Gadgets & Smart Home Reviews

Lightpack Review: The Light Fantastic

Another Kickstarter success story in the vein of LIFX, Lightpack is a device with questionable necessity. It’s a set of sticky-sided, multicolour LED strips that you attach to your PC monitor. Switch it on, and the lights and colours of your computer screen will be reflected in the ambient light that Lightpack creates. Whether’s it’s useful or not is completely irrelevant, though — it’s just flat-out cool.

Lightpack was launched as a Kickstarter project in May 2013, doubling its $250,000 goal with almost 6000 backers pledging at least $50 to get hold of one of the first kits. That’s at a serious discount, too — the current preorder price for the second batch is roughly $120. The Russian team behind Lightpack also pitched a slightly weird touch communication wristband called TapTap, but that didn’t meet its Kickstarter goal.

Lightpack ships in a simple cardboard box, although the cardboard box inside that is a little more exciting. Packaging isn’t really an especially important part of the long term life of a technology product, but Apple proved that when you want people to covet your toys, a fancy box certainly helps.

There’s plenty of goodies in each Lightpack package. As well as ten individual LED strips — each of which has three flat multicolour RGB LEDs — there’s a bunch of mounting accessories including spare 3M adhesive strips, cable management squares and cable ties. As well as a power brick, there’s a USB cable for connecting the device to your computer. The Lightpack controller, which is very roughly about the size of a deck of cards, also has a couple of 3M adhesive strips pre-attached.

At least with the initial product, there’s a caveat specifically for Australian users. There’s actually no correct power plug for the multi-country adapter; anyone adversely effected can ask Lightpack to send out a plug converter free of charge via DealExtreme.

Setting up the Lightpack involves a fair bit of work; you’ll have to disconnect your monitor or PC, find a convenient place to lay it flat — a bed works remarkably well — and attach each of the ten LED strips to a different section around the monitor’s outer edge. Finding a convenient and central spot for the Lightpack controller itself is also important; there are a lot of cables to guide around, and you don’t want anything stretched out of shape.

Once you’ve got your monitor or TV set up with the Lightpack kit, and returned to its rightful spot in your home office or living room, it’s a simple matter of hooking up power and connecting the included USB cable to your PC.

Some software has to be installed and configured to get Lightpack up and running. Prismatik is a program that the Woodenshark team has had for quite some time, even before the Lightpack itself hit Kickstarter; it handles all the necessary complicated screen-grabbing, zone calculation and software plugins.

It’s not especially easy to use, though — it definitely needs a lot of work before it’s entirely user-friendly. Setting up zones, mapping each little capture point that the Lightpack turns into appropriate red-green-blue data, is tedious and the automated setup process didn’t work when we tried it.

With the software installed, zones finally set up, and a colourful video playing, the effect that Lightpack can create is absolutely brilliant.

The Lightpack software — available for PC and Mac, with an experimental version released for rooted Android devices — basically captures a snapshot of whatever you’re looking at and sends that to the Lightpack controller, which interprets the data. The colour data for each zone is averaged — here’s what it looks like displaying a blue desktop background.

It looks great, and it has some real-world advantages for working in a dark room at night — the extra ambient light behind the monitor definitely helps your eyes adjust and see more clearly without straining. When you’re watching a video, the dynamic light and colour changes are very impressive; it’s easy to forget yourself and spend time watching the Lightpack rather than the video itself.

The software picks up colour data from the Windows desktop, but also from any video or game that might be playing on screen, too. It’s able to channel individual zones to the right LED strips (after it’s set up correctly; our default configuration had colours from the right side of the screen displayed on the leftmost Lightpack strips, and vice versa), so the effect is even more pronounced when you’ve got a bright or colourful segment popping up on an otherwise dark screen.

The biggest disappointment is that Lightpack requires a PC to do its work. There’s no way to, say, plug a Blu-ray player into the Lightpack controller and connect that to a TV, giving you a seamless way to replicate the Lightpack effect on your TV with a DVD or Blu-ray movie playing. This is an entirely different and more complicated task, we realise; it’s just that seeing the potential of Lightpack made the lack of this killer feature even more jarring.

Lightpack doesn’t really have any killer usage case at the moment. The video above is about as cool as it gets. Impressive music visualisations, email notification flashes, and other plugins are only in their infancy at the moment. The complicated installation and software setup procedure is a big pain, too. As it stands, this is a device pointed squarely at enthusiasts who want to play around with a fancy, niche piece of technology.

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