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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  • melgross - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    I began moving to compact fluorescents a couple of decades ago, and now I'm moving to LEDs. Until recently, LEDs have been too expensive ($125 for a 450 lumen bulb), but have dropped considerably ($30 for an 800 lumen bulb). One problem was that the brightness of LED bulbs weren't really known because standards weren't there, or being followed. I'm now finding that they are.

    I've experimented with a lot of these over the years, including naked chips up to 100 watts (vast light output, but terrible color, and requiring a massive heatsink. Which reminds me, the reason why these bulbs weigh so much is because of the heatsinks. That rear portion of the bulb is an aluminum casting, which you can tell by tapping on it. LEDs do get very hot. It's the lack of infrared light in the output that keeps LED light cool. But the LEDs need a sink for the self heating they undergo (a major reason why OLED phone screens are so dim. The hotter an LED gets, the shorter the lifespan, and OLEDs can't run nearly as hot as can these silicon, carbide, etc. models can.)

    But one disappointing part of this review is the lack of information as to the output of these bulbs. ARsTechnica also did a review of these some months ago. I don't remember if they said what the output is. Without knowing that, it's difficult to know how useful these are. For some people, dim rooms are fine, but for others, the room must be bright. So what are these equivalent to? Are we getting 400 lumens, 500, 600?
    Reply
  • BravoRomeo - Sunday, April 7, 2013 - link

    Philips specs the Hue at 600, depending on color temperature. Supposedly it derates itself if it gets too hot, so you might loose some brightness in a poorly ventilated fixture.

    I found the Hue bulbs comparable to a 60W GE Reveal incandescent. In fact, it was able to tune the color of Hue to exactly match the Reveal bulb, but without the heat... All you do is shift the hue a notch or two towards red/yellow and away from green, and a touch less saturated, which is what the filtering on the Reveal bulb does. Very impressive.
    Reply
  • foxalopex - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    I've bought a few LED bulbs over history and they've impressed me. They're definitely the next generation compared to compact fluorescents. They turn on instantly and you never have to worry about breaking the bulb if you turn it on and off a lot. Granted there are some problems too. Cheapo LED bulbs like the ones you can get from Walmart sometimes have the problem of the ballast dying if used for a long time. I have some expensive ones too and they've worked great except for slight FM radio interference. They're also horrifically expensive but that's not a surprise since the LED components are pretty pricy. Still I think it's just a matter of time. Reply
  • JeffFlanagan - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    Changing colors don't seem very useful unless the user is on LSD, but being able to red-shift home lighting after sunset could be very helpful for people who have trouble sleeping.

    Installing f.Lux on my PC to dim and redden the screen at night has greatly improved my ability to fall asleep, and I'd like to do the same with all my lighting.
    Reply
  • halbhh2 - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    "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..."

    'should' ??

    Not.

    Why did the reviewer stop there, without doing the very easy math?

    Perhaps because the real cost comparison is the *opposite* in reality.

    For instance, you might run 10 bulbs an average of 10 hours a day 365/year, saving about $200 on electricity in 1 year vs. incandescent.

    And incandescent is *not* even the competition here, since most households run a mix of bulbs which include numerous compact flourescents. That's the real comparison.

    In other words, the opposite conclusion is more valid: instead of a "large net savings" expect a *significant net cost*.

    And that's fine if you really want these. Just don't fool yourself into thinking you are saving money.

    Shame on the reviewer.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    Full quote instead of your ellipses:

    "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)."

    Obviously, we could have listed CFLs along with LEDs, but that's not the point. The point is whether the additional power draw incurred by the use of ZigBee (home automation) is a concern, and the answer is that no, it's not. Compared to CFL (14W), even running 24/7 for a year you'd only be spending an extra $7-$8 per light. If you can get the CFL for about $2 compared to $60, you might break even over the life of the bulb but probably not. But then, a $2 CFL doesn't offer the colored lighting options or home automation, which is the main attraction here.
    Reply
  • halbhh2 - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    Ok, but I just did not read it that way, and I'm not a poor reader. Perhaps you should clarify the text, so that it doesn't give the wrong impression. Reply
  • Qwertilot - Monday, March 4, 2013 - link

    Surely the energy use should be a concern?

    Its seemingly 0.4 watt continous vs 5 watt for the actual bulb, so if the light bulb is on for an average of two hours a day you've just *doubled* its yearly power usage. For many bulbs it'll be worse than that.

    While the overall amounts aren't massive it really does seem to be horribly gratitious.

    If this is going to scale out to whole houses/lots more devices then it badly needs some way to power the radios almost entirely off when not required. Some master controller device and a mode where they poll every minute or something.
    Reply
  • darkcrayon - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - link

    You could help save energy with them in other more unusual ways... I have mine set to turn off automatically when I leave my apartment which guarantees I can never leave them on by mistake - Using a proximity app that senses if my iPhone is in range. And my hallway light comes on to greet me when I get home after a certain hour. Of course, running a server to handle that easily negates that power difference (of course the server is for a myriad of other purposes and not just for home automation control). Reply
  • glugglug - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - link

    > And incandescent is *not* even the competition here, since most households run a mix > of bulbs which include numerous compact flourescents. That's the real comparison.

    Which brings up what for me is the main flaw in this product.

    The bulbs are type A (LED approximation of a standard light bulb).

    Most fixtures where you would use that type of bulb have a cover over them so a CFL is suitable and already uses almost the same power as an LED.

    This would be a lot better if they made the bulbs for PAR30/PAR20/PAR38 where LEDs are a much better fit, and the only 2 real choices are LED or incandescent/halogen, because CFLs are absolutely blinding in those types of fixtures.
    Reply

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