Brighten up your Life

A shorter version of this blog post also appears in Vale Life - May/June Issue Page 34

Image of May-June article

Home Automation has been around in various guises for some time, from the clicker that opened garage doors to the clock controlled thermostat on your heating. The twist that turns these into the Internet of Things is exactly that, connection and control via the internet which opens a vast range of possibilities.

Smart Bulbs or WIFI enabled light bulbs are an easy introduction into smart homes.

In this article, I’ll be looking at 2 smart lighting systems; Phillips Hue and Ikea TRÅDFRI. Both systems will provide you with lighting which can be remotely controlled via a smartphone or switches and sensors.

Phillips Hue is one of the most popular smart bulb systems and is now quite mature. Phillips offers a full range of bulbs in a selection of fittings, B22, E27 and GU10, which is Bayonet, screw and 2 prong for the non-technical.
The bulbs are quite costly; Colour Ambiance bulbs are £50 each, White Ambiance are £25 and White only are £15. The gateway, which links the bulb to the internet and your smartphone, is a mandatory item costs £50.
The difference between the White and the White Ambiance is that White Ambiance allows you to change the colour temperature from 2400K to 5500K which in effect alters the colour output of the bulb from a warm yellow tint to a harsher blue–white.

Phillips sells a range of starter kits from £59 for a bridge and 2 white bulbs to £149 for a bridge and 3 colour bulbs.

Ikea TRÅDFRI is relatively new in the UK, but being Ikea, it is bound to make a large impact on the market. Trådfri, translates as “wire-free”. They only offer 2 types of fitting, screw and 2-prong. If you only have bayonet type fittings, they also sell converters @ £1 for 2.
Currently, the only bulbs they provide are the equivalent of Philips White Ambiance, but at a cheaper price than Phillips. The starter kit for £69 consists of 2 bulbs, a gateway and a remote control. The equivalent from Phillips would cost over £100.
The gateway is not mandatory; it is possible to pair the remote control directly to the bulbs. The gateway does allow individual control of the bulbs via the smartphone app.

Setup of both systems is similar; a smartphone app needs to be downloaded which is used to configure the gateway and to identify and link the bulbs.
The gateway needs to be connected to your internet router via a network cable not WIFI, which may affect where you can place the bulbs as they need to be in range of the gateway to function. Security is an important part of any IOT system. With Phillips, you need to press the button on the gateway to link to the app. Ikea requires you to scan a QR code on the bottom of the gateway. In addition, Ikea requires you to pair each light with the remote before they will work.

With the configuration complete and I did find that both systems were a bit temperamental when it came to the initial setup, it is possible to turn the bulbs on and off and alter the colour temperature, brightness etc. which is interesting for the first 5 minutes, but is it worth spending up to £200 to save getting up from the sofa?

Smart bulbs really come into their own when you start to integrate them with other IOT items. This is where the more mature Phillips system starts to pull ahead. At the moment, the Ikea system will only work with other Ikea sensors.
The Phillips system provides an open API via Friend of Hue. This means that you can link to Alexa or Apple HomeKit so that the lights become an integral part of your larger smart home. I can link my light to my TV so that with one control I turn on the mood lighting and switch on the surround sound.

At present, even though the Ikea system is much cheaper, if you a looking for smart lights which work with the rest of your Smart Home kit or multi-coloured lighting, I would have to recommend the Phillips Hue.