Efficient lighting is a key to any home energy efficiency upgrade. After decades ruling the residential lighting market, the world moved quickly from incandescent bulbs to the more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, which offered significant energy savings but came with their own set of drawbacks.
Compact fluorescents, also known as CFLs, had a similar life expectancy as incandescent lights and had a warm-up period that required a few minutes before they were able to reach full brightness. Additionally, fluorescent bulbs contain mercury vapor that is released into the environment when a bulb breaks. Mercury and humans don’t play well together, which put many environmentalists at odds with the screw-shaped bulbs.
These drawbacks created a market ripe for innovation in lighting and that innovation came in the form of LED – or light emitting diode – bulbs. As with many innovations, when the new LED bulbs hit the market, they were significantly more expensive than both their incandescent and CFL counterparts but offered a significantly longer life, with estimates as high as 22 years. LEDs brought the efficiency homeowners desired and as costs came down, they were able to compete with other bulbs on the market.
What is the Philips Hue System?
Innovators just can’t leave a good thing alone, so when the Internet of Things (IoT) craze swept through the consumer products segment, even light bulbs found themselves getting connected up to the internet. Early iterations struggled to offer value commensurate with their astronomical price points, but as the market matured and manufacturers further refined the functionality of the devices, some compelling products surfaced.
Leading the pack is the Philips Hue system, which is comprised of an internet-connected bridge that gets plugged into power and an internet-connected ethernet port somewhere central in the home, which is about the size of a hockey puck. This bridge to rule all bridges is then able to talk to any Philips Hue bulbs in the house and to Philips’ Hue smartphone app, putting control of said LED bulbs in your pocket for up to 50 Hue lights per bridge.
Setting up the system is very straightforward and very much in line with that of many other smart devices. Plug in the bridge, and connect to the internet. Install the app on your smartphone and start screwing in and connecting the bulbs.
In the app, bulbs are connected up one at a time in the Light Setup section of the app, which gives the app control over each bulb and allows the user to assign a name to each bulb. “Table Lamp,” “Kitchen Sink Light,” and “Eater Lamp” (??) all became fixtures in my home as I let my 8-year-old contribute to the process.
Rooms are then set up, where individual lights are grouped together to allow for full control of a single room through the app, one of Philips’ Hue smart remotes, or even voice control with Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple’s HomeKit.
Listen to My Voice
Voice control was a key feature for our specific install and presents a solution for homes with awkward hardwired lighting configurations. My Philips Hue review unit was actually in transit to my home when it burned down back in December and it understandably took me a few months to get into a rental and setup to the point where I could trial the bulbs.
When we finally did set them up, the kit was a godsend and really improved the way we light and use lighting in our rental. The main living space in our rental doesn’t have any built in lighting or switches. That meant that we had a series of 6 lamps spread across the living room, dining room and a little attached nook. Turning the bulbs on and off became a tedious task that no amount of heckling was able to correct with my 6- and 8-year-old boys.
Enter Hue. I was cautiously optimistic that the kit and its accompanying tie-in to our Alexa-enabled Amazon Echo would come in to save the day, but nervous that my technology-averse wife might find it to be too complex or tedious to use. I love solving problems so I took to the challenge eagerly, and after the quick setup above, found the voice control and nuanced control available with Hue to be a gift from the gods in our awkward, temporary rental setup.
The kids — and more importantly, my wife — very quickly picked up the basic commands “Turn kitchen lights on,” “Turn Eater Lamp Off,” and just this morning, my 6-year-old uttered “Set kitchen lights to full brightness.” Voice Control works. It’s intuitive and maybe even a bit fun. Yeah, I said it. You may just have fun turning the lights on with Philips Hue.
Philips offers 3 primary versions of its Hue system — white, white ambiance and white + color. With so many options to tweak and tune color temperature, I was excited to play with the white ambiance kit to see what fun features it packed and how it could help me wake up, study, write, play, and sleep better.
The Philips Hue White Ambiance kit allows for the selection of a color temperature from any one of a possible 50,000 settings. Philips recognized that too many options can be overwhelming and frankly unnecessary for most users, so it boiled it down to a core four “scenes” to choose from (though you can still dial it in to exactly the right color temp if that’s your thing).
The four lighting scenes can be setup and selected from either the app or from one of Philips’ smart remotes. These scenes were defined to connect the reaction our bodies have to different color temperatures with various activity levels like Relax, Read, Concentrate, and Energize. These can also be set with voice control, which makes it handy to quickly set the mood when turning on the lights with a combo 1-2 voice punch.
To spice things up, maybe you could drop a “Alexa, turn on Energize in the Bedroom,” though you have to be ready for the possibility of a counter-punch “Alexa, turn on Relax in the Bedroom” if somebody had a long day at work.
One particular feature we have come to love about the white ambiance lights are the wake-up lighting feature. Through the app, you can setup the lights to ease you into the day over a 30-minute period. This makes for a nice way to wake up naturally as the virtual sun in your bedroom gradually brightens the room, and I’ve found it to be much nicer than the harsh call of the alarm clock. A similar setting exists to ease into the night, though my unpredictable sleep schedule makes that one a bit more challenging to actually use.
The Price Point
The Philips Hue White Ambiance starter kit comes with one Hue bridge and 4 x Hue White Ambiance A19 bulbs, and tips the scales with a retail price of $149.99. It can be found for a bit cheaper if you’re willing to dig around a bit, but no matter how you look at it, it’s not a cheap system. The majority of this expense covers the bridge and all the functionality offered through the app, so extending the system beyond the initial purchase is much more affordable.
For example, a 4-pack of more basic Hue white bulbs can be found for around $25, so expanding the system can be much more affordable, depending on the bulbs and shape selected.
The Philips Hue system offers users a slew of lighting solutions to make life easier, more natural, more energized, and more fun. The LED bulbs also offer users a long life expectancy and uber efficiency that LEDs are known for, while also kicking things up a few notches with local and remote app control if the initial purchase price can be overcome. If you do cross the bridge into Hue land, beware, that it is a slippery slope, so plan to get pulled all the way into the Hue ecosystem.
Disclaimer: We were not paid for this review but it may seem like it because these are cool products and worth getting excited about. Philips did provide the review unit for us to test out.