This morning I ordered some Philips Hue bulbs (four White Ambiance E14s, a size sometimes called ‘decorative candles’) and a starter kit including the hub/bridge. To be honest, I was almost annoyed at myself for ordering them because I’ve been wary about smart lights for years.
Why? Well I remember having a conversation with someone 4 years ago who had just bought a couple of Hue bulbs. He was saying how awesome they were, and that it’d only cost $130 including the bridge. Uhm, so basically $65 per bulb? I mean, it’s cool they can change color and provide a natural wake-up alarm, but at 50x the price of standard ‘dumb’ bulbs, I wasn’t convinced.
Then a few months back I thought that it’d be cool to have smart spotlights in my kitchen-diner, which I could potentially sync up with some music. I priced this up and since I had 12 spotlights, I’d be looking at £480/$600 (at £40/$50 per Hue GU10 spotlight). Ouch.
This compares to around £18 ($22.50) in total for dumb GU10 spotlights which I can get for £1.50/$1.88 each. Hence I soon gave up on the idea of having 12 smart GU10s in my kitchen-diner!
So fast forwarding to today, why did I order four Hue bulbs and a starter kit? What changed? And more importantly: do I still think they’re over priced?
The Hue ecosystem offers lots of different bulb types, making it one of the most verstaile and powerful smart lighting platforms. Plus if you pick up the bulbs in sales, the overall cost works out fairly reasonable.
In general, Philips Hue bulbs come in three groups of color:
- White – these are like the normal bulbs in your house, but you can dim them. This means that you can still use them to (sort of) set the mood in the evening, albeit with harsher white light than soften colors. You can also use these as wake up alarms, setting them to automatically get brighter as you get nearer your desired wake up time.
These currently retail for as little as $12.49 per bulb (via the 4 pack of A19s).
- White Ambiance – this adds blue and yellow light capability, allowing you to adjust them to more accurately suit the time of day. For example you might want bluer tones to simulate daytime light, or more yellow tones to help you relax and unwind. This is similar to the idea of smartphones which increasingly have a ‘night time’ mode that emits less blue light.
Philips’ own website list these at around $22.49 per bulb right now.
- Color – this is mainly what the Hue adverts show, and the bulbs allow you to choose from 16 million colors. If you want bright pink light, you’ve got it. If you’d prefer some dark gray ‘moody’ light, that’s fine too. This can be a nice feature, especially when watching TV and having a color which matches the movie you’re watching.
Of course, this comes at a cost – as much as $50 per bulb (or sometimes $45/bulb if you buy a multipack).
In other words, the more color choice you want, the more you’ll pay. The table below sums this up by comparing to more traditional bulbs:
|Bulb||Hue White||Hue White Ambiance||Hue Color||Dumb LED Bulb (White)|
So whilst bulb prices will vary (and some can be purchased cheaper depending on sales and quality), you can see that Hue white bulbs cost 4-12x as much as standard LED ones.
Firstly, you’ll notice that in the section above I perform a ‘like for like’ comparison – comparing a smart bulb to a standard ‘dumb’ bulb. However they aren’t the same… a smart bulb offers:
- Dimming, without the need for potentially upgrading your electrical cabling.
- Changing of light color.
- Gentle wake-up alarms.
- Automatic on/off on a schedule, or as part of sunset/sunrise.
- … plus a bunch more features too.
- In a way that can be controlled with a phone app and via your voice.
If you don’t care about any of this, then you’ll probably always think that Hue bulbs (and smart lights in general) are expensive. But if you value these features, it could well be paying some extra cash for.
In terms of what makes Philips Hue bulbs ‘so expensive’:
- They are all LED, whilst some bulbs you can pick up still won’t be LED. LEDs are more efficient – so you’ll be saving running costs on a smart Hue bulb (which is LED) compared to a halogen bulb.
- Philips Hue bulbs contain a Zigbee chip, allowing them to be controlled in a wide-ranging way via the Hue Bridge and other similar devices.
- The color bulbs provided by Hue use something called RGB-CCT, which is noticeably better than cheaper RGB color bulbs. I cover this more in the next section.
- Newer Hue bulbs also contain a Bluebooth chip, allowing you to control the bulb directly with your smartphone (no Hue Bridge required).
- Contains the necessary components to support Pulse Width Modulation (PWM), which is how dimming works on Hue bulbs.
- Contains high quality components so that a 3 year warranty can be reliably offered, along with a 25,000 hour rated life.
- They are a quality brand name, and a wide range of smart lights are available as part of their ecosystem. The alternative is to buy a cheaper alternative, but then potentially finding that you can’t buy an outdoor bulb or light strip – and having to switch to another bulb provider.
A Hue bulb – like many smart bulbs – is basically a mini-computer. It can communicate with external devices (input/output), along with doing something – in this case, offering flexible lighting. This does cost a fair amount more than standard dumb bulbs.
One of the other reasons that Hue’s color bulbs are more expensive than the cheaper smart color bulbs is that Hue’s color bulbs are RGB-CCT, not just RGB.
Okay, that’s clear enough – let’s move on.
Just kidding. So what exactly does that mean? Well, cheaper RGB LEDs contain three seperate LEDs: red, green and blue. Whilst these can naturally be mixed to deliver any sort of color, the light that’s delivered ultimately consists of just three spikes within the light spectrum. This can sometimes make the color of simple RGB bulbs look a little… flat and dull.
RGB-CCT improves on this flaw by having two more LEDs: a cool white and also a warm white LED (making five in total). This also allows Hue bulbs to operate in the CIE color space, offering greater flexibility in the colors of light that are delivered – and ultimately making the light seem more natural and vibrant.
If you’re interested in smart lighting but you don’t want to pay a small fortune to convert all your bulbs at the same time, I’d suggest that you do what I’m doing – keep an eye on the deals, and only buy when there’s a good deal. This also means only buying what you’ll actually use – don’t buy a fancy Hue light strip if you won’t use it.
But if you know that you have ten A19 sockets, four E26 sockets and six E12 lights, you can monitor deals for just these types of bulbs and buy them as and when needed.
A good starting point are the starter kits. They contain the Hue bridge/hub – which you’ll need if you want to control more than 10 lights… plus it unlocks a lot more features than just using Bluetooth. The kits also include 1-4 bulbs, and the total price often works out quite a lot cheaper than the individual price of the bridge and bulbs.
These can alert you to good deals, and also give you the historical prices for products – allowing you to only buy when the price has dropped so that it’s a genuinely good deal.
You don’t always have to wait until Black Friday to get a good deal – there’ll be frequent offers on Philips Hue bulbs throughout the year, sometimes at a better price than you’ll get during the Black Friday sales.
I followed this method and paid £103.79 ($129) for six bulbs and a Hue bridge, when the actual price outside of sales and deals should have been £159.95 ($198).
The Philips Hue Hub (also called the Hue Bridge) retails at over $50, and the newer generation of bulbs don’t even require it – you can use your phone’s bluetooth to control the bulbs.
So shouldn’t you just skip the Hue Hub and save $50? Well, there are a few flaws with not using the hub, with the two biggest being:
- You can only control up to 10 smart bulbs with your phone, unlike with the hub which takes the number up to 50 bulbs. Not having the bridge is therefore fine if you only want to try out smart lighting with a few bulbs, but it’s not good if you want to convert your whole house to smart lighting.
- You’re limited to only controlling the bulbs when you’re physically at your house, meaning that if you’re out and someone else (without the app) wants to make changes to the bulbs, they can’t. Equally if you get to work and think you left the bathroom light on, you won’t be able to check this and turn it off if needed.
The summary here is that the new style bulbs (with Bluetooth support) can be worth getting if you get a good deal on them and you just want to quickly test out smart lighting, especially since the bulbs also have Zigbee support (meaning you can control them with the Hub if you get one later on).
But if you’re very interested in smart lighting, get a Hue bridge – probably via a starter kit – because you’ll need it eventually, plus you’ll essentially ‘unlock’ access to a wider range of Hue deals (since you can buy both the ‘old’ and ‘new’ bulbs). This will save you more money in the long run.
When it starts getting dark, we tend to rely on side lamps (which use E14 bulbs) instead of the main ceiling lights. We have one in our living room, one in the hallway, one in the landing, and another in our master bedroom.
So when it gets dark, I go around the house turning each of them on. Then when we go to bed (a few hours later), I go around the house turning each of them off – and also turning on a night light on the landing since we have a young child.
Whilst this is admittedly a ‘first world problem’, it’s become frustrating to spend 2-3 minutes each evening doing this, especially when I know that there’s a simple solution which can automate this completely. With smart lights, I’d probably save an hour each month just from not running up and downstairs turning multiple lights on/off each evening – a fair amount of time saved. Plus instead of a separate night light (costing $5), I could just dim a smart bulb – meaning I save money on not having to buy a night light (well, I have already bought it – but I could have bought a smart bulb instead of a night light originally).
So that’s my reason for switching to smart lighting, and once you’ve purchased the Hue hub, you can just pick up cheap Hue bulbs in the sales as and when needed.
Linus done a YouTube rant (albeit a well researched one!) on Hue bulbs and at 8:17 in the video below, he said that it’d cost $1,600 to switch to smart Hue bulbs in a typical house:
Is Linus correct here? Well his prediction is based on installing 40 Hue bulbs, and paying an average of $40 per bulb.
This calculation is also based on buying the color bulbs, too – but you’ll probably find that you don’t want color bulbs in every outlet. Sometimes white ambiance is perfectly nice, whilst other times a simple, dimmable white bulb is also fine. Buying these white and white ambiance alternatives can cost less half the $40 price that Linus uses in his calculations.
How about the other prediction – that you’ll need 40 bulbs? Well, this is actually too low – the average American home actually has 50 light sockets according to research by Energy Star.
So let’s re-work Linus’ calculation, with 50 bulbs – 20 of which are color, 20 are white ambiance and the rest are white Hue bulbs. We’ll price them at sales prices of $38/average, $20/average and $10/average for color, white ambiance and white bulbs, meaning our total smart light conversion cost is:
- 20 x $38 = $760 (Color)
- 20 x $20 = $400 (White Ambiance)
- 10 x $10 = $100 (White)
- Hue bridge free as part of a starter kit deal
- Total = $1260 (for 50 Philips Hue bulbs)
So this comes to around 25% cheaper than Linus’ prediction, which isn’t bad considering that it contains 20% more bulbs.
If you spend $4 per day on a Starbucks, you’ll pay more each year on coffee than converting your house to smart lighting – and potentially get more benefit out of it (and I say that as a coffee lover!). But really the key question is: is it worth it for you?
As you can probably guess, my general answer is: it depends!
Sorry to sit on the fence, but it’s true. When I worked out that it’d cost me $600 to convert my kitchen-diner to smart lights, I realized it wasn’t worth it for me… in that particular case.
But I then got fed up of constantly turning four side lights off and on each evening, and I got a good deal on four E14 bulbs for these (plus the Hue hub, as part of a starter kit). Paying less than $100 to automate this problem away was something I’m happy to pay, especially when I realized that I was probably spending an hour each month running around the house turning these lights off and on!
I can foresee myself buying more Philips Hue smart bulbs in the future, too, but only when it genuinely makes sense for me to do so. In other words, only when it’ll actually bring an improvement to that room, or to my family’s routines.
And for me, that’s what smart lighting – heck, smart homes – are all about.
If you’re interested in smart lights, please check out my video below on exactly how I setup my home’s Hue system and integrated it with Alexa: