Update 11-14-13: It took a little while for this system to offically launch, but it’s now on the market, though the package offered has changed from the pre-production system in this review. The package now includes three bulbs instead of four and costs $142 instead of $200. As of November 14, 2013, you can get the system for $109 at Home Depot.
The TCP Wireless LED lighting kit is a simple way for anyone to get a taste of what a smart home is like. For some people it may be all they need, but for a lot more it will probably be the gateway drug that leads them to more adventurous home automation projects.
I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit this, but the TCP Wireless kit has been my family’s favorite gadget since I set it up a few weeks ago. That’s saying a lot, since I regularly review some of the industry’s best TVs, audio systems, media servers and similar home entertainment products. But the simplicity of being able to control a room’s lights via an iPhone has really captivated them.
That’s actually some of the magic of lighting control products. Until you try it, you probably can’t imagine what the big deal is. I mean, what’s so hard about flipping a light switch, right? The truth is that nothing’s hard about it, but being able to press one button on a smartphone to turn off a whole house full of lights is pretty cool, and convenient. Add to that the ability to individually adjust dimness levels and create custom lighting scenes on the fly, and you’ve got convenience and coolness squared.
So back to the product at hand. I picked up the TCP Wireless LED lighting kit at this year’s Lightfair expo where the product was being introduced to the public (an essentially identical system under the GreenWave Reality brand launched in other markets). The $200 kit includes four 60 watt equivalent LED light bulbs for standard screw-in sockets; a gateway station that connects to your router; and a remote; also important is the downloadable app (for iOS and Android).
Each bulb has a built-in wireless radio that works on the 6LoWPAN protocol. The bulbs communicate to the gateway, which is a small box you plug into your network router. The lights can be controlled either with the remote or with a smartphone app. There is no limit to the number of phones you can download the app to.
In fact the app is pretty much a requirement (if you’re not a smartphone user then stick to manually operating your lights) for setting the system. Once you’ve connected the gateway and screwed all the light bulbs in, you use the app to identify each light and configure it. You can assign it to a room, give it a name and even select a picture icon for it. The app allows you to take a picture with your phone and use that as the light icon. I snapped pictures of each lamp and used them to easily identify the lights in my app.
Since the gateway establishes its own independent wireless network to the bulbs, the only Wi-Fi connection is between your smartphone and the gateway.
Once that process (which only takes a few minutes for the whole kit of bulbs) is done, you simply need to tap the lamp icons to turn them on or off. Sliding controls also allow you to dim each bulb individually or treat them as groups to dim them all at the same level.
Beyond the basics, you can use the app to program lighting scenes (such as a morning scene, dining scene and TV viewing scene), then press the button for your scenes to put all the lights in that group into the proper scene mode. You can add timers to make scenes engage automatically. For instance, you might set up a wake up scene that turns on your bedroom, bathroom and kitchen lights at the same time.
The system also works remotely. If you create an account and password, you can log on via the Internet and operate your lights with your smartphone or a web-connected computer. This is nice for checking which lights were left on, turning on lights to make it look like you’re home, or freaking out the babysitter when you’re out.
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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. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.