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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  • WeaselITB - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    They (Philips) have already demonstrated this technology with their Ambilight line of products -- http://www.research.philips.com/technologies/proje...

    -Weasel
    Reply
  • Gunbuster - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    Really confused why you would have a multiple page review and not include any pictures or video of the bulbs in action. Reply
  • jginnane - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    We've installed extensive LED downlighting in our home using Cree LR6 and CR6 modules. The color temperatures for each are either 2700K (warm) or 3000K (cool).

    We also spent a month in China recently, and were surprised to find so few incandescent bulbs still in use. Residential lighting is practically 100% LED by now, from Chengdu to Shanghai. Only in places where the infrastructure was developed much earlier, like Hong Kong SAR, do you still find some "old" lighting fixtures.

    The Philips controller system reviewed here is enjoyable for its novelty. But in day-to-day practice, you're going to keep a very narrow band of lighting (color and "temperature") for daily use: warm for morning and evening; cool for maximum efficiency in peak times. (Think of it as 100-watt bulbs in your living room versus fluorescents at work.) Barring extreme OCD, you're not going to dial spectrum changes up as more than a seasonal event.

    So the automation/connectivity issue is about as important as putting wifi in your fridge or oven. (Not!) You are far more likely to be researching improvements in LED efficiency at your Home Depot or Lowes than maximizing the potential of your home lightbulb network.
    Reply
  • degobah77 - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    The purpose of the novelty is to take pictures of your decor, load it into the app, and match the color palette to your bulbs. It's primarily accent lighting if you ask me, but if needed can operate normally as you suggest, such as the preloaded Relax (warm, dim) or Concentrate (max white, bright) modes. Either way, I don't think Philips is marketing this for the Home Depot crowd, or for the LED efficiency aspect of it. These are just toys. Reply
  • jginnane - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    It was on my third pass through the article that I found these bulbs are ""60-watt equivalent" -- determined by getting the maximum Kill-a-Watt draw, 5.4 watts, and "55-watt savings" touted later. So three Philips 60-watt bulb equivalents are nearly sufficient for low ambient lighting in a small room, not focused task lighting (like reading). (Claimed output my Philips of 600 lumens apiece.)

    Yes indeed -- unfortunately -- this Philips package just represents toys at this stage. Besides the high initial price of LED lights, other use considerations are max output and dimming ability. Many companies besides CREE and Philips did not have any dimming ability at all in their first-gen US consumer products. (Note that most LED + Lutron switch dimming combos only go down to about 20% power, then the LED modules start to "fizzle and spark" at lower power draws. If you have good existing wiring, like from incandescent cans you're replacing, you may have to progressively try lower-capacity dimmers because you're drawing maybe 20-40 watts in a room originally specified for 400-700 watts of incandescents.)
    Reply
  • melgross - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    Unfortunately, without having a lumen rating, that number isn't very useful. I find that it can vary all over the place. So that approximately 60 watt number can vary by 50%. Reply
  • degobah77 - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    On Concentrate mode, I'd assert that the brightness is between a 60w-75w standard bulb, but closer to the 60. It's more than bright enough for reading. It's definitely not low ambient lighting at it's peak output, but it's also no where close to a 100w bulb. Those things burn my eyes anyway.

    But like I said, I don't think this particular product is designed for doing your entire house for a home improvement project, it's personal accent lighting for, dare I say, tech enthusiasts. I set moods and change colors frequently just because I can and it's fun. The deep purples and blues are room saturating. Great for parties and alerting your loved ones that you're just about to walk in the front door.
    Reply
  • melgross - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    I'd still like to see a lumen test done. I could do it, but I don't need this product, so I don't want to spend that much just for that. Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    My local Home Depot had the CR-6 at $25, so I bought 8 of them. I wish I bought more since the price is back up to $35. I need 27 of them to convert my whole house. The CR-6 is a much better deal is you have recessed lighting (vs. these Philips bulbs). I've been very happy with the CR-6, and like being able to finally have a dimmer in some of my rooms. Reply
  • BravoRomeo - Sunday, April 7, 2013 - link

    Yes, the CREE CR-6 is excellent. Like the Hue, it uses a combination of different color LEDs to produce a smoother and fuller spectrum of light, so colors look richer... Quite similar to incandescent and halogen. Having a CRI (Color Rendering Index) greater than 90 is important to me. I never got used to the poor CRI of CFLs. A lot of the cheaper LEDs use single phosphor chip LEDs, which is not much of an improvement over CFLs.

    I have several CR-6s installed, and now I'm looking for similar quality for floor lamps and such. Hue is impressive, but added complexity. I'd really like something like Hue or the CR-6 that can truly emulate the incandescent bulb: the color should drift orange as the lamp is dimmed... Perhaps add a simple slide switch to enable that feature as well as choose cool, neutral, or warm color.
    Reply

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