Philips Hue Likes 3rd Party ZigBee Bulbs (and Disco)

Joel Ward —  January 30, 2015

UPDATE: Philips may have just killed 3rd party bulb support. Details can be found here. (12/11/15)

A few months back, I got into the home automation game thanks to encouragement from Dave and Adam. I’ve experimented with a few different platforms thus far, and particularly like Philips Hue alongside Staples Connect.They work well together.

hue-nest

We have a few colorful Hue lights and a Hue Lux in play and my kids especially love the Hues because we can use the Hue Disco app for Android to synchronize light effects to music. I cannot tell you how excited it makes my younger kid. He asks for it by name. And my older kid told me, “Dad, I want all the lights in the house to be Hue lights.” But I told him, “Keep dreaming, boy.” Because the downside of the Hue system is the price. Colored bulbs run $60 each while the Hue Lux soft whites go for $30. Not horribly expensive, but it can add up quickly. Plus the $60 bulbs are only 600 lumens, vs 750-800 lumens provided by Lux and many of the newer 60 watt equivalent LED bulbs.

Fortunately, I found some references online (Amazon GE Link bulb Q&A & Reddit post & SmartThings forum) indicating that GE Link ZigBee bulbs paired with Hue. On a whim, as I was giving up on the Wink hub, I tried mating the GE Link bulbs with Hue. Voila! They worked. Now I had two more bulbs, one A19 ($15) and one BR30 ($20), that work with Hue. That includes the Hue Disco app (Android | iOS) with the very cool fade-in/out way that Hue adjusts the lights.

I also picked up two $15 Cree Connected ZigBee bulbs—brand new at Home Depot. The sales associate had to get them down off an upper shelf as they were not on display yet. Thanks to some help on the Staples Connect forum, I learned that by using a manual pairing mode I could link both Cree bulbs to the Hue hub. (CNET Review of the new Cree Connected bulb) As if that wasn’t enough, I grabbed an LG ZigBee bulb at Best Buy. It pairs with the Staples Connect hub but not the Hue hub. I’m not sure why, but Philips confirmed via Twitter. As the LG is $25, almost as much as a Hue Lux and almost twice the price of a Cree or GE, I may just return it.

cree-lg-led

Lastly, as Staples Connect (and, yes, Wink) can control a Hue hub, I can do things such as pair a Lutron Pico remote with the Hue/ZigBee lights for rooms that don’t have a switch. We have done that in the living room, family room, and kitchen. $15 for a Pico remote, and no wiring necessary. Plus our house was built in the 1950s and has limited ability for Z-wave or Lutron switches because of the wiring and electrical box sizes.

Things are looking up now that more reasonably priced ZigBee bulbs are coming out and are or will be compatible with a variety of hubs. My kids will be happy.

33 responses to Philips Hue Likes 3rd Party ZigBee Bulbs (and Disco)

  1. What would be cheaper than Hue are standard LEDs and a wall dimmer where there is no buzzing and the light gradually fade/brighten versus jerky steps. Haven’t yet found that perfect combo. Anyone?

    By the by, who knows how long or if third party support will last. I imagine Philips wants you to buy THEIR Hue bulbs (at those premium prices). Not sure if using Zigbee requires they remain open or not. May depend if they advertise “Zigbee.” Hm.

  2. ZigBee is listed on the box and such. :-) We can dream.

    For standard white lighting, there are less expensive options. However, our house can’t support many of the wireless dimmers because we don’t have a common wire. Or we’d have to go Lutron, which are $50-$60 a pop. So a pure wireless system is about all we can handle.

    Plus the nice added feature of the colorfulness and Hue API that 3rd party developers can tap into.

  3. But on the Philips Hue box, it states Zigbee certified. Why put that on there if they aren’t going to abide by the standard?

  4. Again, I don’t know Zigbee licensing terms and such. But prominent box display and Stacey’s comments could be promising for long term, if unofficial, support.

    Joel, yeah, a good dimmer isn’t cheap but the math works if you have 4 (or more) recessed BR30s in each room and you generally want the lights synced. I don’t need every bulb wired if the control is wired. Er, wireless. I put an RF Lutron dimmer in the bedroom but it didn’t work well with my Crees, so I reverted back to incandescent in that room for smooth dimming. I don’t think there is a BR30 Lux yet?

  5. Nope, no BR30 Lux yet. That would be AWESOME. Also more sizes and brighter colorful Hue bulbs would be AWESOME.

  6. “And my older kid told me, “Dad, I want all the lights in the house to be Hue lights.” But I told him, “Keep dreaming, boy.” Because the downside of the Hue system is the price.”

    He doesn’t have to dream. He could put in a shift or two a day in the coal mines to help pay for them. Beyond having easier access to narrow tunnel offshoots, kids’ cute little fingers are especially effective at grabbing tiny nuggets of anthracite. Plus, it’ll teach him a good life-lesson that disco requires a strong work ethic. Start ’em young for best results.

    (No need to thank me for not going full-on Swift’s A Modest Proposal here…)

  7. I can confirm Philips Hue integration with both GE Link and Cree Connected bulbs. The GE Links pair easiest (I have only 2 of them) but the Crees are not too difficult and will pair after a quick search while turning the light on and off a couple of times. I went ahead and bought 6 of the Cree bulbs because I prefer the light of these to the GE. FWIW I have only used the Hue app to control the lights but it works perfectly. I am however soon to be in the Staples Connect system when I return my NEST and buy 2 of the Honeywell ZWAVE thermostats which will also come with the new version of the Staples Hub for free. The NEST seemed like a fail for my heating system. I live in Birmingham AL and have a heat pump with electric AUX and the NEST actually increased my bill. The wife is not happy.

  8. Connected bulbs really only make sense to me when installed in lamps plugged into non-switched outlets. Otherwise there is ROI (as Dave points out) in just replacing the switch and plenty of other benefits.

    I’m surprised to learn that there are still homes without a neutral. How can you even get insurance? I moved recently and the inspector gave me crap about my 80’s breaker box and he was telling me that a lot of insurance companies have really locked down on older wiring.

    I’m personally on the hunt for a automated lighting solution. I’m really leaning Insteon again. They make lots of great unique devices (FanLinc, In-LineLinc, OutletLinc, etc) and you can mount the RemoteLinc in a way that looks almost exactly like a real wall switch.

  9. Ben, you can also put a Lutron Pico remote in a wall plate (where there is no box) to control Zigbee bulbs as a switch with Staples Connect, fwiw. It’s basically just an RF remote and you’d programming the buttons to do whatever you want (trigger an activity, light on, open the garage, etc). Can’t recall if dimming is a programmable function yet. Maybe Joel or Adam can chime in.

    http://amzn.to/165X2Sd

  10. I’m joining the Staples Connect ecosystem too. I’m picking up five Cree connected bulbs tonight since Joel confirmed that they will work with the Staples Connect. I’ll look into Lutron switches later. I also have the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home and this looks like it will be compatible with that, as well. I hope all of these items will work with Homekit when that comes to market.

  11. For the Pico remotes, there is no UP/DOWN dim feature that works when attached to Staples Connect. The remotes have five buttons: ON, OFF, Favorite, Up, and Down. Up and Down DO THE SAME THING and together can only be attached to a single activity in Staples Connect. They will not incrementally dim at this time. This is a common complaint in the Staples Connect forums.

    That said, I have programmed our Pico remotes in this way: ON: full brightness, Favorite: Medium brightness, UP/DOWN: low brightness. And of course, OFF.

  12. Cool! That sounds like a good compromise. By the way Joel, Staples has two lighting kits: one has the old white Linksys hub and seems to have Lutron dimmers, plug-in modules and remotes and the new black D-Link hub seems to have non-Lutron dimmers, plug-in modules and remotes for twenty dollars less. Do you have the new black D-Link hub? Do they both have Lutron branded devices? I would check the stores myself but none near me seem to have any kits in stock.

  13. Slightly OT but, can someone recommend a basic connected thermostat that works with the Staples Connect? There is only 1 option on their website and I was wondering if I had some other choices before I pull the trigger. I’m returning my NEST regardless so it is indeed not an option. Any help or recommendations from someone with experience is greatly appreciated.

  14. To those talking about the Connect HUB being integrated between the HUE and PICO remote……. Is there another bridge that is needed in order to connect the Hue lighting scenes and the PICO remote. Or will a Staples connect hub be the only thing needed?

  15. ensaburnur, the new D-Link hub for Staples is the one you want – it adds Zigbee. But both work with Lutron Clear Connect.

    Zach, Staples Connect will link a Lutron Pico remote to Hue stuff. That’s what a lot of us have done (in addition to other bulbs).

  16. ensaburnur: I have the black D-Link Staples Connect hub. It and the older Linksys support the Lutron wireless protocol as well as Z-wave. Plus Hue, Ivee, and a few other IP based protocols. The D-Link also supports ZigBee directly (as well as via a Hue hub) and supposedly Bluetooth, though BT support is limited-to-nonexistent at this time.

    Zach: Staples Connect can pair a Lutron Pico remote directly. No need for a Lutron wall switch or other hub. The Staples Connect software can map activities to the buttons on the Pico, though full up/down dimming is currently limited to a single action, not incremental dimming.

  17. Dave: jinx!

  18. Thanks Dave and Joel.. That all sounds great. I can’t wait to start setting everything up tomorrow.

  19. I got really excited when I first learned bout the Lutron Caseta, but then my excitement was quickly deflated when I dug in. The scene support is a joke, the 30′ limit is a big problem and the inability to create a three-way light switch is a deal breaker. Add in the required Internet access for their controller and it’s a non-starter. The RadioRA 2 is cool, but have to be a dealer to do the programming and there isn’t a single dealer in my area — 16th largest TV market in the US.

  20. Ben, you’re a world famous blogger – you can’t give up so easily. Exert your will (and then blog it here). ;) I wonder if their new retail Hub provides a subset of the of the custom installer package – maybe the Smart Bridge Pro?

    http://www.casetawireless.com/Pages/Products.aspx

    By the by, my last Vegas hotel was tricked out in Lutron:

    https://twitter.com/davezatz/status/537667532199444480

    Speaking of Lutron, I can’t tell you how sad I am that we can’t mount the Serena in the bedroom. I need to check their other lines. And take my own advice to Ben by checking in with Lutron or with Julie Jacobson to find me an advisor.

  21. Based on my research Z-Wave just doesn’t offer the same scene features that other protocols do (IE with Insteon you don’t need a controller to have scenes, the protocol, like X10 before it, supports direct device to device integration). This is how a 3way switch works, one switch handles the load and the other switch simply sends it on-off commands. If something like the Pico remote or Insteon Mini remote completely replicates the functionality of a 2nd switch (for the same price), then this is a moot point, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    And if you look hard enough, you’ll find lutron everywhere. In fact they are an electric supply manufacture that makes automation products, where most are startups are the opposite. Lutron could be the biggest name in dumb light switches — def the biggest name I know.

  22. “I can’t tell you how sad I am that we can’t mount the Serena in the bedroom.”

    I never knew you had a thing for tennis players, Beavis.

  23. Yeah, leaving out “Shades” was probably Freudian.

  24. Pulled a switch today, yeah, my house doesn’t have neutrals either. Back to the drawing board.

  25. Ben – Both Caseta and Z-Wave support device to device control. In fact, I have 3 and 4-way lights with Caseta Dimmers and Picos doing that in my house. It is actually cheaper than high quality “dumb” multi-way switches. You can still control the main dimmer with a controller (like I do with my Staples Connect) to get a best of both worlds scenario. And the Caseta dimmers don’t need neutral

  26. Mike,

    The Caseta support forum has replies that specifically state it’s a one room solution(which is also what the product page states). I’m looking for a whole house solution (not limited to 50 devices or 30′).

    I’m open to using a remote switch in a 3way if the function is identical, but it’s hard to tell the difference from marketing literature.

    And insteon also makes non-neutral dimmers that are rf only. But I was hoping all my lights could be dual-band.

    I’ll prob get some zwave lights to play with and blog about the difference in scene support.

  27. So the lutron caseta products only work within 30′ of the staples hub? And this includes the serena shades? And Pico remote too?
    Maybe I should read up on lutron a little more. Ben’s comments seem to suggest all of this. Can someone elaborate in a way that someone new to Lutron and Staples Connect could understand.

  28. That’s a good question. We have a smaller house, and three Pico remotes so far. They all work throughout the entire house, but I don’t think any are more than 30′ from the Staples Connect hub. I’ll have to test outside and see how far I can walk until they stop working.

    If you have Lutron Caseta wall switches installed, would that help extend the Lutron wireless network? We don’t have any wall switches, just the Pico remotes. Three Picos cost the same as one wall switch…

  29. “Yeah, leaving out “Shades” was probably Freudian.”

    Nah. Comments from the Butt-head POV are generally to be dismissed out of hand.

    (And I am sorry. But I just couldn’t resist. It was like finding a hundred dollar bill just lying there on the sidewalk. How can you not pick it up?)

  30. I assume Lutron has downplayed Ceseta multiroom capabilities as they previously pushed those folks towards other lines and custom installers. With their own Smart Bridge now in play and a business relationship to interoperate with Staples Connect, it’s reasonable to assume they’ll update their marketing materials at some point. Or let us discover on our own?

  31. I think Dave is right on Lutron downplaying it. In my house, I have Picos and shades at the very far end of the house upstairs (against one outside wall), and they talk to the Staples Connect on the first floor against the opposite wall. Probably 5 walls and 100 ft, and it is perfectly reliable. Now this is typical wood frame construction, so that certainly helps. Z-Wave and Zigbee are mesh networks so line powered devices can act as repeaters, but Lutron is not. Everything is point to point. They run at a much lower frequency (~400MHz) in a quieter band with good power, so their range is pretty strong.

  32. I just tried the wink hub. And not impressed with it. So I was looking at the Phillips hub and lights I bought 4 link bulbs. Is there anything special that I have to do to set them up to the hub?

  33. I can’t seem to find the reference, but basically the Hue hub will find the and Cree ZigBee bulbs in auto pair mode if you turn things on in the right order. I believe that you run the auto find search in Hue then turn the power on to the bulbs. Make sure the bulbs have been de-paired from Wink and reset.

    You can alternately use manual pairing mode in Hue and enter the six digit “serial” number code that’s on the base of the bulb.