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Introduction

Update 2/20/15: Added Pros and Cons

Smart LED Light Roundup

If you've walked down the lighting aisle in your local hardware store recently, you've probably noticed a few things have changed. First, as mandated by law, incandescent light bulbs are being phased out; all you can still purchase are fairly low wattage incandescents.

Second, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), once the "green" go-to replacement for incandescent lights, are starting to be replaced by LED light bulbs. CFLs, while much more energy efficient than incandescents, have two key drawbacks; they take awhile to warm up and achieve full brightness; and they rely on a small amount of mercury to operate, which creates a disposal hazard.

LED light bulbs are very energy efficient and mass production has lowered the price of a 60 W LED equivalent to about $10 or less. This is cheap enough that you should recover the cost of the bulb through energy savings over the life of the bulb. Most LED bulbs are dimmable, have a pleasing soft "warm" light similar to incandescent bulbs and achieve full brightness instantly.

The latest twist on LED light bulbs has made them "smart". Smart LEDs look very similar to their "dumb" cousins, but you can control them via an app on your smartphone or tablet. They are a direct replacement for whatever bulb you are currently using—you just screw them into an existing socket.

All smart LEDs rely on communicating with a gateway or "hub" device for their intelligence. If you don't install the hub and apps, the bulb will respond the same as their dumb cousins. Your existing light switch will turn them on/off just like any other bulb. But if you do install the hub and apps, you'll be able to turn your lights on/off and dim them according to schedules you create or are triggered by external events.

In this roundup, I'll be looking at five different kits:

The kits all include a gateway (hub) and two LED Smart Bulbs. Insteon, Philips and TCP hubs require an Ethernet connection to your network while the GE and Belkin hubs useWi-Fi. Bundled together as starter kits, these products offer a good, cost effective way to plunge into Home Automation for less than $100. Though not sold as a kit, you can find the Insteon Hub for $39.99 .and the Insteon LED bulb for $29.99 at Smarthome.com.

I'll get into the differences when we look at each kit. But first, let's summarize the common features of the bulbs in this roundup.

  • All are energy efficient consuming only between 9.5 - 12 W to produce the equivalent light output of a 60 W incandescent bulb. (~800 lumens - see table below for details)
  • They are intended to be installed into a live socket that has power applied all of the time. They require the power to link to their hub and to respond to commands.
  • They are intended for indoor use and should not be used in an enclosed fixture.
  • They cannot be used in conjunction with existing dimmers. Existing dimmers cause a conflict and can cause flickering or flashing.
  • The hubs, with one exception, require an constant internet connection and a user account, as the products are cloud-based.
  • All are controlled by iOS and Android apps for your smartphone or tablet. Insteon also has support for Windows phone and Windows OS.
  • All products support remote access from anywhere
  • None of the bulbs will interoperate with the other manufacturers' hubs or bulbs included in this roundup.
  • All products require a Wi-Fi network (2.4 GHz band only)
  • Each product can handle networks of at least 50 bulbs
  • Lighting commands are communicated wirelessly directly between the manufacturer's hubs and their Smart LED bulbs - not over Wi-Fi - so placement of the hubs is important.

Table 1 has a summary of the products and their key attributes. Term definitions are found below the table.

Manufacturer Belkin GE Insteon Philips TCP Inc
Name WeMo LED Lighting Starter Kit GE Link Starter Kit Insteon Hub
Insteon Bulb
Hue Lux Starter Kit Smart LED Light Bulb Starter Kit
Model # F5Z0489 PLINK-SKIT 2245-222 (Hub)
2672-222 (Bulb)
452714 LCG2LD11
Price $99.99 $49.97 (Home Depot) $114.99 (Hub)
$29.99(Bulb)
$99.97 $65
Standard ZigBee Z-Wave Proprietary ZigBee 6LoWPAN
Hub Connection Wireless Wireless Wired Wired Wired
Lumens 800 800 713 750 800
Color Temp 3000K 2700K 2547K 2700K 2700K
LED Power consumption (watts) 9.5 12 9 9 11
Lumens per watt 84.2 66.7 79.2 83.3 72.7
Timers N N N Y N
Enable/Disable Schedules Y N N Y Y
Scenes N N Y N Y
Groups Y Y Y (Rooms) Via Scenes Y (Rooms)
Sunset Y N Y N Y
Away Profile (Random On/Off) Y Y N Can create N
GeoFencing N Y N Y N
Fade In/Out Y N Y Y N
Sleep Timer Y N N Can Create N
IFTTT Planned N N Y N
Registration required N Y Y Y Y
Cloud required N Y Y Y Y
Activity Log N Y N N N
Table 1: Product Features

Definitions:

  • Timers - this refers to setting a countdown timer for a specified period of time
  • Enable/Disable Schedules - different manufacturers call schedules different things such as events, activities, scenes, and rules. While all products allowed you to create schedules for any day of the week, not all of them allowed you to disable a schedule so that the activity wouldn't run.
  • Scenes - Scenes is a bit confusing because different products use the term different ways. For the purposes of the chart, I consider that a product supports Scenes if you can schedule an on and off time within a single event.
  • Groups - Groups refers to the ability to place multiple light bulbs into a group that can be treated as an individual device.
  • Sunset - The ability to schedule events based on sunrise or sunset for your registered time zone. With this feature, you can schedule an event, such as turn on the bedroom lamp at sunrise, just once. The product takes care of knowing when sunrise/sunset is, and schedules the event accordingly, so you don't have to change the schedule as sunrise/sunset times change throughout the year.
  • Away Profile (Random On/Off) - This would be used for when you are away from home. Products having this either have a built in away profile, or you can create a schedule that varies the on/off times by a random amount of time around the start and end times so that the lights in your home don't look like they are connected to a timer.
  • GeoFencing - According to Wikipedia, a Geo-fence is defined as "a virtual perimeter for a real-world geographic area". As applied to Smart LEDs, Geo-fencing could enable your product to turn lights on or off based on a location trigger. You could, for example, create an event that would turn on your house lights if when you get within a mile of your home.
  • IFTTT - IFTTT integration allows you to add functionality to your smart bulbs by using or creating "recipes" on the IFTTT web site. For products like the Belkin WeMo that don't have native Geofencing capabilities, an IFTTT script could turn on your lights as you near your home in the evening.

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