Philips Hue is a personal wireless lighting system, enabling you to control and automate your lights from your smartphone and digital assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant.
There are many smart lighting vendors: Osram with Lightify, LIFX, Hive and lately IKEA with TRÅDFRI, just to name a few. Philips Hue has been a pioneer in this area developing a broad product range and third-party app ecosystem throughout the years.
For a general introduction to smart lighting, see: Introduction to Smart Lighting: A Very Brief History of Light.
In this post, we will shed some light on the Philips Hue product family and generations. We will look into efficiently setting up and grouping (many) lights within the Philips Hue app to bring this setup to Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant.
Who is Philips?
Royal Philips is headquartered in the Netherlands and was founded 1891 by Gerard Philips and no, he did not invent the Phillips screwdriver. Today, Philips is one of the largest electronic companies in the world focussing on healthcare, electronics, and lighting. Already back in 2008 Philips demonstrated the future of lighting with the LivingColors LED lamps mood lights, before stepping 2012 into the smart lighting era.
What is Smart Lighting?
Smart lighting is about energy efficiency. We consume a lot of energy for our lighting and by using optimized LEDs, which are programmable and controllable through sensors, we can not only streamline and minimize our energy consumption but also increase comfort and convenience.
Philips Hue Generations
Philips Hue was introduced in October 2012 and over the years received updates in October 2015 and 2016. Dependent on when you obtained your bridge and bulbs you might have Generation 1, 2 or 3.
- Generation 1 features a round bridge,
- Generation 2 comes in a square shaped bridge and adds support for Apples HomeKit and Siri, as well as brighter bulbs and LED strips. You also need the Gen 2 bridge for Alexa Scene and Color support.
- Generation 3 is an update of the Color Ambiance bulbs with an improved color presentation.
Philips Hue Product Range
Apart of the Hue Bridge, which serves as the central hub for all the devices, the Philips Hue product range covers spots and bulbs in white, white ambiance and white and color ambiance, light strips, lamps, and controls, like the tap, the dimmer and the motion sensor. The product range covers all aspects of smart lighting: task-, accent- and general lighting.
The setup process as documented by Philips are 4 simple steps:
- Power your light sources
- Set up your bridge
- Download the Philips hue app and connect to your bridge
- Play around and experience light in ways you had never imagined
Chances are, that you are beginning with a starter pack and your lights will be preconfigured. Following above steps will quickly lead you through the process. If you, however, plan to add (many) additional lamps to your existing system and want to voice-enable your setup with Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant, here are some concepts which can save you time and nerves.
Let’s start with some vital information, especially for larger setups: According to Philips, you can connect up to 50 lights to one bridge. Furthermore, you can connect up to 25 Hue taps and up to 7 dimmers or a combination thereof. Last but not least you can connect up to 12 motion sensors, but only if you do not have any taps and dimmers connected (otherwise its less).
What does this mean?
This cryptic information basically tells us that the storage on the bridge is limited. Behind the curtain, every time you create rules, add sensors, schedules, and lights, or try a new animation, all of this consumes memory on the bridge. Even worse, some apps leave their configurations on the bridge and never delete them, filling up your bridge over time. When the bridge hits its limit, which is defined by your personal configuration of the restrictions above, you get a notification that your bridges memory is full and you cannot save additional rules, sensors or schedules anymore.
When do you need multiple bridges?
You might end up having to split a setup of fewer than 50 lights, because of e.g. the many rules which were saved per dimmer on your bridge. Extending to a second hub does not only add overhead during the setup, it adds complexity and limitations when setting Hue up for Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Since there is no way of monitoring the memory usage of your bridge in the Philips app, we recommend using one of the third-party apps to avoid running unconsciously into the bridge-memory-limitation-wall.
In case you require two or more bridges for your setup, you will need to split up your rooms in a way, where lights, dimmers and motion sensors belonging together, are on the same bridge.
Unless you are using a third-party app with multi-bridge support, you will need to manually switch between the bridges on the Philips Hue app before you can control the other rooms.
Take a Note of your Serials
Before powering your light sources, make sure you note down the six character serial numbers of each of your lights, especially the ones which are difficult to reach. The Philips app offers a search function to find your lights, but if this fails, the serial numbers are the most reliable way to add your lights. You don’t want to carry a ladder around during the setup process to look up the serial of every undiscovered light. In case you plan to move the lights from one bridge to another, you will definitely need the serial numbers to migrate.
After connecting to your (first) bridge, the Philips Hue app will guide you to create your first room. Rooms are an important concept in Philips and HomeKit. You can create multiple scenes per room, which will control the light settings of all the lights within this room.
The Philips App does not support grouping one light into more than one room, which would come handy if you have a larger e.g. living room and would like to create multiple groups within this room, to be able to “read” at the table and “relax” on the couch.
Since there are ways to later re-group your Philips app rooms into a larger room for Siri and Alexa, you can segment your large rooms at this point into smaller rooms, eg create a couch, table, shelf room instead of one large living room. Note, that there is another restriction here: You can only group up to 4 rooms later on to HomeKit/Siri scenes with the Hue app.
Step by Step
Dependent on how big your setup is, it makes sense to add your lights in iterations, so you don’t have to run around your house identifying the lights. Start with powering on the lights that are in the room where your bridge is located and search for them. After a minute the app will return with (almost) all the lights you powered on. You do not need to wait for the process to finish, as new lights are dynamically added to the list.
Adding and Naming Lights
The Philips Hue app names your lights as type and number, eg “Hue Color Spot 17”. By tapping on the light, it will blink so you can locate/identify it. Rename your lights in a way which you can remember and which works for you as voice command if you want to control the lights individually, the digital assistants will recognize these names.
A combination of the location of the light and a number is usually easy to remember, eg Ceiling 2, Center 3, Shelf 5, etc. You can run the search again to find any light, which was not found during the first search. If all lights are connected the app will come back with the message “no new lights found”.
From here you can start the next iteration, turn on the lights in the next room and search for them. The app will come back with the newly found lights (on the bottom of the list), you can identify them by their default names and the green tag “New”. Rename them like you did in the first step and move on to the next room.
Mapping Lights to Rooms
Now that we have our rooms and lights named, it is time to map the lights to the rooms in the Room Setup. If you are using spots, the location of the spot and the room/section it points to might differ, eg the spot in your entrance named “Entrance 5” points to the kitchen, hence make it part of the Kitchen room.
Scenes – which define the state (color/hue, brightness) – for a group of lights, are saved in the Philips app per room.
Philips comes with pre-configured scenes to “energize”, “concentrate”, “relax”, “read”, as well as a “bright”, “dimmed” and “nightlight” scene.
Grouping your lights into rooms will make these preconfigured scenes automatically available in the app. This is a good time to create your own personal scenes.
Having our lights configured so far, we can finally speech-enable the setup with
- Siri and Philips Hue – Setup and Review
- Alexa and Philips Hue – Setup and Review
- Google Assistant and Philips Hue
For a comparison of the assistants in combination with Philips Hue, please see: Assistant Showdown with Philips Hue: Who will win? Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant.
For smart ideas around smart lighting, see:
- Natural Smart Lighting
- Sleeping Better with Smart Lighting
- The Many Ways of Controlling Smart Lighting
- Presence controlled Smart Lighting
Let me know about your Philips Hue setup experience by posting below!