Improving home lighting with Philips Hue lights.

What Do Hue Think You’re Looking At?

I love a bit of tech and one of the things I’ve wanted to try out over the last year or so has been some home lighting improvements. Philips Hue lights are wireless LED lights that can provide a great range of colours, and can be controlled via a number of different methods such as phone apps, special Hue wall switches, and with Apple’s HomeKit you can even use voice control with Siri*.

Perhaps the first question to get out of the way is why I think using this sort of lighting is better than standard lighting. The interface for standard lighting is pretty good, you flick a switch and light comes on or off. You don’t really need much more. In fact, if you are using an app to control the Hue lights it can take a lot longer to turn them on or off than using a light switch. But what you can’t do with your standard white lights is, um, illuminate with non-white colours, or get the lights to switch on and off at set times, or dim them or…you get the idea. So, which is best? I’ll answer that later, but let’s get onto the Hue setup I have.

First thing you need is a Hue bridge. This is the hub that controls all your bulbs and lamps. I chose the latest version which is compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, thus meaning I can control my Hue lights with Siri.

Hey, Siri! Turn on snug lights.

The bridge connects to your home network, and you add Hue components to the bridge. They are then available in the Hue app – or whichever app you choose to use – so you can set up the various scenes and lighting arrangements you may want.

I’ve currently got three uses for the Hue lights: a motion-sensitive light in the hall; two lamps in the bedroom; a Hue Bloom and Hue lamp in the snug.

In the hall I replaced a bayonet ceiling bulb with a Hue bulb. The hall doesn’t need any coloured lighting other than white, so I chose the cheapest Hue bulb. It replaces the existing bulb, but you have to leave the wall switch in the on position to power it. Although this means the bulb is always “on”, it doesn’t mean the bulb is always lit. Using the app you can control whether the bulb is lit or not, and also how bright it is. This can be onerous via an app, so I wanted to simplify things. Our hall is a place where we spend little time, usually just putting on shoes, dumping bags, or putting coats on the coat rack. I decided it was the perfect place for a Hue motion sensor to control the light. This cheeky little box has an adjustable ambient light sensor built in, so it will only turn on the light if it’s sufficiently dark. With the light now coming on and going off automatically, it makes entering the dark hall when laden with bags a much easier task. It also means I don’t ever forget to turn off the hall light. It works perfectly for an area where you rarely need the light on for an extended period of time. For this reason, I am planning on adding more motion sensitive lights to other similar areas of the house.

In the main bedroom I replaced our two bedside bulbs with Hue colour bulbs. These bulbs provide a nice range of dimmable colours, which means we can have our own personal lighting setup for reading, using an iPad, or really bright light to wake me up when breakfast-in-bed is required! However, we didn’t want to have to control our lamps via an app. We actually wanted to each have a hotel-style wall switch next to the bed that would control our individual light. For this, I chose the Hue Dimmer Switch, which lets you turn the light on (it will cycle through a different scene with each press, and starts with the first scene again after the fifth press) and off, plus you can adjust the brightness too. The switch is battery powered so you can place it wherever you want, i.e. it doesn’t need to be near a plug socket. It also comes in two parts: a plastic baseplate that you can stick to another surface, and the dimmer switch itself which attaches magnetically to the base plate. We attached the base plates to the wall at the sides of the bed, and instantly had hotel-style light switches. The final flourish was to create two Hue scenes (which are instructions to Hue lights given a specific name) named “Bedroom On” and “Bedroom Off”. This gives us the ability to have Siri turn both lights on or off for us:

Hey, Siri! Set scene Bedroom On.

The final piece in our current setup is in the Snug. This is our cinema/chill-out/reading room. There are two Hue lights in this room: a Hue Bloom and another Hue Colour bulb in a big lamp. The Bloom is positioned behind the TV and is used to create a nice backlight effect when watching films. The lamp bulb is used to either pair with the Bloom to create a cosy atmosphere, or to provide extra illumination for reading or writing. In order to easily control these lights we created three scenes, but we needed a quick way of accessing them. This is where the Hue Tap switch is perfect. It’s a round switch that needs no power, instead creating the power it needs to send signals from the mechanical movement of the switch itself. It does require a bit of a click to get it to work, but it works really well. The Tap has four areas you can press to activate the switch, and each area can be assigned a different scene. Generally, you save the biggest area for “Turn all the lights off”, but you don’t need to. We have it setup so that our lights can be in Cinema mode (all lights off, except the Bloom acting as a backlight), a Cosy mode (both lights on, fairly bright, in a nice yellowish light), and Dimmed (both lights on, but very dimmed). There are more non-Hue lights in this room, and I’m working on replacing them all with Hue bulbs so we can really get this room’s lighting right.

So, after all that, is it worth the expense and time of setting up a lighting system like this? I’m 100% in the YES camp! For certain situations the Hue lights are like stepping into the future. Being able to turn a room into “Cinema mode” with just your voice is a really cool addition. I can’t go without the motion sensitive light as it just makes things easier. And the lights in the bedroom have removed that annoying thing whereby the lamp’s switch is always in the wrong position on the cord and you can’t reach it without knocking over your drink and…ok, that may be an exaggeration, but I’m not going back!

Any downsides? So far, no. But bear in mind that these lights are at the mercy of things that can go wrong such as the bridge, software updates, connectivity issues. You may find that you have to reset everything at some point, and possibly re-create all the scenes and rules you’ve been relying on for months. That’s not happened to us yet, but it could do. If that did happen, the Hue lights will just act like a normal bulb, i.e. you can use the standard wall switch to turn them on and off. Obviously not ideal, but in an emergency you won’t be left without light.

Update: This post was originally written on 16/01/2017, but I didn’t publish it. Since then however, the downside from the last paragraph did actually happen. We lost Internet connectivity via our Homeplugs one day, and I mistakenly thought the Hue bridge was not working. So I reset the Hue bridge, which caused all the scenes etc to be lost. However, once the bridge had reset it still wasn’t working because of the Internet issue. When I reset the Homeplugs, the Internet kicked in again and the Hue bridge starting working. D’oh! If I’d only reset the Homeplugs first it would have saved some hassle. That said, re-creating all the scenes for the Hue lights was a speedy process, taking only 10 minutes or so.

* Other voice control options may be available. I have Apple stuff, so I use Siri and HomeKit.

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