Smart Lighting In 2021-2022 & Beyond: Everything You NEED To Know

If you’re new to the world of smart lighting, you might be baffled by all the different choices out there. Whether it’s Philips Hue, LIFX or a budget make on Amazon, it’s not often clear what company to go with. Plus is there a difference between Wi-Fi and Zigbee based lighting? Finally, should you care about Connected Home over IP (i.e. Matter)? I answer these questions and more:

The video timestamps for each section are:

  • 0:00 Intro
  • 1:52 Factor 1: LED types
  • 3:49 Factor 2: Mix and match??
  • 5:35 Factor 3: Control
  • 7:32 Factor 4: WiFi vs ZigBee
  • 11:42 Factor 5: Futureproofing (CHIP/Matter)
  • 15:00 Conclusion

Video Transcript

Hello, I’m Tristan from Smart Home Point. Did you know that if you go out and you buy random smart lights from Amazon every single time there’s a sale, you will end up like this:

“Why do I have 12 different apps to control my smart home?”

Or you’ll walk into a room and ask yourself “how do I turn that light on again?”

This is a common but serious affliction known as S.H.C, Smart Home Confusion. Buying smart devices from loads of different companies isn’t too bad if it’s spread around your home. For example, myQ to use your garage door, Amazon Echo for your voice speakers, and then ecobee for your smart thermostats. But it is a problem if your smart lights themselves are all from different companies. This is because even if they were all compatible with Echo devices for example, you still need to remember the exact name of each and every light bulb in order to control them. Or you need to remember which app on your phone to launch. Plus, it’s pretty rubbish to have to pull out your smartphone every single time you want to control your smart lights in my opinion. So, when choosing smart lighting for your home, there’s a few crucial factors to consider, which this video explores in detail.

Firstly, are the lights themselves high quality RGBCCT or just RGB? Secondly, if you do mix and match lights from loads of different companies, will they be color compatible with each other? Thirdly, can you control your lights with buttons, and remotes, and motion sensors, or only with your voice and a smartphone? Fourthly, you need to consider whether they are WiFi or ZigBee based, will you need to buy an expensive lighting hub to control your lights? For example. Finally, will your light support the new CHIP, wait, Matter standard? If that all sounds like complete gibberish, worry not because I’ll cover all of this in today’s video, and in an easy to understand way, hopefully.

Factor 1 – LEDs

Right, factor one, the LEDs. Smart lights are made up of multiple light-emitting diodes, LEDs. At a minimum, a full color smart light will have three LEDs, red, green and blue. This means that if you want to set your lights to bright orange or mauve, the three color LEDs will mix and match the colors as needed to display your chosen light color. Side note, does anyone else think that mauve is a really stupid name for a color? Just me? Okay, cool. (signal beep) So a smart light with RGB diode is good but they do have one particular issue, white light. It’s quite common to want a light to display white light, whether that’s bluey white light for daytime, or yellowy white for nighttime.

However, with just red, green and blue diodes its hard if not impossible to actually achieve proper white light. As a result, higher end, and higher quality smart lighting providers such as LIFX and Philips Hue actually introduced extra white diodes. Sometimes this is a single warm white diode, sometimes it’s a single cool white diode. While sometimes they actually have both, resulting in five diodes, red, green, blue, warm white, and cool white. This then allows the bulb to deliver really realistic looking colors, and also white light. But this then throws up another point of confusion, how both the colors and the whites should be controlled. Sometimes they can be controlled within the app on your phone by having two different wheels.

One for the sort of color temperature, the white light and one for the actual RGB colors, but this is a bit clunky. And so the higher-end smart lighting providers actually offer something better known as RGB-CCT. This merges the color temperature and the RGB control into one. Meaning, in practical terms, that you’ll just have a single control wheel within the app. This is the most convenient option by far. But it’ll also work out more expensive than simply going out and buying a budget full color smart bulb.

Factor 2 – mix and match?

The second factor to consider, is actually whether you should mix different lights from different companies. And the short answer here is no, you probably shouldn’t. The reason for that is that every single light and light bulb produced by a different company will have slightly different components and slightly different diodes, it will also have slightly different software. What that all means, is that the light themself will produce slightly different colors, slightly different white lights, and it’s really really difficult to get everything compatible. So, for example, if in your living room, you’ve got four spotlights and they’re all from different companies, if you went and said, “Set them all to purple.” They will all look slightly different.

Some people wouldn’t care about that, but I think the average smart home user would care about that, they would notice the difference. What they would also notice is that actually transitions between different colors, and different brightnesses, will also be different between each bulb. And that can be really annoying. So, if you’re considering going out in Amazon sales and just buying loads of different light bulbs that’s usually not very good idea. It’s best to stick to one company for all your smart lights, at least for a single room. Of course, you might not always want to go out and spend $50 on a Philips Hue or LIFX full RGB bulb.

That might not always be practical, especially if you’re putting them in a basement or a utility room where you don’t spend much time. As a result, what you could potentially do, is make sure that you’ve got Philips Hue bulbs, for example, in your living room, and then in another room of your house, you have a more budget make. In that way, even though the colors will be incompatible, you won’t actually know because you’d be in a different room of your house. So that can be one way of actually mixing lights from different companies, in a way that doesn’t actually impact you, and doesn’t actually stick out like a sore thumb.

Factor 3 – how to control

The third factor to consider is how you actually control your light bulbs. This might not seem like an important factor, because many bulbs on Amazon say that they support Google Home and Alexa, and which might make you think that you can just go out and control all your bulbs with your voice on your Amazon Echo device or a Google Home device. But the flaw with this is that that requires you to actually remember the exact name of every single light bulb in your house in order to control them. In reality, this isn’t always practical, especially with Amazon Echo devices, where it’s really really picky about the name that you give to a bulb. If you get it slightly wrong, it’ll come back and say things like, “A few things share the name Utility Room, which one did you mean?”

As a result, you’ll probably want to throw your Amazon Echo device out the window, because it’s really annoying if you go into your utility room with an arm full of clothes, the lights are off, and you’re issuing in voice commands to try and turn the light on, and your Amazon Echo device just keeps saying, “Which light did you mean?” It’s just not practical, it just doesn’t work very well. The other alternative, like I mentioned in my introduction, is to pull out your smartphone, but then of course you have to remember which app is corresponding to which light. For example, if you’ve got 10 different smartphone apps, because you’ve got lights from 10 different providers, you need to remember which ceiling light, for example, corresponds to which app, and that’s not practical. So the method that I prefer is to actually use something like Philips Hue, which comes with a range of accessories to actually control your smart lights.

So, for example, you’ve got a dimmer switch, you’ve got motion sensor, and you can configure all these to actually control one light, or a group of light, or even your whole house if you wanted. And that can be really practical, because although smart lighting would imply that you’ll control everything with your voice, or with an app, sometimes you do simply want to control things with a physical device instead. And I actually find that this is the best option overall.

Factor 4 – WiFi vs ZigBee

The next thing that you will want to consider for your smart lighting platform is whether they should be controlled with WiFi or ZigBee. I know this doesn’t sound like a very important topic, but actually it sort of is. Many bulbs which are WiFi controlled, like my LIFX one in the ceiling, they don’t require an external hub, they connect directly to your internet router, and then you can obviously connect to them with your smartphone which will also be on your WiFi network, and you can control them in that way. That’s really convenient. But many internet routers have been built to support 10 to 20 devices, connected WiFi devices.

As a result, if you go around your house buying loads of WiFi connected bulbs, you might find that all of a sudden your internet router starts crashing, or having loads of issues, or even booting your phone off the network, because there’s simply too many WiFi connected devices, and that’s often no good. As a result, sometimes it’s nicer to offload all your lights, and have them connect to something else, known as a smart hub, Philips Hue, for example, who I mentioned earlier, they actually all use Philips Hue lights, such as a light strip, or a ceiling bulb, they connect to a Hue hub, or a Hue Bridge as it’s sometimes called. This speaks ZigBee. Now don’t worry about that too much, but basically it’s quite similar to WiFi. The nice thing with this is that all your lights then connect to the Philips Hue Bridge, or hub, that supports up to 50 lights, which is enough for the vast majority of homes. And as a result, they save your WiFi network, they save your internet router, because you’re not going to overload your internet router with all your lights connecting into it.

Of course, the one downside here, if you do go down the ZigBee route, is that you need to go out and buy a Philips Hue Bridge. By itself, this can be up to $50, although usually you can get it a bit cheaper as part of a starter kit. But of course, this is an added expense that you don’t need with a WiFi bulb. With a WiFi bulb, You simply buy it, and it just works. With that being said, one nice thing that Amazon has recently done, is their more recent versions of the Echo devices, actually contain a little ZigBee chip, and what that means is that your ZigBee based lights, such as from Philips Hue, GLEDOPTO, SYLVANIA, Innr, they can connect directly to your Amazon Echo device, and that acts as a sort of smart hub. The benefit of that is then you don’t need to go out and buy a Philips Hue hub, and that saves you money. Of course, the downside is, it’s not always clear which Echo device actually contains a ZigBee chip. I’ll put details on the screen now, but the short of it is, the Echo Show 5″ and 8″ do not contain a ZigBee chip, and an Echo Dot device, also doesn’t contain a ZigBee chip. It’s usually the full-size and more expensive Echo devices that do contain the ZigBee chip. Now, if you do go down this route, that’s great, because you’ve saved money on the Hue Bridge, but you need to understand that you then won’t be able to use the full feature set available with Philips Hue lights.

For example, with Philips Hue lights you can do a color loop, which you’re seeing at the moment, you could do Home & Away control, and a whole range of other things. But if you connect your Philips Hue light straps and bulbs directly to your Echo device, you won’t be able to use those features. You’re more limited. You can change color, you can dim things, you can turn it on and off, but beyond that you are more limited. Equally the Hue Accessories, as they’re called, some of these, or many of these, don’t actually work with the Amazon Echo devices. For example, the motion sensor requires the Philips Hue Bridge. So if you go down the route of Philips Hue, but then you use your Echo device to save money, and not have a Hue Bridge, you’ve got to accept that you won’t actually be able to use the full feature set of Philips Hue software, and also, the actual accessories as well, so that’s a bit of a downside. If it’s me, if I’ve weighed up all the options, and I don’t want a WiFi based smart lighting system, because I don’t want to overload my internet router, I would then personally just go out and buy a Philips Hue Starter Kit, to get the bridge, and a few light bulbs, as part of that. I think that’s probably the most cost effective way forward if you do decide that ZigBee is the right way to go for your smart lighting solution.

Factor 5 – Future-proofing

The fifth and final factor that I will discuss today is future-proofing. This is quite an important topic at the moment in the smart home industry, because loads of different smart home devices are not compatible with each other. For example, if you’ve got a smart doorbell from Ring, you can’t really control that very easily with your Google Home device, you can only control it with your Amazon Echo devices. Equally, Some smart lights work perfectly well with Amazon Echo, but they don’t work with Google Home, or Google Nest, or whatever they’re called. As a result of that, a year or two ago a project called Connected Home over IP got announced, and basically loads of different smart home companies including Apple with HomeKit support, they came along, they came together and they said, “Hey let’s create a standard to actually allow all these different smart devices to speak in a common way.”

That’s a really nice idea. Although I will point out it’s now been renamed to Matter. Ignoring the fact that I think that Matter is a slightly stupid name, the whole movement, the whole idea, behind CHIP or Matter, is quite a good one. It means that your smart lighting platform, or your smart lighting ecosystem, should be controllable from loads of different smart devices in the future. For example, even if your smart light, at the moment, is only controllable from Amazon Echo, It might be in the future, that it can now be controlled from Google Nest Mini devices as well, for example. But the one thing you need to consider is whether your light bulbs will actually be Matter compatible. If they’re not then you could have spent potentially thousands of dollars on your smart lighting platform only to find that it’s controllable via a single app on your phone, in the future. And then you can’t control it from loads of different other smart devices.

This is where I, again, like Philips Hue. They recently announced, as you can see from this tweet from the Philips Hue Head of Technology, the Hue Bridge will support Matter. What this means is that if you’ve gone out and invested in a Philips Hue Bridge, then in the future, that will just have a software update and make it Matter compatible. And then any voice speakers or third-party remote controls, as long as they are Matter compatible in the future as well, they can all of a sudden start controlling your Philips Hue lights. This is a big deal, because if your smart lights themselves are Matter compatible, then there might be a time in three or four years in the future, whereby a company come out and they produce some super-duper smart lighting remote control that could be Matter compatible, and then all of a sudden, you will be able to buy that, and use that to control your entire smart lighting system in your house, which is something that isn’t really possible right now, unless you use Zigbee in some ways.

But in general you probably want to make sure that your smart lighting system is Matter compatible, or will be in the future. Right now, Philips Hue are one of the only ones who have come out and said, “Yes, they will be.” I personally doubt that any budget smart lighting bulbs on Amazon right now, will turn out to be Matter compatible in the future. I doubt that they’re going to be able to do a software update and make it Matter compatible. As a result of that. You want to make sure, before investing thousands of dollars in your smart lighting ecosystem, you want to make sure that it is Matter compatible, or it will be in the future.


As a result of that, for me personally, if I’m going to go out and buy a brand new smart lighting system, I will go with Philips Hue, that’s because their bulbs are RGB-CCT, which are probably some of the best, they can be controlled with loads of different remotes, and accessories, and things like that, and we know they will be Matter compatible. So for me, personally, Philips Hue at the moment, is probably the best system to actually go out and buy. But if you don’t actually want to spend, as I mentioned earlier, $50 on some really expensive light bulb in a room that you’re not going to go into.

The nice thing with Philips Hue is that as long as you’ve got the Bridge, that speaks ZigBee. So you can go out and buy cheaper makes such as GLEDOPTO or SYLVANIA, they will be ZigBee compatible. What that means is that you can actually add those cheaper bulbs to your Hue Bridge, you can control them with Hue Accessories, and you can control them with the Hue App. You can put those in different rooms in your houses, just make sure you group them for color compatibility, and that will work just fine as well. So for me personally, the Philips Hue ecosystem, which also includes GLEDOPTO, SYLVANIA, Innr, and a bunch of other makes, that is probably the best smart lighting system to go with, especially since it’s future-proofed because of its Matter support.

I hope that all makes sense. If you’ve got any questions though, please do leave a comment, and I will get back to you as soon as I can. I hope this video has been helpful to you, if it has, please click the thumbs up button, which will tell YouTube that more people should watch this video. Please also consider subscribing to my channel, and clicking the little bell icon, to be notified of all my future videos. Thank you.

About Tristan Perry

Tristan Perry is a software developer who is passionate about tech gadgets, DIY and housing. He has therefore loved seeing smart homes hit the mainstream. Tristan also has an academic background (in Math & Computer Science), and so he enjoys digging into the technical ways that smart home devices work.

Tristan owns close to a dozen Amazon Echo devices, way too many Philips Hue bulbs and lightstrips, a boat-load of Ring Cameras and Doorbells... and a bunch of other smart home devices too (from Reolink, Google Nest, GLEDOPTO and others).

If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!

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