Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hue vs. WeMo

In our digital age you hear the terms smart home, connected home, home automation and others to describe an ability to control the lights, heating, locks, security systems and a host of other devices through your home WiFi network and over the internet. More specifically, it means that you can use your smart phone, tablet or computer to turn on your lights, set your home security system, or a number of other tasks at home or from anywhere. Want to turn all the lights out before you hit the sack? Boom! "There's an app for that;" forget to turn on your security system en route to your dream destination? Boom! "There's an app for that."

These buzz-phrases, if you will, are becoming ever present. While there are a host of choices for products in this relatively new category, I wanted to do a review on the Phillips Hue lighting system, and Belkin's WeMo home automation suite.


Phillips Hue is marketed as "personal wireless lighting." It is a completely custom lighting system. Phillips manufactures a wide variety of electrical and electronic products including wireless "smart" light bulbs. The Hue system is a line of lighting products which include smart RGBW LED bulbs, RGBW LED light strips, white smart bulbs, and a variety of other unique lighting products and accessories that can be controlled from a smart device via WiFi or over the internet.

WeMo however, is a bit broader and simpler at the same time. Belkin designed the system to interface with a number of devices, of various brands and manufacturers. For example, the WeMo hub and products are designed to integrate with Lightify products, a Sylvania product product line. Similarly, which of course begs the question:  is Phillips planning on eventually interfacing with more?. WeMo also has a broad selection of switches and outlets that can be integrated into their ecosystem as well.

The tagline for the Hue system is "paint with light." And that's exactly what you can do. I'm not sure of the gamut specifications and all the particulars that are generally irrelevant except to the occasional eccentric techie nerd or art school graduate, but the interface looks just like the color palette on Adobe Photoshop. To get into the system, you must first purchase a starter kit that includes a wired bridge you connect to your router which now comes with four RGBW LED light bulbs. (Similar starter kits are sold separately for white bulbs, light strips and other products. RGBW LED bubls are bulbs that allow for the full gamut of visible light, 16 million beautiful colors, as well as the subtle color temperatures of white light:  warm or cool (Red+Green+Blue & White). As with any piece of electronics these days, there is of course, no instructions except to plug in the bulbs and the bridge, and download the app. I will say that if you are not a technical person, and don't fancy watching YouTube videos and a lot of trial and error , the Hue system may not be for you. The Hue website doesn't really offer much except basic teaser info, and most of the stuff I found on YouTube is mainly demos and basic unboxing and initial set up; I didn't really find much in the realm of troubleshooting or guidance. However, Philips has a support phone with a dedicated line for Hue products. In the US the number is 800-555-0500.

It is most certainly worth the trouble of figuring it out. The range of color is amazing, but coming into it with a knowledge of additive color systems helps to reduce the frustration. It takes a little time to learn these things and some of the colors seem to run together, or seem to be missing (1st and 2nd generation color bulbs). For example, blues and greens initially were a bit limited to more of a lime and cyan, but that has since been corrected with the 3rd generation bulbs. The apps available are outstanding. There are a few (free ones) that create a light show with your set up. It's completely mesmerizing. [Ambee; Lighter]

The WeMo system is similar in that you have to run a wireless hub that connects to your router to allow the interface. The WeMo hub is wireless. The WeMo system also offers a starter kit that includes the hub and only two bulbs, albeit for a lesser price. Belkin originally started the line by marketing it's own smart bulbs, but then shifted gears and began using the Osram Lightify bulbs made by Sylvania. They are "tunable" white light only. That is, the color temperature can be varied to suit your setting or mood, but it will never be anything but white. However, I should mention, that that does not detract from the value.  The range is good from warm to cool (yellow to blue), and suitable to set a number of moods. The WeMo system also allows you to add light switches and a device called an "Insight Switch" to control other devices like heaters/air conditioners and pretty much anything you can can plug in or control with a switch. It's essentially a WiFi electrical outlet, similar to the WeMo Switch which is a multi-function light switch. Put them all together and you could literally control everything in your house (for the most part) from anywhere. 


Both systems can be controlled remotely and/or onsite with your smart device. The Phillips system however seems to be much more robust as far as connectivity, that is, the incidence of connection issues and errors is much less than on the Hue system. This I suspect is a result of two factors :  1) the Hue bridge is wired directly to your router so it NEVER loses connectivity. 2) Any time a manufacturer makes both the product (hardware) and the software that runs said product, you generally get a better overall experience, i.e. Apple productsn -- because Apple makes both their devices and the software that runs them, vs. Google which makes software to run any number of devices manufactured by any number of manufacturers. This of course is only a theory of mine.

Like the WeMo app, the Hue app has to connect to the bridge over cellular or WiFi away from home. Because the app is designed not to hog all your bandwidth and battery life, this takes a few seconds and most of the time entails hitting "retry" a few times. Then it connects and you're good to go to turn your lights on or off using the scenes. WeMo does the same thing, however, connectivity is rather unpredictable, although WeMo allows you to do pretty much everything away from your network that you could do at home:  adjusting brightness, color temperature and varying which lights to turn on or off.. The downside with WeMo is that you can be at home standing five feet away from your hub and it still says it can't find your lights. Then, to make matters worse, the whole system will crash from time to time requiring you unplug the hub, reset it using the button on the bottom, or simply restart the app. What happens if ALL the lights in your home are WeMo or Hue lights and you lose your internet connection? There is a saving grace. In either system, (and I'm guessing all systems) the bulbs still work as regular lights, and I've seen online that the WeMo switches still function as switches. I'm assuming the Insight Switches will allow for you to still control other devices until normal function is restored.

{ additive color refers to colored light; whereas subtractive color refers to pigments and paints. (Basic Color Theory - my expensive art school education finally put to good use) Colors of light are additive in that when you add them together you get white light. Pigments and paints are subtractive because essentially the more you add together the further away from white (or actually reflected white light) you get. So when you're playing with colored lights yellow and blue don't necessarily make green, etc. Colored light is more complicated. The light primaries are red, green, and blue (RGB), as opposed to red, blue and yellow as we are taught in second grade. Sometimes what you see on the palette doesn't always shine through the bulb. Which is why you have to have patience and be willing to try a few things. Also, if you are an Adobe user, one thing to think about is that fact that although the color palettes look similar, the color palette in Photoshop is designed to imitate subtractive color. The software adjusts for hue and saturation, as well as brightness and other aspects, whereas with light, there's not really a lot of control over these things until you start introducing shadow. It seems the brighter the bulb burns, the more de-saturated the colors become; the closer they start to look like white light. 


I did my research. I was sold on Hue. As a person with bipolar disorder, I have noticed over the years that my moods can be significantly improved with the right lighting and with color. I first heard of Hue some years ago during an Apple Keynote. Originally the Hue system was sold exclusively through The Apple Store. At the time, I could see myself owning one "someday" but I was going through a rough time and really couldn't justify forking over the cash for some "fun" lights. Fast forward to 2015, I bought one. Took it home, and threw up my hands in frustration. The mistake I made was in  buying it after a long day at work, when I had a headache. I hooked it all up and missed a few things; totally overlooked things I should have thought about. Plus, I didn't really have a plan yet on how I wanted to set it up, so when I turned them on, the set up made no sense...if that makes sense. I replaced it with a WeMo system which was very easy to learn. Both systems allow you to control multiple bulbs by grouping them together in the app. However, the Hue system allows you to create "scenes," and use "light recipes:" pre-formatted scenes that are meant for things like relaxation and concentration. The Hue system allows you to create your own personal settings, save, and recall them later. Scenes are basically your own custom mix of which bulbs are illuminated, what color, and brightness.

The Hue system and the WeMo system both have their benefits. Ultimately I went back to the Hue system, not just because I wasn't 100% satisfied with the WeMo's performance because Hue was really what I wanted in the first place, and I have always felt that you shouldn't settle for second best, get what you want and you'll be happier. It was well worth it. I would recommend both, however, I'd lean toward the Hue system in my recommendation, that is unless, you're looking to integrate your whole house into one ecosystem.  The reliability of the Hue system is unsurpassed in my experience, and it's extremely fun and easy to use once you take the time to learn a few basics; and it's absolutely worth the investment!

Here are a couple really cool videos that I watched at least a few times.

"And one more thing..." Hue is now compatible with Apple HomeKit, which means that you can control your lights with Siri which is TOTALLY awesome! More to come...

Keep watching Titanium Toast for reviews and insight on Hue apps, links and demos.

NOTE:  T/his article was originally written in November of 2015. 
A lot has changed since then within both ecosystems.

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