Back in 2015, I accompanied a friend to the store when he picked up some Philips Hue smart bulbs. These LEDs screw into standard sockets and can be controlled wirelessly from your phone. Of course, more: The lights are easily automated and can be controlled not only from your phone but also through Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and Siri, not to mention Philips’ Hue light switch line and even Internet of Home gadgets like Flic buttons.
After a few months of being impressed by his system, I decided that I should plunge into the same.
I was caught. I love elegant digital light switches; I appreciate the option to have color bulbs and very affordable prices for white bulbs. There are even combination packages that offer extra savings.
Start with Hue
If you’ve never tried the Philips Hue lamp, you’ll be happy to know that it’s not too complicated to get started. You need to buy a Hue starter set of several light bulbs and Hue Bridge. Think of the bridge as a kind of control center for your Hue lights. This is a small utility of small size, plugged into your Wi-Fi router and routed commands to the appropriate lights from the smartphone app, Alexa, or any other compatible device.
After purchasing the initial Starter Pack, you can purchase each additional light bulb – a bridge designed to connect to up to 50 bulbs. Remember that for later; it’s going to be important.
Why do I install 55 light bulbs?
Although I had the opportunity to dip my toes in the water of smart bulbs by installing a few Hue lamps in my last apartment, last year I moved to a spacious new place and decided to illuminate it from top to bottom, from side to side, with Philips Hue. My settings will be larger than anyone else I know. Indeed, I suspect that my installation may be larger than Philips expected anyone to try.
After so many (and many) Amazon deliveries, my new home has a total of 55 light bulbs, which are threaded into sockets in 17 separate rooms, corridors, and wardrobes.
Why? Well, I like the promise of being able to deal with every light bulb in my house individually. I appreciate being able to independently control and blur every light bulb and even set the color of a few main bulbs.
It also allows for interesting automation options. Sure, my smart front door lock can turn on the light when I unlock it, but hue lights allow more than that. For example, a Hue lamp can be activated using a motion sensor — so that my laundry cabinet lights up when the door is open. The laundry bulb will be active for one minute after the final movement is detected.
So I studied all about smart bulbs.
Hitting the limits of the bridge
Unfortunately, despite the potential of my system, it’s not perfect. The most serious problem I encountered was interspersed connectivity. For example, HomeKit often reports that it is not possible to connect the bulbs, and the Hue app itself does the same. Ask Siri to turn on the lights in a particular room and it’s no wonder to hear Siri say, “I’m having trouble communicating with the lights.”
Philips considered the issue. Hue’s technical support team hypothesized that these connection problems were due to me being beyond the bridge’s capabilities.
But this is where it becomes interesting. As I mentioned earlier, officially, each bridge supports 50 light bulbs – but that’s not the end of the story. Online research shows that the bridge is actually capable of solving 63 light bulbs. However, with 55 light bulbs, I am definitely playing with fire.
Another theory: the distance taxing the bridge’s ability to connect to all light bulbs. But that ring is a little hollow. Since my location has only 1,200 square feet of space, it seems that distance is not a factor, especially since some of the nearest bulbs are bulbs that usually go offline.
Surprisingly, Hue light switches actually work without any obstacles up to 90% of the time, even if HomeKit and the Hue app are in access to the light bulb. Without this, the system would be completely useless most of the time.
There are also limits to light switches
When you installed nearly 5 dozen smart light bulbs in your home, you pushed the limits of what Philips envisioned for their smart lighting system.
In addition to the 50 bulb limit (or 63) for the bridge, there seems to be a serious limit on the number of brightness adjustment switches and buttons allowed on the net and the real numbers do not seem to match what Philips competes in their specifications.
Officially, Philips says you can connect 12 brightness-adjusting switches or 24 tap switches to your Hue Bridge. Why 12 and 24? Why not 24? Well, the light adjustment switch is more complex and therefore requires more memory in the bridge. So there is more room for tap switches on the bridge than a brightness regulator.
That was great, but I started having trouble after only adding a Saturday brightness switch. This prompted me to sell the brightness control switch and switch to using a touch-only switch.
With 15 tap switches installed, I (I’m a tinkerer) have learned that I can configure each button further using the third-party iPhone app. For example, I can make each button perform multiple functions, such as turning it on, off, blurring, party scenes, etc. But each additional task I assign to each node will consume more memory on the bridge and I quickly run out of space.
Ethics are excellent elegant Hue switches unlike mechanical switches; programming them takes up an unpredictable amount of memory and more ambitious settings can cause problems.
Risk of the second bridge
There is a clear solution to all these problems: Add a second Hue bridge to my house. 55 lights and nearly two dozen switches can deplete a bridge, but it must be child’s play for two bridges, right?
Not so fast. While the light bulbs themselves are compatible with HomeKit, the switches themselves are not. And that means that the switches work only with lights indicated for any bridge to which they are connected. I currently have several buttons programmed to control all the lights in my home at the touch of a button. It’s convenient, but going through two bridges, that won’t work.
Compromise? Specify bridges, lights and switches according to the geography around the house. For example, I can use the second bridge for my two bedrooms and bathroom. In this way, each bedroom can still control the included bathroom lights. But since the tap switch next to my bed won’t be able to turn off the lights in other rooms (as they are on another bridge), I’ll have to use HomeKit to operate them.
The bottom line is that while Philips Hue lighting systems (and similar smart wireless lighting systems) are an incredible revelation, giving you the ability to control indoor lights in ways you’ve never imagined before, they still have some room to grow. If your needs are modest, jump in with both feet. But as you extend to the design limits of the system, you will be right with me, waiting for Philips to improve the system.