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Nearly every fledgling smart home enthusiast soon faces a nearly universal dilemma: to Hue or not to Hue? The question isn’t, of course, whether Philips Hue makes great smart lights — a quick search for “top smart home lighting brand” will return dozens of results ranking Philips Hue among the very best. However, once you begin shopping for Philips Hue products, you’ll soon discover they also tend to rank near the top of another category: Price. Is Philips Hue really worth it?
Unfortunately, if you’ve never made the mistake of investing in bargain-bin brand smart light bulbs, you may not realize how hideous bad lighting can be. Philips Hue commands a premium for its smart lights for a good reason: Hue devices consistently produce strikingly high-quality light across a spectrum of genuinely pleasing colors, while cheaper alternatives often do not.
Thankfully, however, you don’t have to sacrifice smart lighting quality just to save on cost. You can put together a downright dazzling Philips Hue lighting system using just regular Philips Hue light bulbs. They’re still not cheap, but if you’re careful about which bulbs you put where (and only splurge on a few of the more expensive options to help make your lighting array pop), you can put together an amazing smart light display for a lot less than you may think.
First, we’ll help you select the most affordable Philips Hue lighting products, then we’ll walk you through the basics of setting up a gorgeous but cost-conscious Philips Hue smart lighting display. Finally, we’ll delve into some ingenious setup ideas using just basic Hue bulbs that’ll both dazzle your guests and delight everyone who enters your home.
With so many exotic Philips Hue options available, it can be easy to get carried away. After all, who wouldn’t want a Hue Gradient Light Strip ($250) mirroring the colors from your TV across the entire wall behind it? Or the nearly 5-ft tall Philips Hue Signe Floor Lamp ($550) beaming a subtle light show into any corner of your home? And who wouldn’t drool over the Icorona Friends of Hue LED Pendant Smart Light ($978).
Philips Hue Gradient LightStrip 65" ($249.99; amazon.com)
Then of course there’s Hue’s line of outdoor lighting, which the company has aggressively expanded over the last few years — devices like the Cala Pathway ($30) light, Lilly Spot Light ($340 for three) or Impress Wall Light $160). Although daydreaming about outfitting your smart home with these and other super-high-end Hue devices might be fun, the costs could (and probably would) spiral out of control, and fast.
Instead, we’re going to show you how to achieve similar lighting effects (or at least similarly impressive displays) using Philips Hue light bulbs far less expensive than these.
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on the most expensive Philips Hue gadgets to create a spectacular lighting scheme in your home. These three styles of rather ordinary-looking Philips Hue bulbs are all you really need:
Hue also offers several other styles of bulbs — notably, several “Edison-style” bulbs in a variety of shapes and sizes, as well as both indoor light strips and outdoor rope lighting options. The Edison bulbs are great — they’re dimmable and integrate with Hue’s other lights using the mobile app — but they’re relatively niche and a little pricey for what little they do. The strip lights are gorgeous but expensive and cumbersome to install. If you have an idea (and the budget) for either, go for it, but we’ll just mention them here.
All three basic Philips Hue bulbs come in three distinct color styles. Of course, the wider the spectrum of light each can produce, the more the bulb costs. Here are the three options:
To make it a little easier on you, we’ve compiled links to all the specific bulbs referenced in this guide. You’ll need at least one starter kit that includes a Philips Hue bridge — you can buy it separately, but it’s way more expensive that way. Also, you technically don’t need a bridge if you buy only the Bluetooth versions of these bulbs, but you’re sacrificing faster response times and more reliable control for the benefit of simply not having to connect a small, unobtrusive device to your router. We recommend using the bridge for better performance from your smart light system.
Here are links to the best deals we could find on the Philips Hue smart light bulbs used in this guide, including what we think are the best starter kits offering the most value.
Leveling up your home lighting to smart lights is essentially a two-step process. First, before you consider adding any lamps or light fixtures to the mix (that’s step two), start by outfitting your existing lighting with the appropriate Philips Hue bulb relative to the light’s purpose. How do you determine which bulb belongs in which lamp or light? Easy — you’re going to divvy your lights up into three categories:
It might be easier to approach these in reverse order: Start by identifying the perfect areas to throw some spot color on the wall and ceiling, then figure out which lights can help illuminate the darker areas of your home during the day, then relegate the cheapest, warm-white-only bulbs to everything else.
Pro Tip: White for nighttime-only, White Ambiance for daytime, White and Color Ambiance for pop color.
For the locations of your color bulbs, pedestal lights with small or transparent lampshades that are located near the center of a wide, light-colored wall are ideal. Colored light is naturally less bright than white light, so you’ll want to impede as little of it as possible. Pedestal lights with an attached desk lamp are the perfect place to put a color bulb — install one in the desk lamp socket, then point it either at a wall or corner for maximum effect.
For the lamps you’ll designate daytime lights, you may not even realize it, but there are probably at least a few places in your house where you routinely pop the lights on during the day — if nothing else, you’ve probably got a bathroom or two that feels absolutely cavernous without electric light, even at high noon.
Pro Tip: If you’re having trouble figuring it out, grab something with printed text on it — not a backlit phone or tablet, but a book or a magazine or even a frozen pizza box with instructions on the side. Now go through every room of your house and sit in every chair, stand in every area where people sometimes stand, go through the typical motions of what you or others do in that room, and try and read the printed text in all of those places. If you’re having trouble making out the letters or words, turn on a light (or move one there if there isn’t one) and see if that helps. Does it? Great — that’s where your White Ambiance lights will go.
Once you’ve got that sorted out, you’re just one (totally optional) step away from smart lighting magnificence.
Honestly, you could probably stop right here and be thrilled with the results. If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve already set up a vastly better smart lighting array than all but the most diehard smart home enthusiasts. But if you’d like to take your smart lighting game all the way to pro level, all it should take now are a few little tweaks.
The simplest and easiest is to look around and figure out where another light or two would make the room really pop. Since you’ll be buying a light or lamp with a smart bulb in mind, you can look for one with an unobtrusive lampshade, or none at all. For example, if Zen-style décor fits into your design scheme, a bamboo lamp with paper shades is a fantastic showcase for a White and Color Ambiance bulb. Inexpensive articulating desk lamps are great for angling a bulb wherever you want to throw a splash of light or color — they work especially well atop cabinets or bookshelves, behind furniture and on stairwells.
To go all-out, an inexpensive multi-headed floor lamp is the perfect starting point for creating a light and color explosion. (If you’d rather not fill each socket with an expensive color bulb, you can alternate with white bulbs, then simply turn off the white ones when putting together more dramatic color schemes.)
Remember those super high-end fixtures from earlier? You can make your own with inexpensive non-smart fixtures, like this $7 pendant light that comes in a variety of colors or these plug-in outdoor spotlights, two for $25. You don’t have to limit yourself to a budget or, for that matter, Philips Hue’s designs — start with anything from this $16 wall fixture to this inexplicably $315 one. Just add a Philips Hue bulb and voila, you’ve got a smart light you can install wherever you’d like.
With a bit of creativity and ingenuity, you can transform any lamp, light or light fixture or a combination thereof into a bedazzling smart light or smart light array. And once you master that, there’s literally no limit to the smart lighting possibilities you can create.
Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.
Dale Smith is a freelance technology journalist and smart home enthusiast, with reviews appearing in CNET, MakeUseOf, TheStreet and more.