Smart Lighting Technologies
Smart technology has evolved from smart appliances, smart televisions, smart music systems, to smart lighting. No one would have thought that something as simple as a light bulb could turn into an upscale home feature through the use of automated controls.
Although smart lighting systems are not a new phenomenon, they have become even smarter with the ability to dim, brighten, cool down or warm-up, or add color and style to a room, and sync to entertainment devices. The challenge is finding the right smart lighting system for your needs.
Smart lighting technology today has resulted in various smart lighting systems, smart bulbs, smart plugs and smart light switches to choose from. See which of these options works best for your home.
What is Smart Lighting?
Smart lighting is a technology that will permit the user to control home lighting with a mobile device either within the home or at a remote location.
The Smart Lighting system was introduced into the home market in 2012, offering a brighter, energy-efficient lighting system than a traditional incandescent bulb. Since it’s introduction, a wide variety of features have been added to different models such as:
- Dimmable slides where the brightness can be changed, but the temperature of the light cannot.
- Tunable or dialable apps to change any brightness, any color hue, or temperature.
- Increase the Lumens (or light output) up to 4,200.
- It can be paired with a motion sensor or a security camera.
- Some can pair with music and create a theme such as sunrise, sunset, Christmas, Halloween, fall, spring, and more.
How a Smart Lighting System Works
Three primary methods power Smart Lighting systems. Each have advantages and disadvantages that we highlight here.
Smart Lighting Bridge or Hub:
Smart light bulbs integrated into smart home networks require a bridge or hub to communicate with the smart home’s Wi-Fi network.
- Hub connected bulbs are more reliable than hub-free bulbs.
- Usually, hub controlled systems are more feature-rich and can control your lighting remotely.
- Hubs have to connect to a router, which makes set up more complicated.
- Most expensive smart lighting options are the ones that utilize a hub.
Smart lighting with Wi-Fi:
Some smart light bulbs do not require a hub or bridge and can talk directly to your Wi-Fi router.
- Wi-Fi bulbs will work wherever there is a Wi-Fi connection.
- Relatively easy set up
- If your Wi-Fi connection goes out, so does your lighting.
- More expensive than Bluetooth solutions.
Smart Lighting with Bluetooth:
There is a class of smart light bulbs that can be paired directly to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth.
- No additional accessories outside of your smartphone are necessary to operate the system.
- Easy setup
- Least expensive smart lighting option.
- Cannot control sensors or other systems in your home from outside the home.
- Bluetooth only allows 1-to-1 connections, so only one device can connect and control the light bulbs.
Smart Lighting Accessories – Bulbs, Plugs, and Switches
There are many smart lighting accessories to pair with your mobile device. In some instances, you are controlling the bulb directly. You also have the option to control the plug or the switch while using a traditional LED bulb.
So, what you need to decide is which accessory do you want to be the “smart” one? Here are some of your options:
Smart Light Bulbs
Smart Light Bulbs are LED energy-efficient light bulbs that can be controlled by a hub or a smartphone app. The benefit of using a smart light bulb versus a smart plug or a smart switch is you can move that bulb to any location in your home.
You may decide to use that bulb for every day reading in your bedroom to have the ability to turn off the light without getting out of bed. Then, maybe you want to move that bulb to your living room to use a a security light when you are on vacation. This just gives you multiple options.
Smart Plugs allow you to turn a regular light bulb on or off remotely. Some plug the light fixture into the smart plug, and it’s ready to go. Some smart plugs will even track your energy use. The smart plug will allow you to essentially plug anything into it and not just lights. Just think about other electronic devices that you may want to control with a plug.
A smart switch is a wall switch that operates your lights with added features such as dimming, or a detachable remote that can give you manual control of the lights. A smart switch will work with a regular light bulb which allows you the flexibility to use any bulb you want at that point.
Even better is the switch can control a series of lights like with recessed lighting. In that scenario, purchasing one single switch would be less expensive than buying and controlling multiple smart bulbs.
Top 4 Smart Lighting System Options
Phillips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19
Phillips Hue is one of the original and well-known name in smart lighting. Phillips has been a household name in light bulbs since 1891. This is no ordinary light bulb, though.
Control system: Hue is controlled using the Phillips Hue Bluetooth app and the Phillips Hue Bridge, allowing integration with your smart home network and your smartphone. The system can be voice-controlled through Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, HomeKit, and Microsoft Cortana.
Features: This Smart system allows you to set timers and schedules for lights to come on and turn off automatically, integrate with motion sensors and wireless switches. Lights can sync to music, movies, and video games.
Color: There are a variety of White starter kits or Color kits to choose from. The color option has over 16 million colors it can produce in various hues from bright to dim. Both the white and color lighting kits offer ambient variants. Color temperatures range from 2000 to 6500 Kelvin.
Use And Set-Up: The app is easy to use and installation and set up is a breeze.
Smart Home Platforms: Hue supports a wide variety of smart-home platforms, including Amazon Alexa, Apple Homekit, Siri, and Google Assistant.
Specifications: The system produces a lumen output of 806, 10 Watts, and offers a 25,000-hour lifespan.
Pricing: The system prices range between $185-$200.
Our Take: The Phillips Hue Color Ambience is the Cadillac of Smart lighting systems. It is a more expensive systems, but all the bells and whistles are well worth it.
Lifx Smart Starter Bundle
The oddly shaped Lifx smart light bulb is an innovative smart lighting addition launched in 2014 by Lifi Labs. This is an intuitive bulb that is Wi-Fi powered.
Control system: Lifx does not require a hub and can be set up manually over Wi-Fi using the Lifx app or through Apple Homekit. Voice control is available through Alexa, Google Assistant, Samsung Smart Things, and Microsoft Cortana.
Features: The bulb design directs light up, not out. Color tunable includes an infrared nightlight, dimming, fade, and schedule. Lifx offers eight specialty modes that can add music, animation, etc. to the light. The “Day to Dusk” feature automates lights to turn on to cool light in the morning and dim to warm light in the evening.
Color: The Lifx app offers several pre-built themes, and a dialable color wheel makes it easy to choose between thousands of color hues and a dimming slider. Color temperature range from 2500K to 9000L
Use And Set-Up: The Lifx app is one of the best on the market, making this system an easy set up on Wi-Fi.
Specifications: The system produces a lumen output of 1,100, 11 Watts, and offers a 22,800-hour lifespan.
Warranty: 2-year limited warranty on hardware
Pricing: The system price ranges between $250 to 330
Our Take: Lifx is the most expensive smart lighting system on the market, but this is one power-packed lighting system that offers an impressive array of tunable and intuitive features.
Sengled Element Color Plus
Sengled Optoelectronics Co., Ltd, a Shanghai-based company with operations worldwide, manufactures the Sengled Element Color Plus. They are the global leader in intelligent illumination.
Control system: The Sengled Element bulbs use Zigbee hub technology to control them via your smartphone. The hub is part of the starter kit. Bulbs can also work with Wink, Samsung, SmartThings, Amazon Echo Plus, and IFTTT. The system can be voice-controlled with Alexa and Google.
Features: Bulbs are dimmable and tunable via a slider within the app. You can easily switch between color and white modes. Lights can be scheduled for day and night, set to come on at pre-set times etc.
Color: The system offers 16 million colors, a vast number of color temperatures from warm 2,000K to cool 6,500K, and tunable white light. You can fine-tune colors to get the hue you desire.
Use And Set-Up: The Zigbee hub connects to your router through wired Ethernet to join the hub to your home network. Setup does take a while but is manageable. Once the hub is set up, the bulbs will automatically work as they are preconfigured to the hub.
Specifications: The system produces a lumen output of 800, 8.6W, and a 25,000-hour lifespan.
Warranty: 3-year limited warranty.
Pricing: The system price ranges between $80 and $90.
Our Take: The Sengled Element Color Plus system is app-controlled and able to work with a variety of hubs. Wide color temperature range. A decent mid-priced option.
C by GE Reach
Powerhouse GE is the pioneer in lighting. They launched their proprietary Bluetooth–to-Wi-Fi bridge “C-Reach”, which pairs with your smartphone, bypassing the need for a hub.
Control system: The C by GE Reach is powered by GE’s “C Reach” Wi-Fi to Bluetooth bridge, that pairs with your smartphone. Voice activation is available through Alexa and Google Assistant.
Features: Google’s Home app allows the user to set specific times that the bulb will switch color temperatures modes and lighting schedules. It is dimmable but does not work with dimmer switches. Lighting can be controlled remotely via Internet access.
Color: The C by GE Reach is not color-tunable, but the C-Sleep bulb offers three different color temperature settings: cold light, neutral, and warm light. The C by GE Reach is one of the brightest bulbs on the market.
Use And Set Up: You’ll need to create an account and download the C by GE app and connect the C-Reach bridge to your Wi-Fi network. Voice control requires a separate set up. Lastly, bulbs need to be linked to the bridge. Directions are pretty straightforward and set up can be completed within 10 minutes,
Specifications: The bulb produces a lumen output of 800-850,
Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
Pricing: The system price ranges between $65 and 75.
Our Take: The C by GE Reach set up is pretty straightforward, and the system offers unmatchable brightness. However, the systems lack tunable and scheduling features that most other systems provide. For this price, there are better options available.
There are a wide variety of smart lighting options from simple switches and plugs to full smart lighting systems on the market. Once you decide whether you want a hub or hub-less powered system, you can choose from the best smart lighting systems in that category. Whatever system you choose, you’ll enjoy the brightness and professional style features that your lighting can bring to your home.
Smart lighting is the future and we are just in the beginning stages when it comes to the technology and number of smart lighting products. At some point in the future, virtually every lighting device and light bulb will be controlled with a wireless device and they will one day be much cheaper too. If we go back almost a decade, an LED recessed light fixture cost almost $100 and now you can purchase one for a fraction of that cost.
This is a perfect time to begin getting comfortable using smart lighting technology. You can start slow by purchasing just a smart LED light bulb or a smart plug. The investment is minimal and starting the process will open your mind to the possibilities within your own home.
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