What is Smart Lighting?
- 1 What is Smart Lighting?
- 2 How Smart Lighting Works
- 3 Smart Bulb Comparison Chart
- 4 Functions & Features
- 5 Smart Lighting Buyers Guide
- 6 Key Takeaway Points
Smart lighting an intricately connected system of bulbs that serve you effortlessly, efficiently and effectively. Just screw in a light bulb, connect to your smart home system and your there. It lets your home work for you; whether your goal is to save money, help the environment or set the mood for date night – you control the atmosphere. An easy to way to smarten your home instantly, this is a great place to start. Explore this smart lighting buyers guide to provide you with the knowledge to make the correct purchasing decision.
How Smart Lighting Works
A smart lighting system, like all smart home systems, is comprised of a user interface, a connection and an output device. The user of a smart lighting system uses software to command actions communicated via a connection to action a change of a light.
Smart phone apps are typically the control panel for smart lighting products. When you purchase a smart bulb kit you are also provided with an easy to use app which helps you very quickly set your up your smart lighting system.
Certain smart lighting brands also require users to purchase a specific hub which controls their bulbs, light strips or lamps. For example, the Philips Hue Bridge a smart lighting specific hub that is required to operate all Philips Hue products and allow them to be connected to smart home hubs. Although this is a seemingly irritating additional cost, generally smart lighting products with such additional hubs outperform their competitors in quality. Some brands also sell remote controls to ease the smart lighting control process by letting users make lighting changes without having to unlock their smart phone and open up the relevant app. This has been taken a step further with the integration of interactive smart home assistants and smart lighting. This compatibility means voice recognition technologies, namely Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit, allow users to dictate commands that instantly alter their home lighting. The time has come where you never need touch a light switch again!
Once a command is made through the phone app, remote control or smart assistant it is signalled to each relevant smart lighting output device. Depending on which brand and which product you choose this is executed via bluetooth, Wi-Fi or a system called Zigbee. This is often mediated by a smart hub such as the Apple Homekit or Samsung Smart Hub which also links your smart lighting to your smart home system. Having a smart hub is not essential and the best products can be used independently of these. The Philips Hue can be used as long as you have the Philips Hue Bridge, a specific smart hub for their lighting products. Some smart lighting products can even just connect to your phone directly without requiring either a general smart home hub or a smart lighting specific hub. LIFX is brand that connect like this and is a great choice for anyone who wants to skip the extra baggage that comes with a owning a smart hub.
Some brands such as Philips Hue require a specific smart lighting hub to operate their systems. Some require a smart home hub and others do not require any form of smart hub. The connection used in smart lighting is generally bluetooth, Wi-Fi or Zigbee.
This is where the magic happens. Your connected smart bulb, lamp or strip will output the changes that you made on your user interface. As the rest of article will explore, there are a huge range of smart lighting products that offer a fantastic range of functionality depending on your goal and budget. Vibrant colour selections, effortless scheduling, money sparing, entertainment enhancement and atmosphere control are all buzz phrases which reflect what smart lighting is about and what it can achieve.
Smart Bulb Comparison Chart
This is a quick yet detailed overview of the most popular smart bulb brands on the market, comparing the most important features and qualities of each product. Click on the image below and zoom in to see our full Smart Bulb Index 2018:
Functions & Features
Like all smart products, smart lighting systems make life simpler and easier. This new wave of products is forming a new era of home lighting which adds meaningful depth to something so simple. The need to get up and flick a light switch is a thing of the past. Schedule timing helps consumers keep on top of their energy output and spare their wallets every month. Introduce motion sensors into the equation and you never have to have an unused room wasting light ever again. Controllable multicolored lights provide a new level of control that consumers have over their home. A whopping sixteen million potential color shades lets you set the tone for any event or situation you host. Whether it be a sophisticated dinner, a pumping house party or a classic film, smart lighting is new tool that adds an extra layer to your priceless and memorable home experiences. Entertainment enhancement is taken a step further with products like Philips Hue White and Colour Ambience, which syncs lights to your music, video and gaming experiences.
IFTTT (If This Then That) Compatibility
IFTTT is a web based service which make smart homes truly smart. Smart lighting products that are compatible with accessories such as motion sensors increase their potential and the effortlessness of their use. IFTTT allows individuals to to make conditional statements, called applets, which lead to actions in smart home devices. This is effectively an algorithm for your smart devices. The possible uses and combinations of devices are absolutely endless and gives its users some creative room to make innovative applets.
In the context of smart lighting there are some very cool potential applications of IFTTT. This could be making your smart lights flash three times in every smart bulb to signal when the family dinner is cooked or a gradual reduction in light in your child’s rooms at night until turned off when it’s their bedtime.
- SMART LIGHTING
- Control from everywhere
- Smooth Dimming
- Powerful LED
- Voice Control
- IFTTT Compatible
- Color Variation
- Schedule Timers
- Easy Startup
- Reduce Energy Costs
- Environmentally Friendly
- Enhance Entertainment
Smart Lighting Buyers Guide
The process of setting up smart lighting is very simple. When it comes to considering what brand to go for and which product to get you need to be set in your mind about what you want to achieve from your smart lighting experience. This buyers guide will look at specific factors relevant to making a purchase decision and inform you what to look out for in products. These are the bulb specifications, products connection method, compatibility and integration with other technology, white temperature & color function, , various lighting specifications, starter kits, accessories and types of smart lighting.
All of these considerations ultimately link to your goal with smart lighting. Be clear what features you want, what budget you have and which of these you are willing to compromise if forced to. Near the top of this article is the full all in one comparison chart for top smart light bulb brands. Below is a condensed version with key products and the most important specifications. These have taken the most popular bulb shape, A19, for comparison. Remember, there are other bulb forms that are also available to suit your needs, e.g GU10 and BR30.
All of these considerations ultimately link to your goal with smart lighting. Be clear what features you want, what budget you have and which of these you are willing to compromise if forced to.
There are generic bulb specifications that also need to be considered with smart bulbs. The first is the form or shape of the bulb. If you ask yourself to imagine a light bulb, the shape you would come up with would mot likely be the A19, the classic “bulbous” and round bulb. This would be what most individuals are after when it comes to fitting out their home with either regular or smart light bulbs. This is the most commonly sold version of smart bulbs, however, there are a few other types available. Other available forms (just to name a few) include BR30 which is a flood light styled bulb, GU10 which is directional spotlight lighting and E12 which is a candle light bulb for chandeliers. You also need to think about fitting of the smart bulb you are purchasing. This is the metal screw on the base which fits your bulb in place and connects it to the electricity mains.
Lumens are a unit that measure the quantity of visible light that is emitted by a bulb. In traditional bulbs, watts are typically considered by buyers when gauging brightness, but in LED lights we tend to use lumens. The use of watts to measure light output is a blunt approach as the unit is actually a measure of power usage. In newer LED lights, which smart bulbs are, the energy efficiency of bulbs is far far higher than older halogen bulbs. A conventional 60 watt bulb emits the same amount of light as about the same as a 11.5 watt LED. Therefore you will typically see with smart bulbs that lumens and Wattage correlated quite closely with each other. When it comes to purchasing a smart bulb, you should be clear on what your goal is and where brightness fits into the picture. The reality is that most standard smart light bulbs are suitable for most needs as they can reach the equivalent of a halogen bulbs 40 watts to 60 watts in brightness terms, but their dimming options let you obtain any brightness down to zero.
Finally is considering the life expectancy and warranty of the smart bulb. Warranties are typically 2 years and most brands believe there smart bulbs will last for at least three. Life expectancy is not something to be too concerned with as the warranty will keep you covered. Additionally, smart home products is a booming industry so it is quite likely it will keep evolving and churning out better and better products which you may want to replace the current generation of products. In this case I believe the life expectancy of smart bulbs should be considered secondary to the other specifications of the product as they are similar between brands and all the other factors and features define the smart lighting experience rather than just state how long a product will last.
As touched upon earlier in this article, there are multiple ways in which different types and brands of smart light connect with the user interface and each other. Connection may require a hub and Wi-Fi, just Wi-Fi, or work with included Bluetooth or Zigbee compatibility. What option you choose needs to be tailored for individual circumstances such as your budget, the size of the area you wish to install smart lighting and what functions you want. The best smart lighting typically uses some sort of smart hub device, for example our favourite the Philips Hue requires its own Philips Hue Bridge to operate the smart lighting system. This lighting specific smart hub is an additional cost, although not excessive and who can complain when is part of the best brands package. If you’re going to build a smart home then buying a general smart hub is highly recommended. If you want to cover a large area with your smart lighting then products that incorporate Zigbee and its mesh network is the way to go. Bluetooth won’t cut it and Wi-Fi is relatively limited although a Wi-Fi booster can increase your signal at additional costs. Zigbee is used by many of top brands such as Philips, Ikea and Eufy.
If you are operating in a small area, perhaps one room, but fancy spending less a little as possible on your smart lighting then a Bluetooth smart light is a cheap option. This is generally not recommended due to the range of functions generally being limited compared to Wi-Fi and Zigbee smart lights. The good news is that some brands use a range of connection methods as show in the table in the next section.
Compatibility and Integration with Other Technology
Smart lighting products and brands vary quite significantly in their compatibility and integration with other smart home technologies such as smart assistants and smart hubs. It is a goal for companies to make their compatibility as universal as possible, but this can take time and usually will require a new product release. Most products should become more widely integrated with other smart products and systems as time progresses.
Voice recognition software known as smart assistants are a fast growing technological trend which is likely to stick. The chances are that you have heard of Amazons Alexa and other pieces of software which can action commands made by user to either play a song or find out the answer to a question. Such software is now being integrated with smart home technologies, including smart lighting products. Now it is possible to tell Alexa to turn your smart bulbs on in certain rooms, colors, brightness and more. Say goodbye to having to move to flick a switch and even picking up a remote. If your very lazy then you will nicely benefit from not even having to get out your smart phone to open up your smart lighting app! From a buyers perspective you need to consider if you already have a smart hub and assistant or if you would like these benefits. Of course, if you have one then you should buy a smart lighting kit that is compatibly with it should you want to use the feature. Alexa is the most widely compatible voice AI kit with Apples HomeKit and Googles Home also being widely used. Microsoft Cortana currently seems to be slightly less used, however, they are working hard to increase the smart assistants market presence.
Generally, the best smart lighting brands have the most integration and compatibility, the winner again here is the Philips Hue. A simplified round up of a few brands integration is below (as of March 2018). Look on our review pages to discover more about an individual brands compatibility. It should be noted that these are subject to change and most companies will likely aim to increase there compatibility and integration with other products as it boost their appeal to customers.
Brand Compatibility & Connectivity Table
Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit
Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee
Amazon Alexa, Google Home Apple Homekit
Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Nest, Google Home,
The scale of integration is an important feature when it comes to smart lighting. Philips Hue carries a relatively high price tag but it undoubtedly comes with the extra perks such as this integration. If you want to get stuck into making IFTTT applets then you will want to go with Philips as it is one of the few compatible with IFTTT. This is also most likely to partially be attributed to the role of the Philips Hue Bridge in the Hue lighting kit. As stated a few times before there is an evident correlation with an additional hub and smart lighting quality. Of course, to what degree this is this is necessary is completely dependent on your goals with smart lighting. If you want a fully integrated system across your house with deep functionality and connect it to IFTTT then a comprehensive amount of kit is required. If you wanted just the one smart light then LIFX is a good brand choice as all is required is the bulb to operate the smart phone app. LIFX comes at higher price per unit so would be unwise if you are planning to expand your smart lighting system.
White Temperatures & Colors
Standard smart white LED bulbs play the role of a standard light bulb. They have an on and off feature with some having a dimmable option. If your goal is just to use smart lighting to cut down on energy costs and help the environment then this is as far as you need to go. White bulbs are cheaper and the scheduling of lights or use of motion sensors can limit your energy use. Many white smart bulbs are tunable, meaning they can display a range of white temperatures, typically between 2000 kelvin and 9000 kelvin. Kelvin is a unit to measure the temperate of white; a lower kelvin of 2000 is known as a warmer white (yellow tint) and a higher kelvin of 9000 is known as a colder white (blue tint). A kelvin of 6000-7000 is described as a cool white light, which is around the typical top of the range displayed by a smart bulb. A common application of differing white temperatures is to set a cold white in the morning to help you wake up quicker as it mimics natural daylight and a warm white in the evening as it helps relax and wind down the mind.
The rise in the popularity of smart bulbs has been accompanied with coloured lighting in homes. This is due to the quality of colour lighting improving and the new ability to control the colour of the light, with many products offering 16 million colors. This is a more gimmicky and fun component to smart lighting in contrast with the energy saving benefits. Whether it is background lighting for a horror film or for your child’s birthday party – you have a massive range of colors to play with and far more control over the atmosphere in your home. The Hue White and Colour Ambience bulb takes this to another level as it syncs with your music and video entertainment systems to flash and color itself accordingly. Very cool if you ask me. To find out more about the top brands of smart bulbs check out our Best Smart Light Bulbs 2018 article.
Individual Bulbs and Starter Kits
Depending on what you want to spend and achieve with your smart lighting, you need to consider whether you want to purchase a starter kit which comes with a few bulbs that comes with any necessary additional kit. If you want to kit out a room with smart lighting then this is recommended as it ends up being far cheaper. If You just want to purchase one smart light bulb then you should use a brand that doesn’t require a hub or any bit of extra kit that you would have to purchase separately. LIFX is a good brand that connects smartphone app directly to bulb using W-Fi without any kind of hub being required. Anyone who wants to turn to Philips Hue for their smart lighting should start out with the starter kit as it comes with the Philips Hue Bridge.
The top brands of smart lighting are equipped with a wide range of functionalities which may be enough for some people. Those who want to get the most functionality from their smart lighting should consider accessories that can be purchased with their brand of choice as some might not have a good range of accessories. Examples of great accessories include motion sensors, wireless remotes, light strip extensions and a remote control dimmer.
Summary: Considerations to Make
- Your budget
- Your goal
- Color vs white light
- How many lights
- Portable vs fixed
- Direct vs ambience
- Entertainment syncing
Key Takeaway Points
Smart lighting very smoothly demonstrates what the smart home is all about; having fun, improving products and saving money. When it comes to making a purchasing decision you need to establish what you want to get out of it – do you want to just save money or would you like the entertainment factor. Then think about where in the price range you would like to go. Functionality unsurprisingly goes hand in hand with the price of the product. If you are looking for the full experience and willing to pay for it then the Philips Hue range of white and colour bulbs is the way to go. If you want to find out more about their products check our Philips Hue Best Products article. If you want just the one bulb for a narrow task then LIFX is a good choice as no smart hub is required. Before purchasing you must also check how if product would fit in to your other smart home devices or anything you might buy in the future as compatibility is not even across all goods in the smart home market. Smart lighting is a great and simple way to get your smart home going.