done, you will wonder how you went so long without something as impressive as this before. Compared to the cost of some of the new 4K 27" gaming monitors out there, it is but a drop in a bucket, and on the flip side, it is an affordable add-on to older screens. Either way, whether buying this for a new build or buying it to bring new life into an existing system, we feel that there is no way to come away from this purchase upset or dissatisfied! To us, the NZXT HUE 2 Ambient V2 RGB Lighting kit is a must-have, and it the best thing to come to monitors since the flat panel!
Chad's DDR4 Dual-Channel Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS Crosshair VIII HERO Wi-Fi - Buy from Amazon
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X - Buy from Amazon
- Cooler: Corsair H150i PRO - Buy from Amazon
- Video Card: GIGABYTE GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER Gaming OC 8GB - Buy from Amazon
- Storage: Corsair Force MP500 480GB NVMe - Buy from Amazon
- Case: Thermaltake Core P5 TG - Buy from Amazon
- Power Supply: Corsair RM750x 750-watt - Buy from Amazon
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit - Buy from Amazon
At just over $100, it is costly, but once the HUE 2 Ambient V2 RGB Lighting Kit is installed and functioning, it becomes much less of a sticking point. What we have experience is nearly mind blowing, and we strongly urge you to try it out!
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