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Philips Hue: Setup and Teardown

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I setup my Philips Hue controller and bulbs yesterday. In summary – it is a fantastic product, very easy to install and it is a pleasure to experience this lighting system. Only downside, IMO, very expensive…. a Starter Pack of three bulbs and the Hue Controller will cost you $199.95!

Packaging:

I loved the packaging. It is very well designed. The front flap of the package has a cardboard wheel inside with the side of the flap exposing it – you can scroll/rotate the wheel to see the colors of the bulb changing – makes for a nice illustration. The same wheel inside shows the three steps of setup. You can watch it in action on the videos I have uploaded on Flickr.

There are four things included in the package:

1. Three Connected Bulbs – when you pick them – they are heavy. I did not weigh them but they are not light. You can feel the weight – I am assuming it is controller inside the bulb and the fact that it has multi-colored lighting makes it heavier. The weight of the bulb made it nice to hold – and strangely it comforted me with respect to the cost of the bulb (not that I am too comfortable but it made me understand that this is not a regular bulb – the bulb alone costs $60).

2. A Hue Controller – this is small circular light weight controller with three LEDs on the top and a large button used for Pairing function. On the side is an Ethernet port to connect to the home network and port to insert the power supply. Three LEDs to show the status of Power, Ethernet Connection and Internet Connection. [Note: Philips refers to this device as the “bridge”]

3. Power Cord – Nice white adaptor with long enough cable

4. Ethernet Cable – Once more white cable and long enough

[My remark above on long enough is relative – what I mean is that the length was sufficient unlike some products where to save pennies the length is too short]

Setup:

Before I get into the setup process – the Philips Hue connected bulbs are controlled using Zigbee. However in order to use a Smartphone or a Tablet to control the Hue bulbs (and smartphones do not have Zigbee) – you need the Hue Controller which connects to your home network and then in turn “controls” the connected bulbs using its Zigbee controller [sounds confusing, isn’t it – think of it as a Bridge between two different interfaces or protocols].

The setup was very easy. And at no point do you need a PC or a Mac to setup – everything can be done using a Smartphone or a Tablet. It was also easy because they have removed the complexity of getting the controller on the Home Network by sticking to using Ethernet. First screw in the bulbs into lamps, turn them on. And all the bulbs turn on just like normal bulbs do. Once all the bulbs are in and powered on – plug in the Hue Controller into an Ethernet port connected to your home router/gateway, apply power. The controller boots in less than 20 seconds. Now install the app from the AppStore on your IOS device [the MeetHue website is not explicit but I think they support Android as well]… when you fire up the app [and your phone needs to be on the same home network as the controller] – the app will instruct you to press the round button on the controller. As soon as you press  the button the app discovers the Hue Controller (bridge as they call it) and you are all set. In my case it automatically discovered all the three bulbs, and they showed up in the app. I could from the App settings “rename” them to distinguish. To make things easier – as you start editing the process by selecting “one of the bulbs” in the app – the corresponding physical bulbs starts blinking to show you which once you have selected. Handy feature ….

The app comes with multiple scenes that create a certain lighting ambience when you select the scene – you can read more about that on the MeetHue website. There is an option in the app to add more Controllers (i.e. Bridges) or more bulbs. Of course I have not tried them yet…

Adding a new app, that is if you wanted another phone or tablet to be used for controlling – all you have to do is to download the app, fire it up, make sure you are on the home network (WiFi), and then when the app prompts press the button on the Hue Controller and it is paired [this works very similar to the Sonos app as well]. If you had edited the names of the bulbs (for example I called one of them “FormalDiningLamp”) – that’s what will show up – the settings are stored in the Controller.

To be able to control them remotely – that is – when you are not at home (i.e. not connected to the Home Network) – you need to have an account with MeetHue.com. These steps were all from within the app – from settings select “Login into portal” – this will open up the browser on your smartphone or tablet – take you to the account creation page on MeetHue.com. This page is well designed for smartphones or tablets. A few well guided steps and you are all set. The web page prompts to confirm if this “smartphone” or “tablet” can be paired, and once you say yes – now you can control the Hue lights from anywhere with the app.

Experience:

The lights look beautiful – it was fun watching the different combinations (or scenes) pre-programmed into the app. If it were not for the $60 per bulb – I could have seriously considered getting more bulbs….

Latency:

When your smartphone is connected to the Home Network over WiFi and you use it to control the lights – the lag or the latency from the time you select an action (for example you select a scene) to the time the bulbs change or turn on/off – is barely perceptible. The lag/latency goes up to the order of 8 to 12 seconds if you are doing this remotely – that is you are not at home (not connected to the home network). I simulated this by simply turning off my WiFi and forcing the control through the Internet. First of all it took about 8 or 10 seconds for the app itself to “connect”. Once connected – for the bulbs to change to a new scene or turn on/off also took in the order of 5 to 8 seconds. Point to be noted though – if you are away from home and you want to turn the lamps on or off for reasons such as security – the time lag is not important – because you are physically not there!

Teardown & Design:

I have images of the Hue Controller (Bridge) teardown on Flickr as well. There were two screws. Opening it up was a bit tricky because of the internal snap-in mechanism (image here).

The two main components are:

ST Microelectronics STM32F217VE Microcontroller

Texas Instruments CC2530 Zigbee Controller

There is also a RF range extender – CC2590 – coupled to the CC2530. The STM MCU has an integrated Ethernet controller – the design has very few components – the cost of this starter pack is NOT in the Hue Controller but in the bulbs.

Range & Interference:

As a follow on I need to do some range and interference testing – the Controller and the Bulbs are not really far apart – they are in adjoining rooms…  I need to move either the bulbs around or the controller to see what happens to the functioning of the system. But this is for a follow on post…

Summary:

If money is not an object, and you have spare Ethernet ports available on your router or home network – I would highly recommend the Philips Hue…

———————

Images of Unboxing & Teardown on Flickr

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Written by Ashu Joshi

January 21, 2013 at 7:57 pm

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