Starting Smart Lighting

Starting out in Smart Lighting requires a bit of research.  First, I've got to figure out how to do it.  There are lots of choices, and figuring out what's right for me needed a bit of time to understand the different options.

Broadly, there seem to be two different routes.  One is to go with a proprietary system.  That means going with things like smart light bulbs.  Smart light bulbs can be very easily installed into existing light fittings and lamps because all you're doing is changing the bulb.  The bulb itself is directly controlled via your smart phone, wireless light switches, motion sensors and so on.  A 'controller' of some kind may or may not be involved.

The other option is to choose a more 'open' system. For example, the 'Z-Wave' smart home wireless protocol would allow me to install control modules into the light fitting (this is the UK approach, in the US it would be installed in the light switch).  This approach has the benefit of allowing existing, normal light bulbs to be used.  It also means existing light switches will always work, and won't hamper your ability to turn the lights back on via an app or other trigger.

Both approaches have their own benefits.  Proprietary systems more naturally lend themselves to delivering a high level of sophistication (such as colour changing lights for example), whereas open approaches let you use normal light bulbs and don't lock you into a particular brand. However, installing control modules means a bit of DIY (always get a professional to do this if you're not confident doing it yourself).

There are some cross-overs.  Some proprietary systems work with standard protocols, and some open systems include sophisticated bulbs.  As is often the case with modern technologies, some lines can be blurry!

My choice? I've decided to go with a proprietary system.  This is purely because I'm attracted to the seemingly higher levels of sophistication on offer from products that fall into this category.  I know there are ways to achieve similar results through open technologies, but not without a lot more work.  I'm impatient and lazy - I want results fast! ;)

(Note: I may revisit this in future and have a play with some Z-Wave systems later on, but for now, this is my choice).

So, which product to choose?  Again, some research was required, but I managed to shortlist two options.  Philips Hue, and LifX

Philips Hue just can't be avoided when it comes to proprietary Smart Lighting systems.  They have a broad range of products, and have established themselves as a 'big name'.  The range includes bulbs, light strips, integrated lamps and light fittings, light switches, motion controllers.  There's just a lot of choice.  That's good, because no matter what your needs are, you should be able to find lighting to fit.

Hue is a controller based system.  That means you need a Philips Hue bridge to get the most out of it.  It's possible to get started without this, using just a Hue Dimmer switch.  However, a Bridge is needed to truly get the best of Hue.  Using this, you can install up to 50 lights.  That sounds a lot, but I had a count up in our house and we'd be getting close to 50, if we replace all the lights we think we will need, and add a few extra.

I've described Hue as a proprietary system, but it's by no means 'closed'.  Hue uses the ZigBee protocol, and can support other ZigBee lights.  There's also a developer API.

LifX takes a slightly different approach. Here, no controller is required, instead using your wireless network to support the connection of their bulbs.  There's no stated limit published, but I guess it's really down to how good your WiFi is!

Like Hue they have a range of connected bulbs, and light strips.  The specs of some of the bulbs are a little more impressive than the Hue bulbs, in terms of brightness.  That said, some of Hue's fully integrated light units offer even higher levels of brightness.  I'm only going on the published specs of 'Lumens' output here of course.  What this boils down to is figuring out what you need.  If you need the brightest bulbs, LifX may be for you.  LifX may also be for you if you think you may need more than 50 lights.

LifX don't make their own switches or other control modules, but they do recommend a few that you can use - so you'll not be stuck for ways to keep control of your smart light setup.

So what choice have I made?  I decided to go with Philips Hue.  I like the broad range of choice in the Hue range. I don't think I'll go beyond 50 lights, and the brightness of their standard bulb (800 lumens) seems fine to me (in old money, roughly equivalent to a 60W incandescent).

So, I'm going to acquire an initial batch of Hue kit.  Sufficient to get started in our living room.  When it arrives I'll produce an unboxing video, record the setup process, and do a bit of a write up on how easy it was (or otherwise) to get going.

Should be interesting.