Mad Catz gaming lights

Mad Catz gaming lights review: very pretty, pretty useless, but all fun

The Mad Catz Cyborg Gaming Lights are one of the most innovative and probably one of the most frivolous bits of gaming gear you could buy for your gaming rig. They are also one of of the coolest, too. (Check out the video at the end of the article. Even my cat thinks the lights are cool–or maybe she’s mad. Hard to tell with cats.)

Light up your life

The Mad Catz Cyborg Gaming Lights are circular 2.75” diameter LED-powered lights designed to bathe the walls and immediate area around your PC in an array of colorful—and customizable—light to complement your games, music, and even your operating system (more on that in a bit).

The Cyborg Gaming Lights are based upon technology from UK-based lighting company amBX. amBX is best-known for software and lighting systems of the sort typically used in bars, dance clubs, and similarly colorful social and entertainment venues.

Each Cyborg Gaming Light is powered by 2-watt LEDs capable of 100 Lumen output and 16.8 million colors. Two lights connect to a single AC adapter with a Y-cable. In addition, each light also connects to your PC through a 3-meter long USB cable. You can hook up as many pairs of lights as you want as long as you have the AC outlets and USB connections to handle them. You may need some extension cables if you’re particularly ambitious. The lights are also easily wall-mounted.

The Mad Catz Cyborg Gaming Lights add all kinds of cool to your media, games, and PC.

Once the lights are physically installed, it’s just a matter of installing the amBX software—a task unfortunately not as easy as it should be. This isn’t the fault of Mad Catz so much as it is amBX’s software drivers, which simply put need some work. I recommend forgoing the driver CD altogether and just grabbing the drivers from the amBX web site.

Regardless, the user interface for the driver installation program and the amBX Windows control panel are clunky and unintuitive at best. From a software design perspective, the all of the amBX software looks and feels like it was designed by niche lighting effect engineers. That’s probably true, but it’s not a compliment.

Documentation is practically non-existent, which is particularly problematic if you want to use the amBX FX Creator software. Help is available at the amBX Web site of course, but the bottom line is that you have to be prepared to figure this stuff out and spend some time hunting for information in Web forums.

Tripping the Light Fantastic
Aside from the UI and driver installation speed bumps, the Cyborg Gaming Lights are really, really cool once you have them up and running.

The Cyborg Gaming Lights are designed to complement gaming by essentially reacting to and complementing the colors on screen. Walk into a dark hall in a game, and the lights dim. Emerge in the sun shine and look up at the sky, and lights glow radiantly as if you’re looking up at the sun. Blow the sh*t out of something and a swath of yellow blanket’s the wall behind your monitor as you sift through the fiery wreckage.

Enhance your gaming
The Cyborg Gaming Lights work out of the box with virtually any DirectX game, so games don’t need to be programmed to take advantage of them. Developers can choose to code their games to work specifically with the lights however, and the Cyborg gaming lights come packaged with one: Funcom’s Age of Conan MMORPG.

Similarly, DirectX powered video can work with the amBX lights as well. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include DVD or Blu-Ray content, which is unfortunate. (Get on that, will you amBX?)

A weak link in the gaming experience is (again) the amBX software and how it detects games. In order for the amBX software to detect with and work with a game, you must first run the game. Then you have to shut down the game, configure it in the amBX control panel (assuming it detected the game and added it to its list), and then run the game again. Once this is done you won’t need to do it again, but it’s still very inelegant.

Once the amBX software recognizes a game, you can go into the amBX control panel and enable the effects by selecting one four game schemes: RTS, RPG, FPS, or Racer.

Make your own light show
Beyond gaming applications, the Cyborg Gaming Lights also let you put on your own light show. Crank up a play list in Windows media player, turn on some visualizations, and the Cyborg Gaming Lights will give you your own private light show, keeping time with the music and enhancing the visualizations displayed on screen. (Check out the video for a short demonstration.)

Even as someone who doesn’t typically listen to music or watch visualizations on his PC, I’ll confess that the Cyborg Gaming Lights made me enjoy the experience much more than I would otherwise. I suggest keeping any stoner friends at bay or you may need the world’s biggest bag of Doritoes to pry them away from your PC.

Enhance your OS
The Cyborg Gaming Lights even enhance your Windows experience. You can assign color and light effects to standard Windows functions much as you can with sound schemes.

For example, you can have the lights strobe, blink, dim, or repeat a pattern every time you log in, maximize a window, receive a chat message, or click a button. Used sparingly it’s pretty cool (at least when it’s dark). Go nuts with it and you’ll probably give yourself a seizure.

Make your own magic
The Cyborg Gaming Lights come with a handful of pre-created effects, and also includes the amBX FX Creator software, which you can use to create your own effects. On the downside, the software is a little cryptic to use and there’s no documentation (digital or otherwise) included. A little fiddling and spending some time in amBX forums will probably get you well on your way though.

The Mad Catz Cyborg Gaming Lights may seem like a frivolous expenditure of $99 for your gaming PC, but there’s no easier way to say it: the Cyborg Gaming Lights are really, really damn cool—and that’s pretty much the response of every person to which I showed my short demo video.

Hopefully amBX and Mad Catz will work together to get some better drivers and more intuitive software in place for these babies. The Cyborg Gaming Lights may not be a ‘must have’ item, but they are definitely a ‘frickin’ cool’ item you wouldn’t regret owning. Potentially great for parties — well, if you have them in your office anyway.

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