The app comes with about a dozen light scenes already installed. A light scene is a color and brightness combination, usually with a goofy name like “Deep Sea”, “Sunset,” and “Jump.” Each scene can be adjusted, though the app isn’t exactly intuitive. You have to make an up swipe motion then turn the phone or tablet on its side before the app switches to a the color adjustment mode. You can change how the whole scene looks or adjust individual bulbs. The preset scenes assume that all three bulbs are in the same room, but the way you set them up may differ.
You can save any of the changes in the pre-set scenes, change their names, or make completely new ones. The easiest way to make a new scene is to base it off a photo—either one in your phone’s existing library, or take a new one within the app. Hue will then attempt to match the colors shown in the photo. I took a photo of my red guitar to use as the basis for a deep red scene, then I adjusted each bulb’s brightness to my liking and saved it, calling the new scene Red Gibson. You don’t have to include every bulb in your scenes. I created another scene I called Blue Movie, which was designed to be a nice subtle amount of light for when watching movies on my projection screen. Blue light from the rear bulbs shines in the back corners of the room while the one bulb in the front of the room stays off. I also created a slightly brighter scene for when my daughter invites her boyfriend over to watch a movie—I don’t like leaving them alone in the dark.
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The colors the Hue bulbs produce are really quite stunning, though they’re not particularly bright about the same as a 50 watt incandescent bulb in white mode, but much dimmer in colors. In my dark media room, much of the brightness is absorbed by the flat-paint of the walls, which is the look I was going for, but in a white room you can easily wash the whole room in colors.
In addition to the light scenes, there are also four built-in light recipes (I still don’t exactly get the difference) which are variations of white or white/yellow colors designed and named for specific activities: Reading, Energize, Concentrate and Relax.
You can further customize your lights within the recipe menu with timers (so the light gently fades off when you go to bed), schedules (to wake you up with a green glow in the morning) or physical location (so the lights turn off when your—or your phone—leave the house).
One note about creating scenes: you can’t easily share them between phones or tablets. If you create a new light scene with your iPhone, that scene is saved in the phone app, so when you launch the app on a different phone or tablet, your new scene isn’t available. You have to make it again. One way around this is to create an account with http://www.meethue.com and load your scenes to share with other users, then download your own scenes back to your other devices.
Overall, the Philips Hue lights are pretty awesome. It’s quite a revelation to no longer be restricted to the yellowish-white light you’ve lived your whole indoor life with. The company has recently added an accent lamp (with the bulb built in) and a light strip (neat for placing under a counter, shelf or coffee table).
On one hand the Hue system provides functionality beyond what most professionally-installed lighting control systems offer. It’s not cheap though—while $200 doesn’t sound bad for the starter kit, that’s only three bulbs, which might not even cover all the lights in one room. Additional bulbs are $60. Which is why you probably don’t want to replace all the lights in your house with Hue lights. In fact, you probably can’t since they only come in one bulb style. You also need to keep the light switches (lamp or wall switch) in the on position at all times or the app won’t be able to communicate with the bulb. If you don’t have your phone handy, you can’t turn the light on or off. For those reasons, Hue isn’t quite a replacement for a true lighting control system, but it’s a nice option for a room or two.
Some of those issues can be resolved if you integrate Hue with a professionally installed control system, which should give you the best of both worlds.
Philips Hue Wireless LED Bulbs
Starter Kit: $200
Additional Bulbs: $59
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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.