Getting started with Philips Hue

Philips Hue
By Russell Holly on 24 May 2014 03:26 pm

So, you've decided your lightbulbs need to be a lot smarter than they are now. Here's what you need to know about introducing Hue bulbs into your current light setup.

Philips Hue bulbs are one of several different brands of smart light bulbs out there today, but there's a good chance it's the one you have heard the most about. This has a lot to do with how long Philips has been working on these bulbs, but also how many options Philips offers in the Hue line of products for you to light your home with. It's also the platform with the most third party support by far, but we'll save that part of your Hue education for another day. For now, let's go from the moment you decide to pick up a starter kit and work from there.

There are several options available for Philips Hue starter kits, but they all offer essentially the same basic setup. You get a couple of bulbs, though the number and style of bulbs depends on which kit your purchase, and the Hue Bridge. This kit exists in a package that is dramatically larger than any of the others, and is required for you to start using these bulbs. Wherever you decided to purchase your starter kit from, you'll see they sell the bulbs in individual units as well. You can add many more bulbs to your Hue Bridge, and they will work in concert with the bulbs that were included in your kit.

The first step in setting Hue up is to connect the Bridge to your network. There's an ethernet cable included in the box, so all you need to do is connect the Hue Bridge to your router and connect the power cord to the bridge. The three lights on the Hue bridge will glow a bright blue, letting you know it is ready to be used. At this point, it is important to pick a good place for your Bridge to live. There's a mounting socket on the back of the Bridge so it can be stuck out of sight if you want it to, but if your goal is to play around with these smart lights you are going to want to have it easily accessible. Every time you use a new Hue app, you'll need to press the center button on the Bridge to pair the Hue apps to your network. You can try this out for yourself by installing the official Hue app, which is available for both iOS and Android.

Once you are paired to the network, any time you are connected to the WiFi network you will have control over your Hue bulbs. There are some apps that allow for remote control of your bulbs for when you are not connected to your WiFi network, but each app handles that a little differently. As long as you are connected to your WiFi network, you can control an individual bulb or all of your bulbs at once through the Hue app.

Basic control of the Hue app is pretty straight forward, but there's no shortage of interesting things to do with the official app. The homescreen for the app is filled with presets for everything from color scenes to white light presets set to a range of temperatures. Each of these can be adjusted to your preference by long pressing on a scene until it starts to pulse. You'll see an edit symbol appear in the right hand corner of the scene, and from here you can adjust things however you like. You can add or remove bulbs from the scene, set up timers for how long the scene should last or alarms for when the scene should automatically turn on or off, and you can even make the scene location aware so it activates and deactivates when your phone is in range.

Creating a new scene from scratch is very simple. The plus button in the top right corner of the homescreen will allow you to create a custom color configuration based on either a photo or a light recipe. A light recipe is a manual way to set up your ideal shades of white, while the photo will let you base the scene on colors that you have either captured yourself or saved from elsewhere. These can be a lot of fun to set up, and you have the same location, timing, and alarm-based controls for activating the scene you have just created.

Now that you've created or edited scenes, Philips allows you to share them using a My Hue account. This works well for sharing scenes across devices in your house, or for publishing a great scene you have created to the Hue community. From the main menu on the Hue app, you'll see "Log in to my hue" at the top of the list. This will open a browser in order to either create an account or log in to an existing one. All you need to do here is follow the account creation steps, and you'll be presented with the ability to enable Scene Sharing. This will allow your scenes to be synced across all of your devices, and also make them accessible from the Hue website.

There's so many more things that you can do with the Hue platform, but you now hove everything you need to get started and have some fun. From here you can explore with third party Hue apps, integration with complex software like Tasker and hardware like Revolv. If you have any further questions, drop a line in the comments below.

Reader comments

Getting started with Philips Hue


I'm just not sold on these, even with your article I'm still kind of in the dark as to why I'd need to spend so much money for a light bulb. Ok I get you can control the color and brightness exs from your phone, they kind of try to match the color of whatever is on your TV screen as long as your phone is watching the TV with you (which is kind of cool and nerdy). But seriously can't a dimmer switch suffice, there are plenty of remote control dimmer switches out there and lamps too. If you're rocking a smartphone that has an IR blaster you could even add them all to your phone. Then bulbs are like £1 not £65 that fact alone makes a good case to not waste your money right there. Then there's the fact they only come with a screw end which means I need to employ an electrician to switch out every UK light fitting with a US one just to put a bulb in.

I don't think the "out of the box" experience is the most compelling reason to use hue. It's connecting it up to everything else around you that's really got me interested. Having various external events automatically affect your Hues, using them as a way of easily relaying information, etc. There are a ton of potential uses if you think outside the box.

There is a site/apps that work with Hue called IFTTT. This has "recipes" that allow you to make 'if' 'then' actions. What's that? Simple.
'If' the weather is cloudy and dark 'then' Turn on my lights
'If' I'm returning to my house 'then' Turn on my lights
'If' it's sunset 'then' Turn on my lights
'If' it's x:x time 'then' Turn off my lights

and on and on, you can build your own recipes.

So, in the end for me they are very nice, I arrive home after dark and my lights turn on, I leave the house and my lights turn off. etc...

In the end my electric bill has also dropped. In one year the lights have paid for themselves.

Same here. Amazon is selling a starter kit for $200 for 3 bulbs which seems steep. I think though that I may be persuaded to get them if I saw them in person and see what they can do in action.
One cool application i would try with these is to use NFC tags with your phone to turn change your lights with difference settings depending on where you are in a room like when you enter, have the lights bright, but when you are sitting on your lazy boy, dim the lights.

I'm still a little confused. Could I buy a single Phillips Hue bulb without a starter "bridge"? If I wanted to just get my feet wet a little, I'd be willing to spend the $60 but not $200.

One of the coolest applications would be a kids-story book that sync'd with the lighting. That would be awesome. If my daughter could listen to a story book on an Android tablet and during a scene with thunder, the lights go crazy...that would be awesome. Has someone written that app yet?

Need the bridge one way or another AFAIK. Exactly why I don't have Hue yet, not sure I have room for yet another bridge.

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Sorry, I probably should have done a better job explaining this. The Bridge connected the bulbs to the internet, which is needed for controlling any if the bulbs. This is why LIFX bulbs don't need a bridge, because they connect to your WiFi on their own. The benefit to Philips using the ZigBee wireless protocol over just regular old 802.11N is that the bulbs can technically extend further than your router can broadcast thanks to the mesh network they create by daisy-chaining the bulbs together.

They are really awesome, they are pretty much the future, where our entire enviroment will be connected, except I hope the future will not be as expensive...

The kids storybook thing is already out. It was a joint project with Disney. Only works on iPad I think.

Sounds good but not for me. Not interested in color. Just something basic that can turn lights on/off when I'm on vacation or when I get home late. I have zwave now but I think the app is crap. Does not always work. I should add that I'm using the app thru my alarm company.

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Love the idea of pairing this with a phillips ambi light tv to give a better experience. Curious, are there any stores that have this as a display to see in person? Like to see it for real before dropping that cash

This will be useful for whoever wins these bulbs. I don't think I would buy these unless I had a relatively large amount of free spending cash. There are a lot of other kinds of tech and accessories I want first, which I have to save and budget for. It is a dream of mine to have my whole home connected some day though. It will make life so much easier when I have a tablet or phone connected to my wheelchair that is the control center of my home, from the blinds to the doors to the appliances and more.

I really like this idea and the customization of the lights. And being able to control them from your phone, you can't beat that convenience.

I like the concept, but the starter pack is just too much out of my budget. Even $60 for one bulb is a bit much, but I could add to the system over time. Shame they don't offer the bridge + single bulb for $79.

Price definitely needs to come down before most people will even consider such a thing

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This is definitely something that I am interested in, hopefully the price will drop. I can't justify the price tag at this time.

I am impressed by the tech, but I just can't come up with a use case that is worth $200. Hope the price comes down in future as the technology matures and then I may give it a try.

It looks like a great concept, but I too cannot justify spending that much money on the lights. Not really sure where I'd even put them in my apartment.

Maybe once the price comes down and there's more companies coming out with similar concepts, I'll consider them. For now, I'm fine with using my light switch.

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Thanks for the post. I like the "how to" articles, because even if I don't need this information now (since I don't have a Phillips Hue system), it's good to know there are information sources out there in case I decided to implement a setup in the future (maybe win one in a Connectedly contest?)...

So does this mean each Hue bulbs can connect to the Internet using the bridge? I mean you just have to place it in any socket and the bridge will do its work?

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The bulbs communicate with the bridge only; it's the bridge that handles communication from other network devices such as a tablet or smartphone.

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I'm happy to say I'm purchasing my starter kit tomorrow. The HUGE benefit for me is that I use a wheelchair and have 3 ceiling fans in my house with the cords for the only on/off switch. I am looking forward to all the benefits including mood lighting for my yoga, tai chi, and meditation. While I think they are overpriced I've looked into rewiring my house to have switches on the wall and this is by far the more economical way to go!

These are interesting but I don't see them ever going main stream without a major price reduction. Its nothing more than a novalty and it costs way to much for such and item

It's too expensive for the mainstream user... I've been digging up and there are more affordable options that do almost 60% of what these guys offer.

The biggest attraction for me the capability to turn the lights on or off when away from home. There are many less expensive options out there.

They are more versatile than I realized - I love white light (not grungy yellow) so that would be a big plus. But not affordable.

I bought my starter kit a month ago. The idea of using the lights for signalling appeals to me. I can use the lights to signify weather events like rain tomorrow or rain today or heat. I can also use a combination of IFTTT and location services to change the lights depending on where I am. For instance I can let my family know I've left work and will be home soon. I can use the multiple colours to warm up or cool down a room depending on my mood. I bought the lights as a way to "paint" my rooms.

I don't think there is a cost benefit analysis that can justify the lights compared to "dumb" lights. The benefit is in how they make you feel. To put it another way: a can of paint costs about $40 and will colour your room they same way for many, many years. A light bulb that costs $50 can change the mood of your room whenever you want.

I look forward to jumping on this bandwagon, but really see no need to make that jump anytime soon. Prices are bound to drop quite a bit in the next year or so.

I have wanted one of these for a while...unfortunately, buying a new car took priority! :) If you can get the lights to sync with the TV with the smartphone camera, i will be getting not only the bulbs but several light strips as well! I currently have a basic LED lightstrip on my TV and it's awesome...but would be even better if it synced to the picture on screen!

I'm planning to put these in the cans in my living room ceiling and use it to set "moods" for watching movies, entertaining, etc. Some very cool things can be done with them if you hook them up with the right home automation tech.

I'm waiting, and have been waiting, for an outdoor (damp, not wet necessarily) version. I've got can lights along the front of the house that I replace with colored lights at Xmas. I desperately want these so I can have the house colored for each season/holiday. Sounds like the app would let me automate that too, which is just plain badass.

I will probably buy a startup packet in a near future. My question is are the lights working with bridge and router switched off. I am away from home every week for a few days and I like to turn off any device that doesn't need to be on electric power. What happen in this case? Do you need to turn every wall switch off for every bulb? Does the bulb remember the settings if you switch the bridge off and you can turn the bulb on and off with only the wall switch?