Building a Smart Home Series Part 4: How Do We Illuminate the Scene [#BaSH]

By - February 2015

Last time we talked about locks for the Smart Home and I use Kevo’s Bluetooth lock. Now let’s talk about a primary item people think about when it comes to the smart home. Lighting is one how those top three products everyone thinks of when it comes to smart home features, and rightly so. Who doesn’t like the idea of being able to control the lights in your home without walking over and having to flick a switch, or pull a chain. Also who hasn’t in a rush ran out of the house and maybe forgot to turn the lights off. How about making people think you are home when you’re not to decrease your risk of being a target when you go on vacation or a business trip? Being able to control your lights remotely can help you save electricity, peace of mind, and it’s totally convenient.

PhilipsHueStarter
Now I don’t know about you but when I think about smart home lighting, the first company that comes to mind is the Phillips Hue system. I think they are the front-runners for lighting. They allow you to control your lights via an app, and actually there are a few apps based around the Philips Hue system. You can put them on a schedule, and even link them up with IFTTT.com to do a variety of things. Plus they market the ability to make your light bulbs practically any color you can think of which will turn your home into a wonderful array of colors based on your mood and needs. Truly the Hue system is where you want to go right? This was my thinking until one major reason came into play…Cost! The Philips Hue starter kits cost $199.99 which contain 3 bulbs and a gateway to connect to your home network. The starter cost is decent to me. However if you’re like me and you have a few bulbs in the house that you need to replace, things start to add up really quick. A single bulb with the Hue system is about $60. Quickly you can see if you want to replace the bulbs in your living room, kitchen, dining room, bedrooms, etc how much you might end up spending to carry this out. So as much as I like the idea of Philips Hue, the cost keeps me away. Realistically speaking how often will you be playing with the color controls. I think maybe a few bulbs from the Hue system might be good in a few areas, but not your entire house.

SAMSUNG CSC Since the cost of the Hue system was so much, this sent me looking for alternatives. My main need was a soft white bulb that produced the same look I had now, with the ability to control them via app on phone or device. Factors I looked at was cost, features, look/shape of the bulb, and who did they work with. Who they work with was important as you’ll see in a future posts in the series, so I had to weigh that on the other factors as well. As I looked into this, I actually came across a company while at CES 2015. The company’s name was TCP and they had a smart bulb called Connected by TCP Smart LED bulbs. I had them send over their starter kit and I did a little digging into them. The Connected by TCP system starts off at a cheaper price. Their starter kit come with 2 bulbs and a gateway to connect to your home network. Pricing for the kit cost around $87-$89 at Home Depot. I was also able to find their single bulbs coming in at a price of $19.97. At this price I would be able to get bulbs to cover my home without spending through the roof to do it. Because of this I moved ahead with Connected by TCP.

SAMSUNG CSC Setup of this system was fairly simple. First I connected the gateway to my home network and then I needed to replace the bulbs. Upon power on of the bulbs after a few seconds, they begin to flicker on and off. One by one each bulb gets detected by the gateway. Once all your bulbs are detected you can see them in the app ( app available for iOS and Android). As of this writing I have Connected by TCP bulbs in my living room, kitchen, daughter’s room, dining rooms, and my master bedroom. The app lets you name the light bulbs so you know which one is which, and you can group them into rooms assigning that room a name, and color. Once this is out-of-the-way you can turn either a single bulb on/off or the entire room. You can also dim a single bulb or the entire room at once. You can also create scenes which can be manually triggered or on a schedule. You can control what happens with the lights for a room or whole house based upon time of day or mood when you manually trigger a button, this is called Smart Control. The TCP apps lets you control the lights both locally at home or remotely when away. For remote control you’ll need to enter in an email address and password for this connection but this is done right in the app as well.

SAMSUNG CSC I’ve spent a while now with the Connected by TCP lights and for the most part I’m generally content with them. Are they the perfect choice? I wouldn’t say perfect, but the choice for some will be just right. Since having the TCP lights, I’ve run into some issues and still working through them. For example, the TCP lights use a mesh network to talk to each other. This is supposed to help as you replace bulbs that may be further away from the gateway. Using a mesh network, each light bulb can talk to each other creating a path from gateway to the furthest bulb in the group. For the most part this has worked, but I still have some bulbs I can’t get working in my master bedroom which is the furthest from the gateway (two bulbs are recently purchased, but the others work here and there, sometimes losing connection). I also can’t seem to get the bulbs I put in my daughter’s room which is the opposite wall from the gateway to pick up either (these were also recently purchased bulbs). I had this issue before but I was able to get another set I had put in my master bedroom to finally detect and work. They don’t work all the time, which can be frustrating as you may just want them to work. Depending on how many bulbs you need and it’s location from the gateway you may or may not have issues.

Since my purchase of Connected by TCP light bulbs there has been another new contender into the mix. There are smart light bulbs by a company called Cree. These I’ve seen (only online) coming in at $14.97. While much cheaper than the TCP lights, I have yet to score any as they seem to be sold out when I try to pick up some. But these are now on my radar as they have the same features of the TCP bulbs, come in cheaper, and thanks to a recent meet up I’ve learned is high on the priority list for a company called SmartThings. (that is just a sneak peek there, as I will talk about them in a future post). Right now the bulk of my bulbs are by Connected by TCP and they are working pretty well. In time however I do see myself sprinkling in bulbs from Cree because of the cheaper cost, and possibly getting a couple of bulbs from Philips Hue as they may fit in a a few areas I want to do some nice color lighting with.

I hope this has been helpful, and you get a sense of light choices out there (there are more, I just focused on the ones I thought gave the most bang for the buck), how setup was, and how it has worked out for me. Now how about you? What lighting choices have you made, who did you decide to go with and why. I’m curious and if you have any suggestions let me know, this is an ongoing evolving process after all!

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Jason Anderson is the Publisher & Editor At Large of G Style Magazine. A known gadget head and lover of all things digital. Some of his favorite movies include Hackers, The Net, The Matrix (1, 2, & 3), and Transformers.....see a trend here lol.