Beard Blog Review: Philips Hue

On my previous post I talked about smart home items and how they are the next big thing. Because I don’t like being left behind, I went ahead an purchased a set of Philips Hue lights. These are internet-connected LED light bulbs that contain 3 different color LEDs inside so that they can produce thousands of different colors. As I’ll explain after the break, using the bulbs together to create a scene is a lot better than using the bulbs alone.

Recently, Philips released an upgraded version of both their light bulbs and bridge. This new bridge now works with Apple’s HomeKit which is an added bonus if you have not yet purchased these lights before. I went with the starter kit that includes the new bridge (which is required to connect all bulbs to the internet) and 3 multi-color bulbs. This retails for about $199 so it’s a pretty expensive investment, but it comes with hours of fun and automation.

The bulbs screw into your existing lamp socket and are pretty much plug-and-play. There’s a quick setup you have to do with the bridge, but I was up and running in less than 5 minutes. Philips makes their own app for the Hue bulbs that gives you basic on/off ability and the ability to set scenes. The scenes are usually based on a theme, but you can also create custom scenes. Some of the built-in scenes use multiple bulbs to set the mood. For example the beach scene will illuminate two of the bulbs a sunset red and third will be a slightly brighter brown. Depending on how your lights are laid out, this scene turns out to be really cool and you get the sunset on one side and the dimming sky on the other.

I have all three of my bulbs in the living room and this turns out to be the best way to set it up. One bulb is in a coffee table lamp in one corner, the second bulb is in a pole lamp in the adjacent corner, with the third bulb in a floor lamp in the opposite corner. I have 3 of 4 corners of my living room lit with Philips Hue bulbs and their layout provides the best lighting for both visibility and scenes

Along with the Philips app, there are a ton of other apps that can connect to your Hue bulbs. Some of these apps are more advanced for setting custom themes, party mode, and syncing to music through your phone. With each app you setup, you must connect it to the bridge. This is done by pressing the big button in the middle of the bridge where can get annoying if it’s not conveniently located.

Apple’s HomeKit, which is their smart-home platform, is still in its infancy, but this is the first major product to be compatible. In short, HomeKit allows you to natively control smart home items from anywhere. By using your Apple TV as a hub and your Apple ID to authenticate, you can ask Siri to change your lights from anywhere. Another benefit of HomeKit is the ability to share it with others. You can invite anyone via AppleID to control your HomeKit devices. Hopefully we see this expand to new and existing products.

The Hue bulbs and bridge are pretty open and you can control it from whatever you if you know how. Philips provides a long list of APIs you can use to make an app, script, or webpage for your lights. I used a Raspberry Pi as a server and was able to run Python scripts from a terminal to control the lights. I’m working a script that will flash my lights red during goals in a hockey game.

Quality materials and trusted name
Bright (800 lumens)
Can achieve thousands of different color combinations
Works with existing bulb sockets
Uses own hub, doesn’t require wifi
Free app has a lot built in
Freedom to use any app or write your own

Colors aren’t perfect (blues look purple, greens are light)
Sometimes bulbs don’t respond right away
Need a new bridge if you have older system
If you like cool, smart home stuff, the Philips Hue lights are a perfect place to start.
They’re great for automating lights and turning on when you arrive then turning on when you leave. $200 is a big investment for lightbulbs, but they are fun for parties, family gatherings, and the ‘techie’ person. This kind of enhancement on everyday items will continue as technology becomes cheaper. With thermostats, lights, smoke detectors already in the smart category, maybe we can look forward to a smart toaster or webcams inside our refrigerators.