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Philips Hue Introduction

Timers, dimmers, and devices like the Clapper have been used for years to make it easier to control lights. Now the Internet, connected light bulbs, and mobile apps make all of those old devices obsolete. In the good old days controlling lights was pretty boring, but with today’s home automation tools it has suddenly become fun. There are several companies currently developing approaches to light controls, but the Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting System is one of the oldest, most established, and most reliable.

The Philips Hue system is an eye-opening methodology that can use lighting to wake you up, help keep your home safe, dim the lights, create colorful mood lighting, and much, much more.  With the mobile or desktop app or the Amazon Echo, these lights can flash, pulse, dim, and perform several other tricks.

Philips Hue is an entire line of lighting products. The anchor for the system is the Hue Bridge which is a hub that plugs directly into your wireless router and translates signals for the ZigBee-based Internet-connected bulbs.

The Bridge is a small white circular device 4” around and 1” high. It has one button in the middle which is surrounded by a blue light ring and three additional indicators which are also lit in blue.

Hue Bridge Hub System
The Philips Hue Bridge

Philips Hue Set Up

The hub is easy to set up. Just connect to your wireless router with the included Ethernet cable and plug into the wall. You then add the free Hue app to your Apple or Android device, be it phone, tablet, or Apple watch. You can also control your Hue system from a computer at the MyHue website at https://my.meethue.com.

Adding the bulbs is also easy with one exception. In several cases as I added bulbs I had to put the bulb in a lamp right next to the bridge and router to get it to be recognized. Once the bulbs were recognized by the bridge I was able to move them to any room in my home. Each light can then be given a name in the app and you can separate them into groups like living room lights, kitchen lights, all lights, etc.

The bridge has a range of about 30 meters and supports up to 50 bulbs. Hue bulbs screw straight into your current light fixtures.

Light Bulb Options

The easiest and cheapest way to start using these connected bulbs is to purchase the Philips Hue Lux Connected Home Starter kit. This includes the bridge and two A-19 60-watt-equivalent LED bulbs, shown here, that fit in a standard American lamp. The current Amazon price is $79.95. These bulbs called “Lux” are white light only, whereas the light bulbs that are labeled “Hue” will produce 16 million colors. The Lux bulbs are currently available in E26 and E27 formats and have a color temperature of 2700K (warm white) and an output of 750 lumens. They are rated for 25,000 hours.

Hue Lux Lightbulbs
Lux Lightbulbs Enabled for the Philips Hue

Just as an economical aside, the Hue system also works well with GE Link light bulbs, which have the same color temperate with an output of 800 lumens. They are rated for 22.8 years, but are considerably cheaper. Once installed, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the Lux bulbs and the GE Link bulbs.

The colored Hue light bulbs work just like the Lux lights, except with the added color functionality. They are available in E26, E27, GU10, PAR16 and BR30 formats. The Hue kit with the bridge and two bulbs will cost closer to $200 but don’t underestimate the value of the colored bulbs. They can produce 16 million colors and are just plain fun to work with. The colored Hue bulbs range from 2000-65000K in color temperature with an output of 600 lumens for the A19 bulb and lifetime rated at 15,000 hours. Since they have such a wide color temperature, they can produce all shades of white from warm cozy white to cool invigorating white. It is amazing to see what a huge difference these variations of white light make in your home, and even more amazing to see the difference in ambiance that the color lights make.

Philips Hue and Amazon Echo Integration

All of these Philips light bulbs work well with the Amazon Echo. You can have Alexa, the voice of the Echo, turn the lights on and off. You can also have her dim the lights by simply saying “Alexa, turn the kitchen lights to 70% brightness” or “Alexa, turn the family room lights down to 20% brightness.” Alexa cannot yet control the colors of the lights by your voice but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her able to do this in the future. For now, however, you must control the colors with the Hue app.

The Philips Hue App

Once you’ve signed into your Hue app you can even control your lights from anywhere in the world, via a web connection. No more bulky timers that you either forget to plug in or forget to set. However, you must leave the light itself and the light switch, if there is one, in the on position so that the app or the Echo can control it.

The Hue app also lets you set timers and alarms for your light bulbs. The alarms and timers can turn the lights on or off. They can be repeated on different days of the week and the lights can be made to fade. If you are controlling Hue bulbs you can change the color as well.

One my favorite Hue features is that it supports geofencing. While a detailed explanation of geofencing and it ramifications would take an entire article, suffice to say that it basically means setting up a virtual perimeter or fence around a location. When a certain cell phone crosses that perimeter, a stipulated action will be carried out. An example of this is that I have set my Hue app to turn on the lights in my house at full brightness whenever I get home (my cell phone enters my home location) after dark. Of course, there are many other applications of this technology that are quite usable.

While the Philips Hue App works great in naming, grouping, and controlling the lights. I was left lacking by the way it lets you choose the color of the bulbs. It works by setting up scenes. Philips has created scenes like “Rise & Shine”, “Twilight”, “Snooze”, and “Relax”. The mobile app has several other scenes to choose from, and the desktop app at MyHue has even more. You choose your scene and then check off which lights you want to use in that scene. You can also create your own scenes with any color you choose. You can even pick a photo from your own device to use as your palette. Then simply drag the color picker across the image and the color of your bulbs will match any color in the picture instantly. This is great for matching a color to a room and I have used it to get just the right shade of purple or green. Yet even though it sounds easy, I found the process a little cumbersome. I searched for other apps, looking for one where I could just choose a color directly. Although I found several, none were exactly what I wanted. So I’ll keep on looking.

Hue App Screenshot
The Philips Hue App

Other Hue Features

One of the other great things about the Philips Hue system is that it works with IFTTT (which stands for “If This Then That”). IFTTT is a free cloud service that lets you use or create “recipes” to connect two services and trigger automated actions between the two. There is a Hue Channel on IFTTT which gives you pre-made recipes. All you have to do is enable them. I currently have a recipe to turn all the lights off at midnight, another to let the colored Hue lights cycle through all the colors in a party-like mode, and a third to have the Echo change the color of the Hue lights every time it plays a new song.

Although the Philips Hue system currently needs a Hue Bridge to function, watch for upcoming multi-device hubs like Google’s OnHub which will be available later this month and the Revolv Smart Home Solution Wi-Fi Hub which is due out this fall. These are new routers that will also provide home automation controls like the Hue system with the Zigbee support built into the router. Also Philips is in the process of releasing a single Lux bulb with a portable switch that will work with or without a hub.

The Philips Hue system has other products like the Hue Bloom, Hue Go, Hue Phoenix, and Hue Iris. Rather than just bulbs, each of these is a self-contained light fixture or lamp. Philips even has some beautiful 3-D printed lights. These are unbelievably beautiful light fixtures that can be seen on the Meet Hue website. At $2,000 to $3,000 I won’t be getting any of these lights anytime soon, but I’ll keep them in mind when I start my first 3D printer project. In the meantime, I am very happy playing with my much-less-expensive Hue lights. I now have these lights in three rooms in my home and I enjoy using them every day.

Sandy Berger, respected computer authority, journalist, media guest, speaker, and author, has more than three decades of experience as a computer and technology expert. Her eight books include: How to Have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Computer, Your Official Grown-up's Guide to AOL and the Internet, Cyber Savers –Tips & Tricks for Today’s Drowning Computer Users, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Better Living through Technology, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to the Internet, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Gadgets & Gizmos, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Health & Wellness, and Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Travel. Sandy’s newspaper column, magazine articles, feature stories, product reviews, and computer tips can be found at her website, Compu-KISS.