“Computer, engage forward lighting array”…

LightOptions2_Small

I actually use Siri quite a bit, and while I’d love to pretend I’m Picard from TNG, Siri hasn’t quite caught up yet… or has he/she/it? I’ve been experimenting with automating the lighting around the house, and a key ingredient is going to be using Siri.  A couple of use cases I had which I wanted to tackle included:

  • Dimmable lights where you normally wouldn’t have them, for example with the pair of lamps in my bedroom.  I was also curious about the very cool mood lighting you could achieve with Philips Hue, giggity giggity goo 😉
  • I wanted to be able to use Siri to turn off the outside landscape (or Christmas) lighting.  It was all setup on a timer, but I wanted to be able to easily override this without venturing outside to the bitter cold.  Lazy? Maybe.
  • We have pot lights on the outside of the house, already controllable / dimmable inside the house.  Cool.  However, I was interested in having these turn on only when I arrived home, and turned on/off at a set time, which changed with the seasons automatically.  I knew I could do this with IFTTT or the right app, but needed those lights first to be appropriately “connected”.
  • Additionally, I had areas inside the house that I similarly wanted to automate either by some event (eg arriving home), at a specific time, or with a simple command (like “Good Night”).   These areas included the overhead cabinet lighting in the kitchen, pot lights around my reading nook/desk, the living room, etc.

 

I first started with Philips Hue.  They have their “starter kit”, which is HomeKit compatible already, and includes 3 bulbs and a hub.  Setting it up was very easy with the hub, and I quickly found myself more than a little amused by the colours.  Their marketing campaigns describe “painting” with light, and that’s actually a very good description.  If you are into photography, you likely really appreciate light, especially around your home.  You can truly control mood and ambiance in some really interesting ways with Hue, and the fact that you can easily tie it into voice control was a source of amusement for several days for me.  For example, I would say “Give me Star Wars in the Kitchen”, and the lights would turn the colour of Luke’s lightsaber and Vader’s blade… plucked right from a poster image.  Pretty Cool.  However.  The starter kit is expensive for what is, at the end of the day, colourful light bulbs.  In addition, one of my tenants for home automation is that I’d like to avoid a gazillion hubs from different manufacturers littering my house.  I had expected that I could use Wink (which supports the Zigbee protocol by the way, which the Hue bulbs supposedly adhere to), but then discovered in fact Wink only works if you have the Philips Hue HUB.  Seriously.  You need one hub to talk to the other hub to change the bulbs? Absurd.  Worse, even though the bulbs themselves supposedly adhere to the Zigbee standard, it’s specifically Zigbee Light Link (LL), which most newer home automation hubs, lights and devices aren’t using… instead they’re using Zigbee HA.  I’m still researching this somewhat interesting topic.  Long story short though I returned the Philips Hue kit, and replaced them initially with the GE Link Lights.

The good news with the GE Link Lights was they would work with the Wink hub without yet another hub.  They also paired very easily.  The bad news was they only come in this annoying bright white.  They claim to be “soft white”, at 2700K but I assure you they are not.  I may be a little sensitive to this, but comparing them side by side to another LED connected bulb (EcoSmart), they were definitely not the same, and left my living room uncomfortable and very feeling a bit like the harsh glare of McDonalds or Walmart.  It’s possible it has something to do with the missing frosting of the bulb.  So, back they went, and instead I replaced them with the EcoSmart bulbs.

EcoSmartSoft

Now, these bulbs are only $18 / LED bulb (after the $59 / Philips Hue bulb, maybe my definition of inexpensive is warped, but a standard LED A19 bulb can be $9 and you can’t do anything cool with those ;).   Also, the EcoSmart are by default a frosted 2700K, which is the same as your typical replacement bulb, are Wink Hub compatible, and you can get them at your friendly neighbourhood Home Depot.  You can also get them in PAR20 for your pot lights, and they come not just dimmable but able to change temperature!  So, if you wanted, you too could make your home as bright and devoid of intimacy as your local Walmart.  Done and Done.

A couple of tips with the lighting situation then:

  • Philips Hue are very cool, and if you have a little extra to spend, you could do some interesting things in the house with these.  When you buy the starter kit, since it’s $200, and you get 3 of those $60 Hue bulbs, you’re basically getting the HomeKit compatible hub for $20.  As annoying as it is to have yet another hub around, that’s somewhat reasonable at least.
  • GE Link Lights connect and respond quickly to commands, but I wasn’t a fan since for me they were more “Daylight” than “Soft” white.  You also had no option for PAR20.
  • EcoSmart are so far the clear winner, in terms of price, options (PAR20, A19), connectivity and control.
  • With these kinds of bulbs though you can sometimes have trouble pairing them.  The trick is to “reset” them to factory which puts them into a more amenable state to pair.  Each bulb is a little different but basically turning the light on/off in some specific sequence will reset them and prime them for pairing.  GE for example was on/off 3 times fast.  EcoSmart was 5 times fast, then they would blink 5 times to tell you they were ready.
  • Don’t expect if they describe a certain protocol like “Zigbee Certified” that they will necessarily conveniently pair with a Zigbee hub/controller, as there is a nuance of protocol version.

More on some of my other lighting experiments later…

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