Custom Control Systems Grow with Philips Hue LED Lights
The Philips Hue LED light system can now be incorporated into Control4 and Savant.
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June 05, 2013 by Grant Clauser

First Control4 and now Savant, have recently welcomed the Philips Hue wireless LED system into the family of things they can control.

Last week the third-party driver company Extra Vegetables, released a driver to allow Control4 systems to operate the Philips Zigbee-connected light bulbs.

Now Savant has also announced compatibility with Hue, but in this case, it works natively with the Savant platform so it won’t require any third-party driver.

In both cases, the cool features of the DIY Hue system can now be incorporated into a professional control realm. People who opted for a high-end control system don’t have to look at the fairly inexpensive Hue and wonder why they can’t do that too (to be fair, there are other ways for a professionally-installed control system to so very similar things, this just makes it a lot easier and cheaper).

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If you’re new to Hue, here’s basically what the system is: for $200 you get three LED light bulbs that can be controlled wireless via a smartphone app. What makes the Hue system stand out over other wireless lighting devices is that you can adjust the color of the lights, not just the light intensity. Philips own Hue app has some cool features, including built-in lighting scenes and the ability to adjust the bulb’s colors on the fly to match whatever mood or look you want. You can even take a picture with your smart phone and match the lights’ colors to the colors in the photo.

Both the Control4 and Savant systems can adjust the Hue bulbs’ nearly limitless color range, which would be fun for party scenes. In a home theater, interesting color and intensity settings could really contribute to the room’s destination appeal. Hue also is great for fine-tuning the color temperature to appropriate levels for reading, relaxing or other activities.

Setting things like timers and events within Hue isn’t as intuitive as I’ve seen in other systems (for instance, in the TCP system I reviewed here). Both Savant and Control4 offer lighting events and timers. I’ve used that feature in Control4, and it’s pretty easy to adjust lights within the Navigator interface (I don’t have as much experience with Savant). I’m not sure how much of the native Hue functionality will be available from both Savant and Control4.

Hue uses its own gateway to connect to a home’s network. The gateway takes the commends from your smartphone or tablet and sends them out via Zigbee to the various Hue bulbs in the home. Using the Savant or Control4 system doesn’t eliminate the need for the Hue gateway, which is about the size of a small ice cream bowl.

Still, even if all you get is the basic color, intensity and timing controls, this is pretty cool. I hear almost every day from integrators that lighting is one of those things that customers don’t always see the value of until after they’ve tried it, and then they usually call the integrator back and ask for more.

Integrating Philips Hue with a control system solves one very significant problem of the Hue system—there are no hard dimmers or wall switches. With Hue alone, if you want to turn a light on or off you have to use the app. While that’s great if you’re shutting off a whole house full of lights at once, it’s a nuisance if you just want to shut off a light as you walk out of a room. With a control system, you can still (I presume) control the lights via integrated switches and keypads (in order for the Hue system to work, each bulb does require a constant stream of power—the light switch must stay on). 

Lighting control adds convenience most of all, as well as security, but when you add Hue-style color controls it can add a huge interior design element.

In my own house my wife and I have taken years to decide on some paint colors (OK, so maybe we’re procrastinators—I’ll paint that bathroom one day, I promise). When you add the option to decorate a room with light colors, and those colors can be changed on the fly for whatever reason—well that’s just cool.

So what colored light scenes would you use? I could imagine mixing in some different levels of soft white lights along with pale greens and yellows to add accents throughout the day (I have a Hue bulb projecting an iguana green in the corner of my office right now, and it’s quite nice to look at). I might break out the reds and purples for holidays or parties. How about going red, white and blue outside for July 4th.

As much fun as Hue can be, there are still drawbacks. The individual bulbs cost about $50 each. Theoretically they should last a long, long time, but $50 still seems like a lot for a bulb. Second, they come in one standard format. You can’t get Hue sconce bulbs or chandelier bulbs. And they’re not really bright enough for outside use. In many homes, there are less places for a standard-sized screw in bulb then there were years ago, and that trend will keep expanding. For Hue to be a big part of the control scene future, I think Philips will need to expand the bulb styles.

This is a good first step. Philips is an innovative company, so I expect a lot more from them soon, and control companies like Savant and Control4 will probably be right there making it all work together.


More about lighting control:
Control4 Expands Lighting Control Products
The Bright Future of Smart Lighting
Honeywell Adds Support for Lutron Lighting
LEDs Are the Future of Lighting Control
The Importance of Pathway Lighting

 

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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