Testing

Besides the setup process and features, there are a couple of questions that may be important. First is the total number of devices that can be supported, and second is the range of coverage that's provided. Testing either of these can be a bit tricky, but I did make an effort to find the range limit of the Bridge.

To test the range of the Bridge on its own, I placed the Bridge in a corner of my basement and powered off the two other lights (they were unscrewed so physically they’re no longer present on the network). Then I moved the remaining light to the farthest corner of my house, a second story bedroom. The total distance between the Bridge and the light is approximately [50] feet, and there are two floors and four or five walls between the Bridge and the bulb. Even at that range and with all the material potentially interfering with communication, the Bridge was still able to see the bulb, so if that sort of range propagation holds for communication between the lights, coverage should be fine in most layouts. If you had a gigantic estate with lights spaced out hundreds of feet between them, you might run into problems, but that's a corner case at best; typical homes should be fine.

The second question—the number of total devices supported—is something that we couldn't actually test, as we only had the three bulbs in the Starter Pack and with a cost of around $60 per additional bulb I wasn't about to try to overload the network. (Yeah, sorry—I didn't have a spare $3000 lying around waiting to be invested in Hue lights!) Philips states that the Hue Bridge can support up to 50 bulbs, which should be sufficient for a moderate size house.

What isn't clear is whether or not you can increase the total number of devices by adding additional Bridges to the location. Given the use of the ZigBee controller along with the fact that there is no configuration on a per device level to connect it to the network (e.g. you just buy additional bulbs and they apparently broadcast and communicate with any and all Hue devices), we would assume that 50 lights and a single Bridge is about as far as you'll be able to go within a single area. Conceivably, there could also be problems if your immediate neighbor also picked up a Hue—how would the lights know to talk to your Hue network and not his? This is both the blessing and curse of going with an easy to configure technology.

In the process of testing the range I made some other interesting observations on the behavior of the Hue lighting system. First, I powered off the Hue Bridge (to move it to the basement), and while it was powered off I launched the app. The app did not complain about not being able to connect to the Bridge. Then I touched “All Off” in the app, and again the app shows no error; the app is behaving as if the Hue Bridge is up and alive. However if you go into settings the Bridge has disappeared, and the entry says “Find new bridge”.

In theory it’s of course possible for the Internet to have issues that prevent communication with the Bridge, or for your home network to have problems. Rather than behaving as though nothing is wrong (until you go into the settings and find your Bridge is no longer present), it would make more sense to update the app to let users know that there is a problem communicating with the Bridge. This should be a relatively simple update on the app side.

Similar behavior is exhibited when you disconnect the bulbs from power. The bulbs don’t disappear from the app, and if you send a command to a non-present bulb the app behaves as though nothing is wrong. This may not be a huge problem, but potentially someone could turn off a light switch and thus cause a bulb to power off. While showing a communication error message that needs to be dismissed every time that happens (especially if there are many bulbs on the network) could become quite annoying, a small note at the bottom of the app or a greyed out bulb icon in the app indicating that communication with the bulb failed and to check the power would be easy to implement. Once more this is something that could be fixed with an app update and/or a Hue Bridge software update in the future.

Power Consumption

I used Kill-A-Watt to do some basic power measurements in the “Off” vs. in the “On” state as set by the app for a bulb. When the bulb is on and set to maximum brightness, it consumes about 0.08-0.09 Amps (about 5.4 Watts). In the off state (but still drawing some power so that it can communicate with the network), each bulb draws around 0.01 to 0.02 Amps (about 0.4 Watts). As expected, even when the LEDs are off power draw is not zero. The ZigBee network controller and other circuitry need to remain active in order to listen for communications from the Bridge.

While it might be possible to cut power use in the “off” state further by having the bulbs go into a low-power sleep state and only wake up for a short period of time every second or two, that would only work in a non-mesh network (or perhaps if the bulbs could all stay in perfect sync so that they’re awake at the same time). Given the complications associated with such an approach, keeping the design simple appears to be the best solution, and that’s what Philips has done.

In a worst-case scenario, if you have a fully populated network of 50 Connected Bulbs, each will draw approximately 1W more than a regular light in order to run the communication hardware. Over the course of a year, that will add up to 236kWh of power, or approximately $24 (at around $0.10 per kWh), which is negligible in comparison to the $3000+ in lights that you’ll have spent. For the Starter Pack and three bulbs, you’re looking at around $1 per year, not to mention compared to incandescent lights you’re already cutting power use per light by about 55W, so it should come out as a large net savings (though not compared to running non-connected LED lights everywhere). The minimal power use while “off” should not be a big issue for most people, but the cost of being able to remotely control does come with a small cost (beyond the initial expenditure for the hardware).

The Philips Hue Experience Hue as a Home Automation Controller and Closing Thoughts
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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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