The Philips Hue lights, when they first debuted in October 2012, seemed like the next big thing in lighting. First, they’re LED lights, which means they’re crazily energy efficient. They’re color-adjustable so you can make them glow nearly any shade from bright white to blood red. Finally, they’re wireless and operated easily by a mobile app (that works well on both Android and iOS).
This seemed like a perfect addition to the DIYer’s assortment of home automation gadgets. Then a few months later, Extra Vegetables, a company that develops drivers for home control systems, came out with software to allow Control4 systems to integrate Hue lights. A similar solution from Savant also makes Hue play nicely with that system.
Having toyed with other easy lighting solutions, I decided to give this one a try.
So, why would you want this? The two main appealing factors are design and convenience.
Lighting has a huge impact on the look and tone of a room. Lights aren’t just for brighten up a room so we can read at night. They highlight a room’s features, bring out a room’s colors and textures, and influence the emotional feel of the room. Lighting designers make great use of dimmers to create drama. The ability to change the color and brightness of the light through Hue’s app means that you’re not stuck with just one lighting design look. You can change the light’s impact anytime you feel like it.
Next—convenience. Because the Hue lights are wireless and app controlled, you don’t have to get out of your chair and hit a light switch or pull a cord to turn a light on or off. You don’t even have to be in the same room. You can turn on the lights before you enter the room, and after you leave. You can be lying in bed and turn off the downstairs lights with your iPhone.
In the $200 starter kit you get three Hue bulbs and a gateway, which is a small hub that connects to your router or network switch by a Cat5 Ethernet cable. Of course you also get the app, which you download for free to your smartphone or tablet.
The bulbs fit standard screw-type sockets, which is nice because that’s what most of our lamps still use, but you can’t use them for most chandeliers or sconces. I put them in can-style accent lamps and placed them strategically in my media room to add some drama and to highlight my creepy horror movie posters.
The many shades of Hue, and my Les Paul.
Setting up the system takes about a minute. You screw in the bulbs, connect the hub to your router or network switch, and press the connect button on the hub. Use the Hue app (which you’ve already downloaded at this point, right?) to name each bulb and start playing with colors.
I gave the bulbs creative names: front, back left, back right.
The bulbs communicate with the hub via Zigbee, which is a mesh network, so theoretically the more bulbs you add, the stronger your network.
Once the lights were all logged into the system, it was time to play. The only way to operate the lights is with the app ( I installed Hue on both my iPhone and Samsung Android tablet). There’s no separate remote like the one that comes with TCP or GreenWave Reality wireless lights, but those don’t do any fancy colors either. (Read my review of the TCP system here.)
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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.