For Christmas, we treated ourselves to a Phillips hue starter kit. For those who have never seen them, the hue system allows you to connect multiple LED lights to a central bridge and control the lights on your home network. The lights themselves can produce 16 million colors and are controlled through your smartphone, tablet, or the Internet.
There are a few flavors of the starter kit, but they’re all basically the same. The kit comes with two or three lights and a bridge that connects to your home network and controls the lights themselves. You can then buy multiple lights in any combination you’d like and connect them to your bridge (up to 50 bulbs).
The light options include:
- A19 – a standard light bulb that produces light in a full 360-degrees, like a standard light bulb.
- BR30 – a spotlight bulb. Works best for recessed lights, I’d assume.
- Bloom – A small lamp that projects light straight onto the wall.
- Light strip – an LED light strip. Think of lights behind the bed, under the kitchen counter, etc.
- Iris – An overpriced lamp.
- Lux – White light only (cheaper)
Setup and Configuration
We started with the A19 starter kit. It came with three bulbs and the bridge.
Setup was incredibly easy. You just replace your existing light bulbs with the Hue lights and power on the bridge. The bridge connects to your existing home network via Ethernet connection. You then download the app on your iPhone or Android device and finish the setup.
By default, the Philips app is easy to use and set up. You create an account (optional) and it walks you through the entire process to set up the device and add additional lights if you’ve purchased them. The app itself is a bit of good and bad.
We’ve since purchased multiple lights, a light strip, a bloom lamp, and a tap switch. So far, we’ve set up the living room, master bedroom, and our daughter’s room.
Let me be the first to say: this is an unnecessary purchase. A $0.50 light bulb works just fine. A $50 bulb that dims and makes pretty colors. Well. . .?
Now that that’s out of the way: I LOVE these lights! The lights themselves are beautiful. You can make an amazing amount of colors, including black-light. The lights are controlled independently, so I can have a nice shade of blue behind our couch and a standard yellow light in the lamp. Then once my wife goes to bed and it’s time for video games, I can lower all the lights and make them any color I want. (Playing Saints Row 4? Purple all the way!)
Since Philips uses an open standard for the lights, anyone can develop apps that can control your lights. Some are better than others, but I prefer some of the third-party apps to Philips’s app a lot of the time. The Philips app isn’t bad, but it doesn’t play as nicely with multiple rooms, which I’ll get to later. My favorite app is one called On Switch. It let me set up groups of lights based on room, then provides preset colors to imitate different lighting types (standard, halogen, fluorescent, etc.). It also allows for dynamic lighting. For instance, if I select my living room, I can select Moving Clouds and the lights will imitate the light fading in and out as clouds pass overhead. Another is Candlelight, which dims all of the bulbs and flickers them slightly to imitate candlelight.
The downside to this app is that it doesn’t allow me to select custom colors. I have to reopen the Philips app for that.
Another cool feature that we haven’t used yet is an app called Hue Disco. It will take your smartphone and use the microphone to produce a multi-colored strobe effect to the beat of your music. It’s really awesome and if we ever hosted parties, we’d use it. (but we don’t.)
Have you ever tried to show a guest, or worse, your Grandma, how to use your TV with 3 different remotes? Think that’s tough? Try a light that requires an app!
There are a few ways around this: the lamp or lights can be turned off and on via the standard wall switch or switch on the lamp. When they’re turned back on, the lights are standard yellow light that must be changed via an app.
If I’ve forgotten to turn off the lamp in the bedroom and my phone is charging in the kitchen, I can turn off the lamp the old-fashioned way, but I have to remember to turn it back on for the app to control it later.
One way around this is the hue tap switch. It lets you set up three different color combinations on your lights, as well as an off switch that turns off any combination of lights you choose.
Lastly: the price. The starter kit is $300. Each bulb is $50. The tap switch is $50. It really adds up quickly. The cost of outfitting an entire house, or a large room with recessed lighting alone could be very high.
Other Stuff – Cool and Weird
Since our daughter has some Hue lights in her room, sometimes she’ll accidentally turn the lights off in the living room.
Geofencing! I still haven’t played with this, but you can program your lights to turn on or off when you reach a certain location.
Want your lights to come on when you get home? Easy peasy.
Schedules and Alarms! My lights can fade up to full strength in the morning as Vivaldi plays from my phone. Cool way to wake up!
Overall, there’s a steep investment, but I like these lights. They’re pointless and pretty and just plain cool. The things that are weird aren’t really a problem for me. I’m used to technology quirks and I’m comfortable with adjusting to them. If you don’t mind a little adjustment period yourself, these lights are awesome. Maybe some day we can afford to outfit the whole house.
You must have a home network. Got high-speed internet? Then you’ve got one, even if it is provided by Comcast.