Why pick up a Philips Hue starter kit? After all, the lightbulb was perfectly happy for over 100 years before we started messing with it in the 21st century. First we made it energy efficient, then we made those money-saving bulbs by switching to LEDs, then we started inserting Wi-Fi chips into them. Thus, Philips Hue was born, a smart lighting system that enables remote control, dimming and even color changing, all at the touch of a button in the smartphone app (available on all the best gaming phones) or using voice assistants like Alexa.
While the energy-saving potential of LED bulbs is clear, some might need a primer on precisely how awesome it is to have complete control over your home’s lighting from your phone, especially as a Philips Hue starter kit can be expensive. You can set your Hue lights to switch on and off on a schedule, giving the impression someone is home while you’re out. You can easily dim them, for an atmospheric evening in front of the TV or console. You can even use them as a wake-up call, coming on gently in the morning. It also completely quells that feeling that you might have left a light on somewhere - just check the app to see which of your Hue lights are on or off.
When Hue launched, it used a hub - the Hue Bridge - to connect to the individual bulbs. You can still use the hub if it’s convenient, but you can also control the bulbs with a Hue Dimmer Switch or an Amazon Echo Plus, which has built-in home automation controls. Some of the best gaming TVs are compatible too. Here’s all you need to know.
Philips Hue bulbs
There’s a quirk of the lighting circuits in our houses, to do with neutral wires or the lack of, that means it’s tricky to replace the lightswitches on our walls with Wi-Fi-enabled units. Instead, we replace the bulbs themselves with ones that wirelessly connect to the internet.
Hue bulbs come in two forms, plain white ones and colour changers. They come in common fittings such as E27, GU10, and the old B22 bayonet so many of us have hanging from the centre of our living room ceilings. There’s even a screw-in model with an old-fashioned filament inside for a warm, retro look.
The range has been expanded with lightstrips, sticky runs of LEDs that will adhere to most surfaces, such as the underside of cupboards, to add illumination into places it otherwise might not reach. They can be colour-changing too, meaning that if you want to make your kitchen worktops glow red, now you can. In fact, you can choose from 16 million colours
Philips is in the process of upgrading its bulbs to a new Bluetooth + Wi-Fi standard, but all bulbs will continue to be controlled through the Bridge and app.
Philips Hue hub / bridge
While the Hue bulbs have Wi-Fi, and maybe even Bluetooth, chips in them, they still need something to sit between them and the internet. If you want Hue lights and nothing else, you can use the Hue Bridge, which is often available as a starter pack with a couple of bulbs. The Bridge uses the Zigbee protocol to control up to 50 bulbs, so you’ll be fine as long as you’re not a rock star or footballer. The Hue system is also compatible with Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Apple Homekit and more.
You don’t necessarily need a Bridge, however. Just one of the newer Hue Dimmer Switches, which looks a bit like a remote control, will do the job. Alternatively, anything with a Zigbee control chip in it, such as the Amazon Echo Plus, will happily control Hue lights, allowing you to set up a mixed ecosystem of Philips and off-brand smart lighting. Even so, adding the Hue Bridge opens up additional Hue-exclusive features, such as wake-up lights and colour-changing. If it’s just on, off, and dimming you want, then the Bridge isn’t essential. But it certainly is nice to have.
Philips Hue switches
Aside from the Bridge, there are other options for controlling your smart lights. Philips makes its Hue Dimmer Switches, and there’s a clever mount that clips over your existing light switches to house it. There’s a limitation that you can only connect ten bulbs to one switch, and the switch can’t make colour-changing bulbs change colour. For that, you need the Bridge.
If you’ve got a neutral wire in your lighting circuit, Zigbee-enabled switches are available, but don’t go messing with that if you don’t know what you’re doing - it’s much easier just to replace the bulbs and leave your switches in the on position, and you don’t need to worry about removing them when you move.
Philips makes a motion sensor too, which is wall-mounted and battery-powered, so you can place it anywhere, and set it to control any lights you want when it’s triggered. A good example is in a laundry room with no windows - you’re likely to walk in with your hands full, so the sensor will trigger the lights for you. We’d rather get our butler to do it, but it’s a good idea nonetheless.
There’s an outdoor version of the motion sensor too, and the Hue control range is rounded out by the bizarre Tap Smart Switch, a puck-like remote powered by kinetic energy that can be wall-mounted or carried around with you. It has three buttons that switch between ‘scenes’ - different levels of lighting you program it with using the Hue app. You’ll need a Bridge to use it, but it’s a clever little gizmo that can be useful if some in your household haven’t quite got fully on the home-automation train, or are too young to speak to Alexa.