SyFy Labs at CES
Janko Roettgers / Variety

Get ready for your living room lights to become part of the action when watching TV: SyFy’s new SyFy Labs unit showed off an app at CES in Las Vegas this week that changes the color of connected lightbulbs depending on what’s shown on-screen during an episode of its new drama “The Expanse”. During a moment of suspense, the light may glow blue, only to flash in red patters in the middle of a fire fight.

SyFy’s synchronized lights make use of Philips Hue connected lightbulbs, which are controlled by the SyFy Sync second-screen app. Users just have to start the app on their Android or iOS device, after which it automatically listens to the TV to keep track of the action, and then change the color and intensity of the light based on what’s happening in the show.

SyFy first launched this kind of integration with Sharknado in 2014, and later extended it to Sharknado 2 and Sharknado 3 as well as the network’s “12 Monkeys” drama. “The Expanse” is the second show to support color-changing lights for its entire season.

To pull it off, SyFy Labs actually had a staffer analyze each and every episode and edit the lights accordingly. This approach may not seem very scalable, but SyFy SVP of Digital Matthew Chiavelli said that the network decided against letting computers make these choices because algorithms can’t truly capture the drama of a scene. “It wouldn’t be as good,” he said.

SyFy Labs Director Matt Romano added that the human approach also allows the network to use ambient lights to build suspense, similar to the way music is being used in a show to let the viewer know that something is about to happen. “It is all tied together,” he said.

The emerging technologies team at SyFy initially thought about adding a number of other connected devices to the mix, and for example change the temperature of a room by tapping into a viewer’s Nest thermostat. But in the end, most of this didn’t seem appropriate, or actually supportive of the story. “We don’t want it to be a gimmick,” said Romano.

However, he  didn’t rule out that the network may one day make use of additional parts of the connected home. “We look at every single product that’s being released,” he said.

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