Hands On: TCP Wireless LED Lighting System
System offers users a good taste of the smarthome lifestyle
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May 15, 2013 by Grant Clauser

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All that sounds, and is, pretty cool. $200 seems like a great deal for so much functionality, but are there tradeoffs? 

First, if you’re accustomed to walking up to a wall switch or leaning over to turn out a lamp, you’ll have to give that up. Once you’ve handed over your lights to the wireless system, you HAVE to use it. In order for the bulbs to work (for the built-in radios to function) the light switch or lamp has to remain in the ON position. If you turn a light off with the switch, then you can’t turn it on again with the app (or remote) because the bulb’s radio can’t receive the signal. This means that if you walk into a dark room you have to fish in your pocket for your phone, open up the app, wait for it to communicate with the network, and then press the icon to turn on the light. That’s actually not such a big deal if you’re like me and have your phone with you all the time, but if you put your phone (or tablet…) down in another room, forget where you put it, or let someone else use the tablet to watch Netflix movies, then you can’t operate your lights.

In the time that I’ve used the system, this hasn’t been a problem, but I can see how it might chip away at the convenience factor sometimes. Also, visitors won’t be able to easily operate lights unless you’re there with them (there’s a remote, but only one).

Another possible issue is with the bulbs themselves. You get four of them in the starter kit, and the company says they have a 10-year lifespan, but that’s no guarantee. Replacement bulbs are about $30, but LED lights use so little energy that they’re still a cost savings.  One of the bulbs in my kit didn’t work reliably, but this was a preproduction sample. If you get 10 years out of the bulbs, then they will have more than paid for themselves. (Note: TCP also makes wireless CFL bulbs which cost $19.99 each)

My family tells me that they really like the system, even with some of the drawbacks I pointed out. They all say they’d love to be able to expand it to more lights in the house (one of my daughters says she likes to read in bed with all the room lights on and would love to be able to turn them off without having to get out of bed).

Currently TCL only has the bulbs available in standard socket size, so if your house is full of sconces, chandeliers or other non-standard bulb formats, you’re out of luck. The system can support 50 bulbs (a reader corrected me to say that the system supports 250 lights, though I haven’t confirmed this yet).

I spoke to GreenWave, which developed a lot of the technology for the system, and was told that wireless light switches, dimmers and wireless appliance modules were also in the works. Those would be welcome additions and would solve the problem of wall sconces and other light configurations.

The TCP Wireless light kit is a great starter system for someone who wants wireless control over a few lamps and the ability to control the lights remotely. The amount of custom configuration in the app is admirable. It doesn’t allow you to change the color of the light output like the Philips Hue system.  It’s somewhat similar to other products out from companies like Insteon and Belkin, so compare all the features and pricing first. If you want to go beyond controlling a few lights and want the light app to be integrated with other control features (shades, thermostats, security, audio/video), then you need to look into more advanced control systems from companies like Lutron, Control4, Elan, Crestron, AMX, URC, Savant and others.

TCP Wireless LED Kit
http://www.tcpwireless.com/
$200
4 LED bulbs
1 wireless gateway
1 remote
iOS and Android app

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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