RGB LED illumination has definitely been the leading aesthetic trend in PC hardware over the last couple of years, ahead of the distant-second tempered glass. Manufacturers in every conceivable product category have worked color-changing lighting with varying levels of control into new and updated products. Some components have physical switches to toggle between a handful of colors, while others have rather sophisticated software with complex effects and pallets of millions of shades. Compatibility between gear from different vendors has been spotty, judging by the existence of competing ecosystems from the likes of Asus, Corsair, Gigabyte, MSI, and others. Asus is looking to bring some order to the RGB chaos with its Aura SDK that will allow programming-inclined gamers greater control over the lighting in their PCs and the surrounding environment.
Asus and its ROG division were among the first companies to start infusing PC parts with RGB LEDs, starting with Z170 motherboards in 2015 and eventually offering up mice, keyboards, graphics cards, displays, headsets, and microphones with lights onboard. In that time, the company has partnered with companies including NZXT, Phanteks, Cooler Master, BitFenix, Deep Cool, EKWB, Cooler Master, Geil, G.Skill, and Zadak511 on infusing their products with support for Asus' Aura Sync software package. Asus even announced a partnership with Philips to incorporate Aura into the Hue light bulbs. Multiple Asus products have 5050 headers for use with "generic" RGB LED strips, and some of the company's latest X299 motherboards include headers designed for Neopixel-style strips of individually-addressable LEDs.
The motherboard maker has now released the first beta version the Aura RGB LED SDK. With time, the company hopes the software package will allow users to code their own ways to put the RGB LEDs to work, using custom inputs from outside applications, adding more complex effects, and further customzie zone-specific and per-key lighting for specific applications. For now, the SDK requires that the full Aura package is running on the host system, but future versions should support a lighter Aura service that can run in the background as a gate-keeper to the lighting control.
For now, the SDK can only be used on Windows 10 systems built around Asus Aura-compatible motherboards. The FAQ uses the word "currently" to refer to this requirement, so perhaps future versions of the software might lift it. The document goes on to say that three types of programs can be developed: lighting effects for applications like music players or status monitoring utilities, stand-alone programs, and fancier effects that go beyond the Aura software's existing presets. Asus says it's working with game developers to integrate game data into the software, too.
The beta SDK is missing a lot of the promised functionality, but the potential to create something interesting is there. For instance, the Philips Hue integration could make for a new type of immersion in game rooms. If the SDK's hooks are as flexible as Asus promises, IoT sensors and the like could be worked into the system. As an example, something like an ESP8266 Wi-Fi module wired into a doorbell system could allow a PC's lighting system to let the user know that a visitor has arrived. Similarly, the computer's lights could alert the owner to new emails or let a streamer know when a new donation has come through. Lights could flash when difficult tasks like rendering jobs or video transcodes have finished up. We can only hope that the SDK's full potential is realized and that the somewhat stiff requirements are relaxed in the future.