Unlike in the US where most new homes a prewired and equipped with lights, heating etc. ready to be controlled remotely this is, unfortunately, not the case in most of Europe. Heck, construction of my apartment was completed on the 1st of April last year (no joke) and the park it resides in is supposed to be of a fairly high standing, yet there is not a shred of equipment that can be automated in it. So anyone from the US will probably fail to see why I am a wee bit exited about automated lights since it is probably old business for them. To me it is a new experience which I found quite fun to play with and in addition I am a gadget freak after all.
I already have my home cinema well “wired up” so that it can be controlled from my Harmony Elite universal remote, phone or tablet(s) so I decided to get myself some smart lights. The main provider, at least in Europe, is Philips with their Philips Hue lineup so I decided to go for that brand.
At first I only wanted to automatically control my lights. For example turn on all or a set of lights in a room when I came home or when I woke up but I pretty soon found out that there are just so many fun things to do with home automation once you get started.
You can of course use any of the multitude of apps on your phone or tablet as a simple remote to turn on and off lights manually. I use hueDynamics on my Windows phone and Windows tablets. It is a stable and well done app. It’s main drawback is that you can only use the predefined scenes on it. You cannot create your own personal settings. There are plenty of usable scenes so it is not that big a deal. I also use a dirt cheap 7 inch Android tablet as a glorified remote with the Hue app from Philips and the Harmony app from Logitech since some apps do not come for Windows 10. A fact that I find really crappy, at least from large companies. Both can control your lights in different ways. You can also add motion sensors to you setup.
The Philips Hue app can control your lights one room at the time or individually. You can save your settings in scenes for later reuse. You can set the intensity and color of each light but that is about it. If you want animations and such like fancy stuff you have to find another app. You can however set a certain scene to start at a predefined time. For instance, I have set the lights in my bedroom to turn on slowly over a 5 minute period at the same time as my alarm goes off.
Depending on you apps capabilities you can set lights to go off on certain events like start when the sun rises (the hub keeps track of sunrise in your local time zone) or flash when you get new email or SMS etc. There are a huge number of possibilities.
That brings me to my Harmony Elite universal remote. It can of course turn on and off the lights manually using an activity on the remote but what is more interesting is that you can tie Hue settings to any activity. That is, you can automatically dim your lights when you start a movie watching activity and bring them back up to normal strength when you finished. Just for fun I also programmed my ambiance light beside the TV set to change color depending on what activity I was starting.
For instance a blue tone when watching Blu-ray, a orange one for Orange TV, red one for Netflix etc… Normally you do not want to turn on the lights during daytime (unless you have a dedicated home cinema without exterior daylight coming in of course) so you can program the Hue related parts of the activity to only happen after sunset.
By the way, the photos are not showing the actual effect very well. The light is much more uniform and soft in reality, it is not so somber in the rest of the room and it is certainly without that horrible bright blooms where the camera sensor got saturated.
All in all smart lights are quite fun, at least I think so, as well as practical. No more running around and turning on or off all the lights. You can turn them off automatically when the sun comes up, at a certain time or when you are not at home in order to save energy. The bulbs themselves are somewhat expensive, especially if you go for the ones that can do colors, but they are LED powered so theoretically the should last a very long time, certainly longer than normal lightbulbs for sure.