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Enhancing Your Home's Lighting with Philips Hue Lights

Jason R. Rich, author of iPad and iPhone Tips and Tricks, Fifth Edition, explains what the Philips Hue lights are and how you can use the white and color lighting products to make your home more enjoyable and energy efficient. Learn how to program and control the Philips Hue lights using an iPhone or iPad from virtually anywhere.
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Wouldn't it be great if, with a single touch of a button, you could change the décor throughout your home to match your current mood, or adhere to a particular theme? While it's impossible to change or move your furniture via your iPhone/iPad, you can customize the lighting quite easily.

The Philips Hue personal wireless lighting system (shown in Figure 1) allows you to set timers on your lights and turn them on/off remotely from your Internet-connected iPhone or iPad. It's also possible to adjust each light's intensity and color, altering the ambience in a particular room or throughout your entire home.

Figure 1 Start with the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit, and then expand the system with optional Hue bulbs and lighting fixtures (sold separately).

The second generation of the Philips Hue system is easily programmed and controlled using the Hue mobile app, but now it's also compatible with Siri, so you can issue voice commands to your iPhone or iPad, and the Philips Hue lighting throughout your home will respond immediately. Just as the programming capabilities of the Hue system continue to improve with updates to the app, the lights themselves have improved, allowing them to shine brighter and display an even broader range of vivid colors.

Required Equipment

In addition to having an iPhone or iPad and a home wireless network that allows you to connect to the Internet, controlling the Philips Hue lights requires a small device called a bridge that connects directly to your home's modem or Internet router. Your mobile device communicates wirelessly with this bridge via your home's Wi-Fi network, or by using the mobile device's cellular Internet connection.

As a starting point to incorporate Hue lighting into your home, the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit ($199.95) is required. This kit includes a second-generation bridge (which is fully compatible with the iOS 9 Home Kit, allowing for Siri integration), as well as three standard Hue LED light bulbs, which can simply replace any standard incandescent light bulbs within your home.

The more individual Hue White and Color Ambience light bulbs you place within a particular room or area within your home, the more flexibility you'll have for creating primary and decorative lighting. The color and intensity of each light can be programmed separately in seconds, using the mobile app to create simple or extremely elaborate color schemes.

Each Hue LED bulb can emit multiple shades and intensities of white light (up to 800 lumens output), has a 15,000-hour lifetime, and can display any of 16 million colors at any intensity. In addition to the three standard-size bulbs that come with the starter kit, additional Hue White and Color Ambience Extension Bulbs (which can display adjustable white or colored light) are sold separately ($59.95 each).

In addition to the Starter Kit and individual Hue White and Color Ambience Extension Bulbs, a variety of other fully-compatible lighting products, bulbs, and fixtures are available. All of these products require the bridge and mobile app to function.

Figure 2 shows one such product: the Philips Hue Light Strip Plus ($89.95). It comes in a two-meter length (approximately 79 inches), but can be expanded using optional expansion sets to reach a maximum length of 10 meters (approximately 33 feet). Each light strip is flexible and bendable, emits any color of light at up to 1600 lumens, and can be attached to almost any surface (using a removable adhesive), providing programmable ambient lighting in any color.

Figure 2 The Philips Hue Light Strip Plus offers a bendable, flexible, expandable, and customizable ambient lighting option that can be attached to almost anything. This second-generation product displays more colors, more brightly than the original Hue light strip.

The Philips Hue Light Strip Plus can be installed under or above cabinets, behind a flat-screen TV, beneath a bed, or in any tight space that you'd like to emit white or colored light. Meanwhile, the Hue White and Color (E26) Ambiance Extension Bulbs can be placed into any existing lighting fixture or lamp that utilizes a standard-size incandescent light bulb, and Hue also offers a few other popular bulb sizes that can be placed within existing lighting fixtures or lamps.

Standalone Hue lighting fixtures are also available. Most, like the Philips Hue Bloom, simply need to be plugged into a standard electrical outlet, and placed in an area within the radius of your home Internet (Wi-Fi) signal. Other Hue fixtures can replace existing recessed light fixtures or pendant (hanging) lamps, but may require installation by a qualified electrician.

The Philips Hue Bloom or Philips Hue Go, for example, can add colored ambient lighting to an area by bouncing light off a wall or ceiling. Either fixture can be positioned on a table, shelf, or the floor. The Philips Hue Phoenix, a contemporarily-looking table lamp (shown in Figure 3); the Phoenix Pendant Light (which hangs from the ceiling, as shown in Figure 4); and the Phoenix Wall and Recessed Lights can be used as primary lighting by replacing in-home fixtures with these products.

Figure 3 The Philips Hue Phoenix is a standalone table lamp that works with the Hue lighting system. (A Hue bridge and the mobile app are required to use this lamp.)

Figure 4 The Philips Hue Phoenix Pendant Light can replace any hanging fixture, although you may need an electrician to install it.

If you forego colored lighting, a lower-cost Philips Hue White Starter Kit (which includes a bridge and two Hue white-only bulbs) is available for $79.95, with additional Hue White bulbs priced at $14.95 each. These bulbs can emit various shades of white light at different intensities, turned on/off or dimmed remotely via the Hue app.

Beyond the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit and the Philips Hue White Starter Kit, all of the optional Hue light bulbs, lighting fixtures, and options are sold separately, but each takes just seconds to add to an existing Philips Hue lighting system and bridge that's already set up within your home.

Use Hue to Paint with Light

Once the Hue white and color lights are set up within your home, the lights can be programmed separately or in groups to create a truly customized look, which can change automatically throughout the day and night, or can be adjusted manually via the mobile app.

An optional (wireless) dimmer switch can turn on/off and adjust the intensity of specific bulbs. Although you can't change the color of the light by using the physical dimmer switch accessory, it offers an alternative to controlling lights with the mobile app. However, if a light fixture is already set up to work with an existing light switch (or dimmer switch) in your home, this switch will continue to work with the Hue lights as well.

Once a Hue lighting system is set up within your home, it's possible to issue verbal commands to Siri to turn lights on/off, or control them in other ways. However, what makes the Hue lighting system the most versatile and customizable is the Hue mobile app, which allows you to create "scenes" or timers, and then program when each automatically turns on or off throughout the day—even when you're not home.

When creating a scene using the mobile app, you can select two, three, or more Hue bulbs, choosing a specific color and intensity for each, and then manually create ambient lighting that can match or enhance any room's color scheme and décor. The same app can also match a color scheme within a digital photo, or sync with music that's playing to create an in-home "dance club" vibe. Figure 5 shows an example of customizable ambient lighting created in a bedroom using Hue lights.

Figure 5 Transform the appearance of any room in your home by using ambient colored lights.

In only a minute or two, it's possible to program multiple Hue bulbs within a room to slowly fade up at a predefined time; for example, simulating a gradual sunrise (from a color standpoint), and then later simulating a sunset fading down in the evening. For a holiday like Halloween, you might set lights in your home to display colors such as purple and orange. With just a tap, you can change ordinary room light colors to display a festive Christmas color scheme such as reds and greens.

Using the Scene creation tool offered within the mobile app (shown in Figure 6), you can store dozens of different scenes within the app, any of which can be turned on later with a single onscreen tap.

Figure 6 The Hue mobile app for iPhone or iPad allows you to take full control over the Hue lighting system. Use it to create and access preprogrammed scenes, or to set and adjust timers from anywhere.

The app's Timer tools allow you to predetermine when lights will be turned on or off, and which scene(s) are displayed in conjunction with each preset timer. Perhaps you'd like your front porch light to turn on daily at sunset and automatically turn off at sunrise. Meanwhile, the lights that create ambiance throughout your home (or that are used as primary light sources) can be set to turn on or off throughout the day, and alter which scene is displayed.

Make Your TV-Watching Experience More Immersive

Philips has begun teaming up with television networks such as SyFy to preprogram Hue lighting scenes into specific TV shows, allowing your home's lights to change automatically, perfectly syncing with what you're watching on television. Two such popular SyFy shows that support this feature are 12 Monkeys and The Expanse.

Once your Hue lighting system is set up within your home, simply install the free SyFy Sync app onto your iPhone or iPad, and launch the app as you begin watching a supported show. This app takes control over your Hue lighting system (or the specific Hue lights within a room that you instruct the SyFy Sync app to control), and then automatically and continuously adjusts the ambient lighting in the room, changing the lighting colors to match perfectly what you're watching on television.

More than 200 other free and low-cost third-party mobile apps are available from the App Store, allowing you to utilize additional Hue lighting–related features and functions, including the ability to transform any room into a dance club with lighting that syncs with the music you're playing. In the App Store, enter the word Hue in the Search field to discover third-party app options and the functionality each offers for Hue lighting.

Pros and Cons of Philips Hue

The Philips Hue lighting system is initially rather expensive, especially if you want to replace most or all of the lights in your home with Hue bulbs or lighting fixtures. On the plus side, a single Hue bridge can control up to 50 bulbs or related Hue lighting products. Thanks to competition from other lighting companies, pricing for Hue products has begun to drop, and retailers and online shopping sites like Best Buy, Home Depot, and Amazon.com have begun discounting all of the Hue-brand products.

From a purely functional standpoint, having programmable lighting in your home allows you to adjust lighting, either manually or automatically, while you're away, as long as your iPhone or iPad has Internet connectivity. Thus, from the outside, onlookers (and potential criminals) would have a more difficult time determining when you're away from home or on vacation.

Another advantage to programmable lighting is the ability to utilize light therapy. If you need to concentrate, read, energize yourself, or relax, preprogrammed scenes are available to optimize lighting for these tasks.

The ability to utilize customizable full-color ambient lighting also allows you to match your home's lighting with your mood, or visually enhance the décor in your home. What's possible is limited only by your imagination and how you utilize multiple Hue bulbs within a particular room or setting. The Hue mobile app provides the tools to set up, program, and the utilize the Hue Lighting system easily, even if you're not a tech-savvy person.

Another advantage: When you switch from using traditional incandescent light bulbs to LED bulbs in your home, you'll quickly notice a reduction in your monthly electric bill, as LED bulbs (including the Hue bulbs) are far more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs.

Final Thoughts

For self-proclaimed geeks and others who love utilizing technology to enhance their lives, or who are looking for cutting-edge ways to control various aspects of their lives by using their iPhone or iPad, the Philips Hue lighting system is extremely cool and versatile in terms of what's possible and how it can be utilized.

To get started, consider investing in the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit, installing the three bulbs within a single room or area, and then utilizing predefined or custom scenes to take advantage of multiple bulbs. Then use optional single bulbs or Hue lighting fixtures to expand the lighting system into other rooms or areas as your budget permits.

Like every aspect of consumer technology, what's possible using programmable LED lights is changing quickly and dramatically. The second generation of the Hue bridge was released in 2015, along with improved light bulbs that are brighter and emit a larger array of colors.

Updates to the Hue mobile app are offered every few months. Keep in mind that whatever programmable LED lighting system you incorporate into your home now will likely need to be updated with new equipment or replaced altogether within the next three to five years, in order to stay current.

Jason R. Rich (http://www.jasonrich.com) is the author of Que's iPad and iPhone Tips and Tricks, Fifth Edition, which covers how to use iOS 9 on all of the various iPhone and iPad models, including the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad Pro. He is also the author of many other Que books, including My Digital Photography for Seniors, My GoPro Hero Camera, My Digital Entertainment for Seniors, and Apple Watch and iPhone Fitness Tips and Tricks. Follow Jason R. Rich on Twitter or Instagram at @JasonRich7.

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