Philips Hue is the granddaddy of the smart lighting gang. Long before Lifx, Ikea, WeMo and the likes arrived on the scene, the Dutch electronics giant was offering up an array of connected lightbulbs that could be controlled from an app on your smartphone – the first Hue bulb was switched on back in October 2012.
But while those rivals are now good-quality, easy-to-use, genuine alternatives, Hue remains the undisputed heavyweight king in an ever-expanding division. For many people, Philips Hue will be the first name that they come across when equipping their smart homes – especially now that Amazon is offering up a smart bulb with its latest Echo.
However, a happy house of Hue isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to achieve. Sure, it’s as simple as screwing in a lightbulb to get started but there is now a such a huge range of Philips Hue bulbs to choose from, as well as a plethora of accessories and extras, with a seemingly never-ending array of features and specifications, that it can be a bit daunting to get started. And we’ve not even mentioned ecosystem syncing with the likes of Works with Nest, Alexa, HomeKit and Google Home.
Luckily you don’t have to do the difficult Philips Hue research as we’ve done it for you. Read on for our Philips Hue missing manual – your essential guide to getting up and running and getting the most out of your smart lighting system.
Philips Hue: Getting started
We won’t get too bogged down in tech here but, essentially, a Philips Hue setup (as with most other smart lighting systems) uses Wi-Fi and Zigbee wireless signals to connect however many smart lighting devices you want (well, up to 50) within your own system, which you control using an app, or a physical remote – but more on that later.
What you need to know is that you can connect a load of smart lights (into the regular bulb sockets in your house, or just simply plugged in) and you’ll be able to control their brightness, their colours, the time they come on, the way they react to other smart tech in your house, and a whole host more within a very simple app. In fact, thanks to the likes of Amazon Alexa and Google Home, you may find you hardly use the app at all – and instead your house’s lighting will be controlled just with your voice.
Philips Hue: Do you need a Bridge?
A Philips Hue system consists of the Hue Bridge and at least one Hue bulb. Technically, you don’t actually need a Philips Hue Bridge – you can just use a Hue Dimmer switch – but you’ll be limited to just a simple dimming light situation, for up to 10 bulbs, and that’s hardly embracing the smart home revolution, is it? The Bridge gives you the full-fat Philips Hue experience and if you’re not all-in for that then there’s not really any point reading on.
Good, you're still with us – so you’ll want to know more about that Bridge. Think of it as the brain of the Hue operation. It’s a little white square shaped device that plugs into your router via Ethernet, takes instructions from the Hue app over Wi-Fi and pings those instructions out to your Hue lighting products using Zigbee signals.
The current Bridge is the second-generation one (it added Apple HomeKit to the mix) and is the one you’ll find in the box in whichever one of the Philips Hue Starter Kits you choose to buy. You can buy the Bridge $59.99 separately and add individual bulbs, but Starter Kits are definitely the easiest and most cost-efficient way to, er, get started.
Philips Hue: Starter Kits
Starter Kits offer a mix of the Bridge and different types of bulbs – there are 11 different options available in the UK, six in the US. Prices start from $69.99 for a Kit that comes boxed with the Bridge and two warm-white lightbulbs. At the other end of the spectrum (spectrum, get it?) you’ll get a Bridge, a Dimmer switch and three multi-coloured lights for $199.99.
Whatever you opt for, it’s a simple case of plugging in the Bridge, connecting it to your router using Ethernet, and adding the bulbs you got from the Light setup section of the app. You’ll have to press the button in the middle of the Bridge every so often – such as when you want to sync up with Alexa – but that’s about as much hassle as there is. Just leave your regular old light switches turned on and turn yourself over to a new way of controlling your house’s lights.
Philips Hue: Amazon Echo pack
Remember in that section above where we said you have to have a Philips Hue Bridge involved in your setup? That’s not strictly true any more. Amazon has changed the goalposts. The Amazon Echo Plus has a built-in smart home hub and is compatible with 100 smart home devices, including Hue smart lightbulbs. Heck, you’ll even get a Hue bulb in the box that ships with the Echo Plus.
However – there’s a small disclaimer here. While the Echo Plus does indeed offer more than the basic Dimmer switch control, it’s still not the full Hue bells and whistles. You’ll need a Bridge “to unlock the full Philips Hue experience” – Philips’ words, not ours. Without a Bridge you’ll be missing out on key features such as lights auto on/off when you enter or leave your home, smart switches and sensor controls, wake up and sleep routines, custom scenes, syncing your lights with music, video and gaming, and access to third-party apps.
Philips Hue: What to buy and where to buy them
There is an absolute plethora of Philips Hue kit currently on sale – more than 80 different packs and devices at the last count. In the US, Philips has a dedicated Hue Store where you can buy the latest lights and accessories, in the UK your best bet is Philip’s official storefront on Amazon.
Here’s a rundown of what to look out when shopping for the best new Hue lights and devices…
Philips Hue lightbulbs
The first thing you need to decide is where you want your Philips Hue lightbulbs to go and then check the light fittings for those places. Hue bulbs are like regular lightbulbs – they will screw into pretty much any light fitting or lamp in your house.
The good news is Hue has you covered, and there’s a plethora of sizes and shapes for screwing your bulb in. In the US you can pick up E26, E12, BR30 and PAR16 screw-in bulbs and GU10 bulbs for your spotlights. In the UK, the names are slightly different but the options are pretty much on par. It’s E27 and E14 for your light sockets with screw sockets, GU10s for your spotlights and also the old-style B22 Bayonets as well, if that’s what you need.
The next thing you need to consider is bulb shape. There are regular round lightbulbs, candle shaped bulbs, flat bulbs for ceilings and also slick-looking curved ambience bulbs too. Most of these are available across the range of fittings mentioned above.
Finally, and the biggie – you need to decide on colours. With Hue, there’s a choice between white, white ambience, and white and colour ambience. The last one is the flagship of the range, offering a staggering 16 million colours and shades. White ambience gives you more control over the shade and temperature of your white light (2200K-6500K) and plain old white doesn’t have different temperatures but is still dimmable like every other Hue bulb.
With all Hue lightbulbs – all LED bulbs, obviously – you’ll get 25,000 hours of life from a 9.5-10W maximum output.
You can buy bulbs in single, double or different sized multipacks, depending on your location, with prices starting from $14.99 for a single white bulb to $39.99 for a solitary colour ambience one.
Philips Hue lamps and light fittings
Rather than making your existing light fittings and lamps more connected, Hue also offers you the opportunity to go all out smart with lamps and light fittings designed to totally replace your 20th century lighting.
In the UK, there are almost 50 different shapes and sizes to choose from; it’s around half this number in America.
There are wall lights, table lamps, spotlights, suspension lights, ceiling lights, runner lights, recessed lights – you name it, Philips has got it. Prices start at $39.99 and go well above $200 depending on your décor preferences.
Philips Hue Lightstrips
One of the coolest ways to light up your house with Philips Hue is using the coloured Lightstrips. These thin strips can be hidden under kitchen counters, behind couches, around skirting boards – pretty much anywhere you want – and they add an array of futuristic looking lights around you home.
You plug one end into your mains socket and then 1m or 2m strips can be joined together to form a chain as long as 10m. Don’t worry if you can’t get an exact fit – they can also be cut to size.
The Lightstrip starter kit with a plug is $89.99 and you can get extension kits from $29.99.
Philips Hue Accessories
Right, so you’re all kitted up with the lights – you just need a way of controlling them. The app is obviously your best bet (more on that next) but there are physical controllers too.
We’ve already mentioned the Hue Dimmer switch $24.99 up top, but if you want something smarter then you’ll be looking at the Hue Tap switch $49.99. Working off kinetic energy – no batteries required – the Tap switch lets you choose your four favourite scenes anywhere, at the touch of a button. You can stick it on a wall or use it as a remote control.
Finally, there’s a Hue Motion sensor which turns bulbs on based on movement. It costs $39.99 and has a daylight sensor so you can choose to only have it operational when it’s dark.
Philips Hue: The app
Earlier on we mentioned that the Hue Hub is the brains of the operation, firing out the signals to all the connected bulbs. If that’s the case then the app is the imagination. It’s where everything is created before the Hub tells the bulbs what to do.
Within the app you can group bulbs into rooms, create colour scenes, design routines, start timers, add security setups and a whole host more. It’s also where you add new lights to your Hue system.
You’ll use the app to turn lights on and off, change colours and brightness and you can even control your bulbs when you’re away from your house if you’ve created a Hue account and logged in within the app. The app even knows if you’re home or away, so it knows if you’ve left the lights on by mistake (or whether to turn them on as you arrive home).
Available on iOS and Android, there are also neat smartwatch equivalents for wrist-based controls.
Philips Hue: Syncing with smart assistants
However, the app isn’t as extraordinary as it once was. And that’s because of Philips’ Friends of Hue program. Hue has always been open with the likes of IFTTT, Logitech and Xfinity and has added Nest, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa to the mix in the last few months.
This means not only voice controls for turning your lights on and off, but extra security measure like having all of your lights turn on if motion is detected by a certain camera, or having your lights all turn red if your Nest Protect detects Carbon Monoxide.
Using HomeKit or IFTTT you can also create elaborate scenes across all of your connected tech such as having your temperature set to your perfect sleeping level, while at the same time having your lights turned off, your blinds closed and your security alarm armed.
The scenarios are seemingly endless and Hue is easily one of the most supported smart home platforms – you’ll struggle to find connected kit that doesn’t play nicely with it.
Philips Hue: Tips and tricks for getting more
Because Philips Hue has been around for a while, and because the platform is so open, there’s a heck of a lot more you can do with your bulbs outside the official app and ecosystem.
As well as the official app you’ll find a tonne of third-party Hue apps across Google Play and the App Store – more than 700, in fact. Most are rubbish – that’s always the way with an open API – but there are a few gems that add features to the mix that the official app doesn’t allow for. Top picks include Hue Disco for adding some colour to your house party and OnSwitch for grouping your Hue bulbs with your Lifx ones in the same app. Check out our guide to the best Philips Hue apps for more.
Here’s something you won’t read on the Philips’ website (actually you will, but you’ll have to do some digging)… you don’t actually need Philips Hue bulbs in order to have a Philips Hue system.
Philips Hue is part of the Zigbee Light Link standard protocol and, as such, Zigbee Light Link compliant products and devices work with the Hue Bridge. It can be a bit fiddly, but you can get cheaper bulbs such as Ikea’s, GE’s and Osram’s all set up on your Hue system. Take a look at our how-to set up Ikea Trådfri on Philips Hue guide to learn how.
Philips Hue: The competition
Philips Hue might be the leading light in the smart lighting world but there are plenty of smart lighting alternatives now on sale.
Lifx is the most obvious pretender to Hue’s crown – it’s a bridge-less system that offers and app that (dare we say it?) is slightly better and easy to use than Hue’s, with cheaper price points and an ever-growing army of bulbs and accessories. Watch this space for sure and check out our comprehensive Lifx guide.
The Ikea Trådfri range turned up at the smart lighting party in early 2017 and, while there aren’t many bells and whistles just yet, smart assistants, coloured bulbs and increased compatibility are all beginning to arrive – and as mentioned above, you can even get Ikea’s cheaper bulbs playing nicely within your Hue setup.
Other names vying for space in an ever-expanding smart lighting arena are Nanoleaf, Osram, WeMo, Hive, Sengled and Elgato. Check out our smart lighting hub page to stay up to date with all the news, reviews and analysis.