Philips Hue: Automated Home Lighting Gets Colorfulby Ashu Joshi on March 1, 2013 12:50 AM EST
Hue as a Home Automation Controller
Given the fact that Hue uses a ZigBee controller, one of the questions some will have is whether the Hue can be extended to support other devices. While it’s possible for Philips to create other devices that could work with Hue, I have serious doubts that the Bridge can act as a sophisticated home automation device given the choice of the microcontroller and the amount of memory on the Bridge controller. If Philips changes the firmware on the ZigBee controller in the Bridge, it could be extended to control other ZigBee devices in the home, but right now it appears that the CC2530 is being used in the Light Link profile of ZigBee.
Despite my doubts, the hacker community amazes me. A simple Google search brought me to this site, run by Ross McKillop. Ross has reverse engineered the HTTP protocol between the App and the Hue Bridge, and it appears that communication is done in the open, not with SSL. (Potentially the CPU on the Bridge just isn’t fast enough to make SSL encryption viable.) He has additional details, but then goes on to link to EveryHue as a source of further unofficial help/discussion.
Philips has stated their intention to open up the APIs and the app SDKs for developers. Once they do this I have no doubt that there is an immense potential to use the Hue in interesting ways that perhaps weren’t part of Philips’ initial plan. I can imagine Universal Remote controllers that are app-based tying into the Hue or high end systems such as those from Control4, or perhaps a GoogleTV app that controls the bulbs in your living room while watching a movie. Only time will tell what the hacking community will do with Hue as they gain more experience.
The Philips Hue is at present a unique and interesting lighting system with elements of home automation that can be attractive to a diverse set of users. I found it was easy to set it up and I’ve really enjoyed the experience of having the lighting scenes and controls if affords. However, like any other consumer electronics device, the Hue has its pros and cons.
The good aspects include the aforementioned ease of setup; many home automation devices can get pretty complex, especially for the less technically inclined. Hue is relatively simple in terms of what it allows, and that helps to keep the learning curve pretty shallow. Once it’s up and running, it can provide some really cool functions, and it’s sure to be a great conversation topic at your next party. Finally, while we couldn’t fully test this, the Hue Bridge appears to have very good range so communicating with lights within any reasonably sized house shouldn’t be a problem—if your WiFi can cover the area, Hue should be able to do that and more (via its mesh network).
Not all is perfect, however. At present, there’s very limited extensibility or integration today. Hue does one thing and does it reasonably well, but if you want to use it as part of an existing platform you’ll have to do quite a bit more work. This is yet another app/system for home automation, and if you’re already invested into one of the other solutions you might want to wait for the APIs to open up and let someone else get Hue working with whatever platform you’re running. The other major hurdle to overcome is the price, which is often the case with home automation. At $200 for the Starter Pack with just three Connected Bulbs and the Hue Bridge, you basically only get enough lights to handle a single moderately sized room, or perhaps three smaller rooms. Additional Connected Bulbs will run $60 each (plus shipping and tax), and while the colored lighting offered by Hue is unusual, that’s still three to ten times as much as you’ll pay for other LED bulbs.
For those with the money and interest in colored lights, though, I think the Hue lighting system can be a great way to go. It provides a good base set of features and functionality right now, and over time I expect things will continue to improve as others get creative with the hardware and software. I would personally highly recommend the Philips Hue, but it’s definitely not the type of product that will appeal to everyone.