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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  • degobah77 - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    I think I understand your concern. Yes, to have full remote control at all times, the switch for the lamp needs to be in the ON state. But if you just need a quick light but don't want to bother with using the app, you can just use them like a regular bulb, instant on, instant off.

    I do this quite a bit in the morning. But, I could just as easily schedule some on and off times that coincide with my routine.
    Reply
  • darkcrayon - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - link

    Right, if you just want the light on NOW, you could just flick the switch off and back on again and it would turn on in regular "incandescent emulation" mode. It's only the other scenario that would be annoying, if you wanted a light off NOW, so you flick the switch, but later on you'd have to go back and turn it on. Luckily though i can think of far fewer reasons i'd want to turn a light off urgently. (and i have other much quicker ways of remotely turning off the lights than the philips app - through a computer web interface or in some cases i have them set to turn off when my phone (and hence me) move out of my home out of bluetooth range). Reply
  • georgewedding - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    1. What color temperature settings (degrees Kelvin) are supported? Can users set the bulbs for 6,500K, 5,000K or 3,2000K color temperature?

    2. Do the bulbs maintain these color temperatures when dimmed? What about as the bulbs age? And what is the projected lifespan of the bulbs?

    3. What is the lumens output?

    4. What is the resulting illumination level falling on a surface (lux) if the bulb is installed in standard( 8-foot) ceiling fixture?

    5. What is the base style? A19? Are the bulbs spots or floods? (They appear to be flood lights). What is the beam spread at an industry standard installation height?
    Reply
  • degobah77 - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    Personal accent lighting. Read the other comments. This isn't a commercial product. Reply
  • aguilpa1 - Friday, March 1, 2013 - link

    2 hune dolla!..., fo three bulb...no. Reply
  • I am as mad as hell - Saturday, March 2, 2013 - link

    When is this current thingy going to be replaced by Disqus or something similar? Reply
  • This Guy - Saturday, March 2, 2013 - link

    Are you sure this guy is a network expert Anand? I'm just a lowly pass average elec eng undergrad and even I know that zigbee supports multiple mesh networks in the same area on the same frequency. When you configure a zigbee mesh deivce you give it a network number. The radio then ignores or relays messages for other networks (depending on the radio's configuration).

    Zigbee is a low bandwidth, 2.4 GHz protocol. It is designed to ensure data is received. Xbee Pro modules (one implimentation of Zigbee) can send coherent line of sight signals over more than a mile.

    Quote:
    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.
    Reply
  • Stuffster - Saturday, March 2, 2013 - link

    After reading about these bulbs (closer to 50W each according to the math), my first thought was: what, if anything, can Philips/Google/Apple/whoever glean from my use of the app ?

    Are any/al of the changes I make in the app visible to these companies (or anyone listening in, such as the NSA :-))? Up till now it's only my electric company that has been remotely in the loop on such things.

    I'd be particularly concerned about this when in wifi mode, where I'd expect that no data would need to exit my home. What's the scoop?
    Reply
  • chstamos - Saturday, March 2, 2013 - link

    There is a kickstarter project called "LIFX" that is based on the same basic principles (although their bulbs are supposed to utilize wifi, not zigbee). Unfortunately, judging from the "pledges" they don't seem to be much cheaper. Though, on the bright side (gettit? gettit? ;-) ) they seem to offer notifications via blinking home lights, and that's pretty nifty..... Reply
  • darkcrayon - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - link

    You should be able to get your hue lamps responding to whatever as well, there may already be implementations of that using the hacked protocol they use - at least anything a computer can script can control the lights. But yeah you're right, i looked at LiFX but they aren't any less expensive than Hue, and Hue is actually available... Reply

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