Technology

Philips Hue uses ZigBee (more specifically ZigBee Light Link) to control the Connected Bulbs. Of course, smartphones and tablets don’t have ZigBee built into them, nor for that matter do PCs and Macs (yes, you could get a ZigBee USB dongle if you wanted), and hence the need for the Hue Bridge. It basically acts as a link between the devices running Apps that use the home network/WiFi and the ZigBee link to the bulbs. The App sends the command to the Bridge, the Bridge converts it to the ZigBee protocol, and vice versa. ZigBee operates in the 900-928MHz band in North America and Australia, 868MHz in Europe, and 900-924MHz plus 2.4GHz worldwide.

You might think that the bridge is simply an additional device; why not make the bulbs WiFi? It’s a valid question and it could be done, but imagine trying to get each bulb connected to the network. Technically savvy users could likely figure it out, but for everyone else it would be a nightmare. I’ve tried helping friends and family with basic WiFi configuration issues over the phone, using PCs where all they need to do is enter the network password, and it can still be a pain. Trying to deal with IP addresses and potential conflicts on a per-bulb basis isn’t something most people would be interested in doing.

There are additional factors as well, such as cost, power consumption of WiFi vs. ZigBee, and range requirements. ZigBee range is typically lower than 2.4GHz WiFi range; however, ZigBee is a mesh network so each device added can function as a repeater to extend the coverage area. That means as long as there are some devices closer to the Bridge coverage should be sufficient. ZigBee also consumes less power than WiFi and usually costs less as well, which is important when you’re looking at integrating the functionality into devices like bulbs.

Ultimately, though, I think managing the setup and being able to control the bulbs effectively are the primary reasons why ZigBee is the right choice. Having the Bridge also makes it far easier to use multiple devices to communicate with the network, and it makes the creation and use of an app a lot simpler as well.

Teardown and Design The Philips Hue Experience
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  • colinw - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    I was kinda hoping for some cool pictures of coloured lights. Reply
  • degobah77 - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    I dropped a bit over $400 to give these a shot late last year. Thankfully, I can afford to do nerdy stuff like this, but in any case, I have 7 lights connected to my bridge, 3 in my living room, 1 in my entry way, hallway, and each bedside lamp has one.

    My SO and I both have control over the system with our Androids, and I also use my iPad to configure, customize, and program "cycles". As in, lights dim at certain times, lights go out at certain times, and I can have all or some of my lights turn on before I even walk in the house - in any color, configuration, and at any brightness I want.

    I love the damn things, and everyone I've showed them to want in as well. Of course that all changes when I tell them the entry cost. Definitely a niche product right now, but so damn cool.
    Reply
  • superflex - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    Whoa big fella.
    You forgot to mention your Tesla Models S and retina MBP.
    Image is everything.
    Reply
  • degobah77 - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    Not at all what I was trying to imply, I just like stuff like this, and at the time I could pull it off, so why not? Reply
  • Kranin - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    I’m with you, brother. Purchasing three quality LED 60W (equivalent) standard bulbs is going to run you roughly $45 anyway. Though I would have a hard time justifying the expense if I had already converted my home from incandescent to LED, it makes the cost of entry that much more reasonable. You don’t have to be a billionaire playboy to justify spending money on something that is fun and functional. Reply
  • andrewaggb - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    Be nice.

    My wife and I thought they looked pretty cool. I wasn't sure what I would use them for though. When do you actually use the color changing? My main concern was that after a week or two I'd just use them like normal light bulbs.
    Reply
  • degobah77 - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    The idea is to use the bulbs to match your existing decor. So you take pictures of your living space, load them in the app, then drag the bulbs around the different areas of the picture to accent your room. The color matching can be impressive.

    For example, we have some plants by the window and one of the bulbs over there does a bright green that makes the entire area glow with life.

    All of our walls are painted different colors as well, so it's great to match a blub in a certain area to the paint...everything gets amplified and the effect is pretty bad ass, but you can also contrast as well. When you have 4 or 5 bulbs to work with in one room, you create any number of "scenes". Great for parties.
    Reply
  • andrewaggb - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    That makes sense. Might actually be fun to try out. Reply
  • Rasterman - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - link

    I didn't see in the article how they operate on a switch. Obviously if your switch is off the light is off no matter what, if you turn the switch on do they automatically come on then, or do you have to toggle the switch on/off/on to get them to come on? Reply
  • UberLaff - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    Can you imagine how cool it would be if the lighting of your room matched what was on your TV?

    This is going to be killer when we get some compatibility with your home entertainment center. Controlling it manually is cool... but the future is when it changes the mood of your room based on the content you are consuming.
    Reply

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