Philips Hue super guide: How to set up and use your Hue lights

Everything you need to know about Philips' smart light system

Philips Hue essential guide

Philips Hue is the granddaddy of the smart lighting gang. Long before Lifx, Ikea, Wyze and the like arrived on the scene, the company, which changed its name from Philips Lighting to Signify, 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 way back in October 2012. Yep, it's been that long.

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.

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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 - and 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 Assistant.

Big verdict: Philips Hue review

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.

How to set up Philips Hue

The traditional 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.

Once installed (into the regular bulb sockets in your home, or just simply plugged in) you can control brightness, colors, schedules, and integrations with other smart home tech. In fact, thanks to the likes of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, you may find you hardly use the app at all – and instead your home’s lighting will be controlled just with your voice, but we'll come on to that more in the next section.

Until now, Hue has required a hub of some sort, be it the Hue Bridge or a third-party option like the Amazon Echo Plus, but things have changed with the introduction of Philips Hue Bluetooth bulbs, which work without Wi-Fi and therefore don't need a hub at all. In fact, going forward all Hue A19 and BR30 bulbs will support Bluetooth. If you choose to rely on Bluetooth you'll do all the controlling directly from your phone, but you'll be more limited in what you can do (you can't control them when you're outside of that Bluetooth range, for example).

How to set up a Philips Hue Bridge

1. Plug the Hue Bridge into a power socket and hook it up to your router via ethernet cable.

2. Proceed once the four lights on the Bridge light up.

3. Go to Settings > Hue Bridges > Add Hue Bridge in the Philips Hue app.

4. Follow the setup instructions.

How to set up a Philips Hue bulb

1. First, make sure the Philips Hue Bridge is all set up.

2. Go to Settings > Light setup > Add light.

3. Hit Search or manually add the serial number listed on the bulb.

4. Follow the setup instructions, from which point you can name your light and put it into Rooms.

How to set up Philips Hue without a bridge

Philips Hue missing manual: Setting up your smart home’s lighting

A Philips Hue system generally 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 or connect using Bluetooth on the newer bulbs – 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?

If you've got an Echo Plus or second-gen Echo Show, both of which are essentially Zigbee hubs, you also won't need the Hue bridge to use your bulbs. However – there’s a small disclaimer here. While these Echo devices do 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” – Signify's words, not ours.

Without a Bridge, you’ll be missing out on key features such as lights coming on or off automatically 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.

Head over to our full guide on this for more in-depth instructions on the different routes you can take, including how to replace the hub with an Ikea gateway.

Amazon Echo Plus + Philips Hue
Amazon Echo Plus + Philips Hue

Philips Hue: Starter Kits

Philips Hue missing manual: Setting up your smart home’s lighting

Starter Kits offer a mix of the Bridge and different types of bulbs – there are 11 different options available in the UK, and 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-colored lights for $199.99.

Philips Hue starter kit
Philips Hue starter kit

Whatever you opt for, it’s a simple case of plugging in the Bridge, connecting it to your router using an Ethernet cable, 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 home’s lights.

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, Signify has a dedicated Hue Store where you can buy the latest lights and accessories, while in the UK your best bet is Signify'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

Philips Hue missing manual: Setting up your smart home’s lighting

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 home.

The good news is Hue has you covered, and there’s a range 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. Hue's also recently added filament bulbs, which have that Edison-stle vintage look to them, and are available in A19, St19 and G25 sizings. They're a great way to switch up the look of different rooms or lights if you're going an in on Hue bulbs.

Read this: Philips Hue Bluetooth review

Finally, and the biggie – you need to decide on colors. With Hue, there’s a choice between white, white ambience, and white and color ambience. The last one is the flagship of the range, offering a staggering 16 million colors 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 color ambience one.

Philips Hue lamps and light fittings

Philips Hue missing manual: Setting up your smart home’s lighting

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, mirror lights – you name it, Signify has got it. Prices start at $34.99 and go well above $353.74 depending on your décor preferences.

Signify is looking to do something a little different with its lamps. It already knows people love creating ambience with its bulbs, and now it's making lamps entirely dedicated to ambience with the Play and Signe lines. The Play is pretty much a light bar that projects onto a wall, while the Signe looks more like a Lightsaber-inspired lamp.

The Play will set you back $69.95 a pop - in the UK it's £119.99 for a Play light bar double pack. The Signe comes in two sizes. It'll be $169.99 for a table version and $249.99 for the floor-based version.

Philips Hue Lightstrips

Philips Hue missing manual: Setting up your smart home’s lighting

One of the coolest ways to light up your home with Philips Hue is using its colored 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 your home.

More recently, Signify has also announced outdoor versions of the Lightstrip - perfect for Christmas or Halloween. They're water resistant and stick to your path via clips rather than sticky tape. Makes sense, as they have to be out in nature's glory.

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.

Philips Hue Lightstrip
Philips Hue Lightstrip

The Lightstrip starter kit with a plug is $89.99 and you can get extension kits from $29.99. As for the outdoor versions, they're more expensive: The 80-inch version goes for $89.99 while the 197-inch version goes for $159.99.

Philips Hue outdoor

Philips Hue missing manual: Setting up your smart home’s lighting

Those light strips aren't the only outdoor goodies, though. Philips Hue's full outdoor smart lighting range launched last year. The range consists of wall mounts, bulbs, spotlights and the already-mentioned Lightstrips. The Philips Hue Lily, which comes as a starter pack consisting of three spotlights and is designed to highlight design features in your garden and illuminate flower beds and plants. It's $279 for that starter pack, with additional extensions for $79.99.

Next up is the Philips Hue Calla (640 lumens, like the Lily), which is a path lighting option that costs $129.99. The base pack includes one bollard, additional ones will set you back $89.99.

If you're looking for wall mounted fixture lighting then you'll be interested in the Philips Hue Inara ($49.99, 800 lumens), Lucca ($59.99, 800 lumens) or Ludere ($129.99, 2600 lumens). Philips also has a dedicated outdoor bulb - the white PAR38 ($29.99 each or $49.99 for a two-pack, 1300 lumens). Signify has kept back information on UK availability and pricing so as it's announced we'll keep you posted.

Philips Hue Adore

Philips Hue missing manual: Setting up your smart home’s lighting

Philips Hue Adore is its bathroom specific range of smart lighting. The star is the $249.99 Adore White lighted mirror which has a ring of white LEDs and can be controlled by Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit or a dimmer switch. It also has IP44 dust and water resistance.

Also in the range: the Adore Bathroom spot light, the Adore Bathroom mirror light and the Adore Bathroom ceiling light. They're all white lighting, no colors, with chrome metal finishes and IP44 water resistance.

Incoming: Philips Hue Smart Plug

Philips Hue super guide: How to set up and use your Hue lights

The latest and biggest news for Philips Hue fans is that it used IFA 2019 to finally debut a long-awaited product - its first ever smart plug.

The smart plug will release in October, and cost $39.99. It'll connect to your Philips Hue Bridge or connect via Bluetooth, and let you control basically any powered device as part of your Hue system. It can be part of your routines and scenes, and integrate with Google Assistant or Alexa if you use either smart assistant. Even better, it's HomeKit compatible, so the possibilities it opens up for your smart home are pretty pleasing.

It won't be the cheapest smart plug on the market by a long shot, but then Hue has never aimed at the lowest pricepoints available. If you're all in on Hue, though, this is a great development. We'll be testing it as soon as it hits the market later this year.

Philips Hue Accessories

Philips Hue missing manual: Setting up your smart home’s lighting

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 favorite scenes anywhere, at the touch of a button. You can stick it on a wall or use it as a remote control.

Alternatively, if you're looking for a minimalist option, Hue's just announced a smart button that's literally just a solitary push button. It can stick to fridges or metal magnetically, and long presses can be used for more control, but at $19.99 it's an interesting option. It will release in October.

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

Philips Hue missing manual: Setting up your smart home’s lighting

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. The best part? Signify is continually updating the app with new features.

Within the app you can group bulbs into rooms, create color 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 colors and brightness and you can even control your bulbs when you’re away from your home 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.

There's also the new Sync App, which is for Windows 10 PCs and Macs running macOS Sierra. Basically, the app analyzes the content you're watching and will sync up your lights so that you can be surrounded with color. The effect is almost like the movie or TV show you're watching is trying to burst out of the TV.

The feature is mostly limited now. You'll need to hook up your TV to your PC via HDMI, Chromecast, AirPlay or Miracast. The company is talking to streaming companies to make this more of a thing, as the light sequences run on scripts designed by Signify in advance.

Philips Hue: Syncing with smart assistants

Here's the thing: You don't need that app as much as you once did. And that’s because of Philips’ Friends of Hue program. Hue has always been open with the likes of IFTTT, Logitech and Xfinity but has added Nest, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa to the mix.

This means not only voice controls for turning your lights on and off, but extra security measures 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 super guide: How to set up and use your Hue lights

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 color to your home 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 Signify’s 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. To learn more, take a look at our guide explaining how to set up Ikea Trådfri on Philips Hue.

Here are a few more how-tos to get you going.

How to reset Philips Hue bulbs and Bridge

If your bulbs or Bridge aren't responding, you'll need to do a hard reset. When it comes to bulbs, you can do this reset through the app, but if you're not using the Hue Bridge or app, you'll have to go via whichever hub you're connected through. Head to our full explainer for more.

How to set up Philips Hue with Alexa

1. Make sure your Philips Hue light is turned on and ready to connect.

2. Download the Philips Hue Skill on your Alexa device.

3. Say "Alexa, find my devices" and wait for 45 seconds while the assistant scans the area for any new devices.

4. Once a bulb is discovered, you can connect it up through the Alexa app and control it manually or through your voice. Just make sure to name it something easy to say.

5. Whether you have a bridge or not, you can control your lights using just your voice. Try a command such as, "Alexa, turn bedroom light to 50%".

How to set up Philips Hue with Google Home

The process for connecting Hue with Google Home is a little different, and we've got a full guide to walk you through the details.

Philips Hue super guide: How to set up and use your Hue lights

How to sync your Hue lights with the weather

Whether it's for setting the mood or you just fancy being a little more in touch with nature, one of the coolest Hue tricks you can do is have them replicate a certain type of weather or adjust to sync with the conditions outside. It's not even that difficult to do - here's how.

How to sync Philips Hue with movies and games

As we mentioned up above, another trick the Hue Sync app offers is being able to add extra immersion to movies and games by having your Hue bulbs adjust to what's happening on-screen. Head to our full 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 easier 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 still aren’t many bells and whistles, smart assistants, colored bulbs and increased compatibility are breathing life into the platform – and as mentioned above, you can even get Ikea’s cheaper bulbs playing nicely within your Hue setup. Read our Ikea Trådfri review for more.

Other names vying for space in an ever-expanding smart lighting arena are Nanoleaf, Osram, WeMo, Hive, Wyze, Sengred and Elgato. Check out our smart lighting hub page to stay up to date with all the news, reviews and analysis.

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