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How Philips Hue Lights Can Change Color Automatically

I remember the first time I experimented with a smart RGB (color) bulb. One of the first things I did was use my app to set my room to green:

A LIFX bulb with green light and me taking a selfie
One of my smart bulbs set to green (and a really ‘cool’ picture of me…)

Unfortunately I didn’t turn into the hulk right after, but it got me wondering whether it’s possible to set my Philips Hue bulbs and light strips to change color automatically (not using an app or voice command)? Thankfully the short answer is:

Yes, it’s easy to set-up your Philips Hue lights so that they cycle through a range of colors. There are a number of formulas and third party apps that allow you to do this.

Background: Philips Hue RGB (color) lights

Philips Hue are the most successful smart lighting provider, with a massive range of products from smart bulbs to smart light strips and fixed smart light fixtures. Whilst you can get pure white bulbs (that only allow dimming), most of their range is full RGB meaning they can be changed to one of 16 million different colors:

This is possible on all Hue bulbs and light strips called “White Ambiance and Color”. In other words, a Philips Hue device that only says “White” or “White Ambiance” will not allow for full RGB color changes, but anything saying “Color” will allow this.

The way that Philips Hue color bulbs (and light strips) allow for 16 million color changes is by using multiple diodes on each product:

  • A red diode.
  • A green diode.
  • A blue diode.
  • A cool white diode.
  • A warm white diode.

In other words, there are the three primary color diodes to allow for color changes – these often appear as a single diode (an RGB one) instead of being three separate diodes.

There’s also white diodes (whilst some Hue lights only have one white diode, many have both cool and warm white diodes):

Diodes on the Philips Hue Lightstrip V4
Diodes on the Philips Hue Lightstrip V4

These white diodes are essential because it’s hard to achieve certain colors (and, of course, mainly white lights) with just red, green and blue diodes – so having separate white diodes allows Hue lights to deliver much more diverse color ranges.

However one of the things I always disliked about the official Hue app is that you can’t easily say to a bulb “have fun and change color rapidly”. This is something that’s very easy with LIFX, via the Effects tab on the app.

If you’re having a party or just want some mood lighting, you may want to have your Hue lights change color automatically instead of having them in one static color (which is what happens with standard Hue scenes and routines). Thankfully this is easy to achieve via a range of methods – which I explore below.

10 ways that your Philips Hue lights can change color automatically

Method 1 – ColorLoop Lab formula

The Hue ColorLoop lab formula is one of my favourites – it’s what I used in the YouTube video towards the start of this post. As its name suggests, it loops through all the different colors – making it awesome for mood lighting (especially if dimmed down a bit – it can be a little overpowering at 100% brightness!).

It can be accessed by launching the Hue app, going to “Explore” and then “Hue Labs”:

Hue app phone screenshot, showing the 'Hue Labs' option on the 'Explore' tab.
The ‘Hue Labs’ option on the ‘Explore’ tab of the Hue app.

Click on “Formulas” and search for “colorloop”. Click “Try it!” to enable it:

Hue app Lab showing the colorloop lab formula
Hue app Lab showing the colorloop lab formula

You can configure the lab formula for one of your Hue bulbs (or lightstrips, in my case). Once this is done, just click on “Hue Labs Controls” and click the toggle button to activate the formula:

Hue app Hue Lab Controls
Hue app Hue Lab Controls

Method 2 – LivingScenes Lab formula

A slight twist on the ColorLoop formula is the LivingScenes formula. This is also accessible via the Explore -> Labs route on the app, but this formula allows you to loop between a slightly more cohesive set of colors.

What I mean by that is that you can choose “evening sunset” colors or “dinner party” vibe colors. The formula will then slowly switch between these pre-set color choices at an interval of 15 seconds to 2 hours:

Setting up the Living Scenes formula within Hue Labs
Setting up the Living Scenes formula within Hue Labs

Having a more specific color pallete (compared to ColorLoop which gives you everything from bright orange to pink and white colors) is the benefit of the Living Scenes – and its variants such as the Autumn and Christmas Living Scenes.

Method 3 – the OnSwitch app

Play Store screenshot of the OnSwitch Hue app
Play Store screenshot of the OnSwitch Hue app

Moving away from Hue Lab formulas for dynamic color changes, whilst I mention that the Hue app itself is lacking for this (compared to the LIFX app, for example), there are some great third party apps.

Hue lights all have an easy to use software API, which is just a fancy way of saying that people can write programming code to change how the Hue bulbs work.

These can then be packaged up into convenient smartphone apps, such as the OnSwitch app which is available on both the Play (Android) and App (Apple) stores.

This ships with over “30 professionally designed light scenes”, and allows you to do things like simulate candle light, disco lighting, fireworks and a whole lot more. In other words, the scenes in this app aren’t like Hue scenes: the OnSwitch scenes actually change between different colors, hence working as some great mood lighting.

The big downside of this app, however, is that many of the better scenes are paid-for. Some are as cheap as $0.99, but some cost as much as $9.99. Therefore it could be worth checking out this app – especially since there are some free scenes to play around with.

Method 4 – hueDynamics app

An alternative to the above app is the better-known hueDynamic app – available on Android and Apple smartphones.

hueDynamics is actually a full-blown alternative to the official Hue app, meaning that you can also use it to configure your Hue lights and accessories. For example, you can use it to enhance the Hue dimmer and tap switches so they work exactly how you would like them to.

But just like the OnSwitch app, hueDynamics also has a bunch of professional scenes that allow your Hue lights to switch between a range of RGB colors automatically:

There are a range of free features in this app, but there’s also a paid upgrade to hueDynamics Pro (costing around $5, depending on where you live) which offers a much bigger range of features and scenes.

If you’re looking for a single third-party app to use with your Hue system, this is probably the one to go for.

Method 5 – Thorlight (app store)

An alternative to hueDynamic is the Apple-only Thorlight app which contains over 50 animations which switch between a range of pre-chosen colors to deliver some great mood lighting effects.

There’s also the possibility of using music to enhance some of the animations – for example, it can listen to playing music and change your Hue bulbs to be in-sync with this.

Whilst the app is free, a few of the animations do cost money:

  • Party mode – $3.99
  • Flow – $3.99
  • Ambiance – $3.99
  • Lounge – $3.99
  • Sky – $2.99

Method 6 – Match sunset and sunrise

Ring Doorbell footage capture showing lens flare at 9am in the morning.
A shot of the sun first thing in the morning.

One of the awesome features of smart lighting is the ability to have natural alarms. Instead of being woken up by the blaring of some rubbish smartphone alarm, you can instead be gently woke up by your smart lighting that slowly go from 0% to 100% brightness.

This matches sunrise, and is quite nice to do. The Hue Labs formula ‘Sunset to sunrise‘ offers this feature, however it’s not always the most dynamic in terms the color changes – it’s more focused on changing the brightness of bulbs.

Thankfully, the Hue Lights app supports a more dynamic wakeup alarm. This is the “Perfect Sunrise” feature, and it changes through thousands of colors to more accurately match the different color hues that a natural sunrise actually has.

Therefore this is a really nice way of automatically changing Hue colors throughout the morning, in a way that naturally models the sunrise.

Method 7 – Sync to music with iLightShow and Hue Disco

If you liked the sound of Thorlight’s music sync, the free iLightShow app is even better. It connects to Spotify and Apple Music and syncs with Philips Hue bulbs in a really clever way:

Whilst other apps (including the LIFX app) sometimes just listen to music via the smartphone microphone – thereby delivering a slightly delayed and primitive smart lighting sync experience – iLightShow can also analyse the music that is playing on the phone and delivers a “a perfectly synced light show!“.

Hue Disco is another rival that delivers smart lights that sync to music – although some of the recent reviews have been a bit critical, and it costs around $4-5 depending on the app store you use.

Method 8 – Sync to TV/movies

You may have seen some truly awesome smart lighting effects via Philips Hue when people are watching movies:

This is usually made possible with the Philips Hue Play Bars and Sync Box (along with products like the Hue Gradient lightstrips which stick to the back of the TV).

These work really well but they are an expensive solution. What if you just want your ceiling (or side lamp) Hue bulbs to change depending on what’s on TV? Well thankfully, there are a range of third party apps which support this:

  • Hue Matcher, which is installed on your phone and then uses your phone’s camera lens to work out the average color of what it sees. In other words, you point your smartphone at your TV or PC monitor, and it’ll then send a signal to your Hue bulbs to automatically change color based on what it sees. This costs $0.99 on the Android store at the time of writing.
  • Hue TV is a similar idea on the AppStore: point your Apple smartphone at your TV or monitor, and it’ll sync your Hue bulbs based on what it sees.
  • If you don’t like the idea of using your smartphone’s camera to drive this (it will drain your battery very quickly, and probably require a tripod too), ScreenBloom is worth checking out. It runs on PC and Mac meaning that it won’t work for ordinary TVs (but it will for computer-based media TVs).

    This program will determine the average color of what’s on your computer, and again it’ll send this to your configured Hue bulbs – meaning that your Hue bulbs will automatically sync to what you’re doing on the computer. This is great for movie watching, although some people have reported that it’s a bit temperamental for full-screen gaming.

Method 9 – have a lightsaber battle!

The Hue Lab formula ‘Battle of light and dark‘ (which requires full color Hue lights) is great for budding Star Wars fans – or Jedi Knight’s in training!

This allows you to choose ‘blue’ and ‘red’ groups of lights, and these will then battle in a way that simulates a lightsaber battle. Whether you’re sitting down to start (re)watching the Star Wars trilogies, or you’re about to watch the latest Mandalorian episode, this is worth checking out.

Method 10 – sync to the outside weather

One of the things I’ve always disliked about standard bulbs (and white-only smart bulbs) is that they are one color, irrespective of the weather outside.

As in, it’ll be a really gloomy day but the bulb is a jarring cool white. Or it’ll be sunny daytime, but a bulb might be warm white.

Whilst smart lighting in general solves this problem, it’s even better to sync your Hue lighting to the weather. This is possible via various different IFTTT applets, allowing you to do everything from setting your bulbs to purple when it rains, to having your bulbs blink when it’s snowing as some sort of futuristic weather warning!

Whilst IFTTT has been criticised recently due to its move to the paid for IFTTT Pro plan, you can still install three applets before you have to pay. So if you haven’t used IFTTT yet and syncing Hue bulbs with the weather sounds interesting to you, you won’t have to pay anything to try this out (unless you decide you want four or more applets running, that is).

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