Thursday, August 8, 2013

First thoughts on Philips Hue LightStrips

Bottom line, congratulations Philips! Great addition to the Hue LED lighting family.
 Philips hue
Apologies upfront for my initial paragraphs focus on unpacking and my inches rather than metric measures. 
First challenge is to figure out how to remove the unit from the box without destroying the box.
My box did not have any kind of tamper seal on the outer tab, so I could open the outer box without any sign.
Inner carrier slides out of the main box with out any problem.
Two tabs on the left side of the inner carrier allow you to open the top of the carrier like a book. But the lower tab is hot glued in place, just rub off the small glue bead.
Next I was able to slide the controler unit (a white box about the same size as the old Apple IR remote) out of the upper part of the inner carrier without damaging the packaging.
Then I was able to slide the round plastic carrier for the LED strip out of the inner carrier. Success, no damage to the packaging.
There are two paper documents in the package, a larger white 10 page (1/2 size of a sheet of standard letter paper) manual titled 'Philips LivingColors / LightStrips Safety Instructions - Part B' with a clearly visible text stating 'Last update: 05/06/13' (yo international company Philips is that May or June??) This document has at the top of the first page a set of 11 icons that I believe are used by Google or Apple as part of the interview process for new engineers and programmers. The second part of the document, if used in a job interview, would clearly show age discrimination, as it is set in a type font that cannot be larger than 4 point type. But good news about this manual, it is just safety instructions nothing to do with setup or operation of the LightStrips. And if you care, to the education value, it is written in 29 languages!
The second document, titled 'Friends of Hue Personal Wireless Lighting' is a small 2 inch by 2 inch square document, is the true 'getting started' document. Would be nice for them to say something like 'start here' on it. This document is another Google or Apple interview question, as it opens it's pages right to left and left to right. The correct answer (I think) is right to left. Lucky this manual (kind of) only has 12 languages, and they are all read left to right, which kind of corresponds to opening the document from the right. Anyway, as I said, this document is kind of multilingual, except the first six pages are all in English. Good news, the pages really don't tell you anything other than launch the Hue app on your mobile and click the button to add a new light to your system. The first really text page, that is duplicated in 12 languages, basically says cut your LightStrip to the length you want (but does not clearly show you the correct places to cut the strip, the strip itself kind of shows this), then stick it to the surface you want using the adhesive back, plug the strip into the power jack and then go back a couple pages in this manual to see how to add the strip to your system. Not a good job on instructions Philips.
 Hue lightstrips 01
The last two pages of the manual show you that you that you should not bend the strip where a LED is located and that the maximum recommended bend is 90 degrees. The last page gives you another chance to pass the Google or Apple job interview 'icon' test and then tells you to read the 'B' second manual on safety that I described above.
This is probably a good time to read the safety manual, because I just thought of something as I look at the strip of LED's. It is not clear to me that the voltage on the LED strip section is a safe voltage, rather than mains voltage. I am wondering what would happen if I plugged the unit into the wall socket and then decided to use by metal scissors to cut the end of the strip! At least it does look like the voltage is only 12 volts (I think DC) down from wall wart. Other than if you got at least the first two icons correct in the above mentioned safety test, the only place that it says that you should only use LightStrips in a dry indoor location is on the wall wart.
Bottom line, Philips could have done a much better job on the setup instructions by just taking advantage of the QR code they place on the front of the box. They should add a QR code reader in the HUE app and have a simple icon in the app that says 'Add New Light' and instructs you to scan the QR code. This would take you to a useful installation video on your mobile (as opposed to the marketing one that is currently displayed  on the 'Friends of Hue' page that the QR code and URL on the back of the small manual takes you to. Also Philips, make your web page recognize that you are coming from a mobile and format correctly. And make sure you grovel to Google YouTube so that your video plays on day one without stopping!)
The unit I purchase here in the USA is a USA socket device with a rating of 100-240 volts 50/60 Hz.
The LightStrips has 5 unique sections:
  1. The wall wart. The USA one that I purchased is a USA 2 prong ungrounded and unpolarized plug.
  2. A 38 inch 1/8 inch flexible round white cable that runs to the ZigBee control unit.
  3. The ZigBee wireless control unit, a white 3 1/4 inch by 1 1/4 inch by 1/2 inch box with the long sides rounded. As I said it is about  the size of the 1st generation Apple IR remote control that came with Macs. The unit has two 3M sticky tape points to attach it. The cables run in and out the small ends.
  4. A second section of 1/8 inch flexible round white cable that is 96 inches long (I will wait for my second unit to cut the cable and try and figure out how to extend). 
  5. The LED strip, the LED's are 1 9/16 inches  apart. The LED strip is 78 inches long. The transition from the 1/8 inch round cable to the flat LED strip is covered with a 1 1/2 inch piece of white heat shrink tube. There are 60 LED's on the strip. The cut points are every 4 inches.
The LED strip is similar to others I have seen in the current generation. It is 1/4 inch wide and 3/16 inch thick at its highest point. The strip is white with visible capacitors, LED's and cut points, along with the Philips name in off white every 4 inches. The back is a continuous strip of 3M double sided sticky tape.
When I first powered it on, all sixty LED's came on in an orange color.
I launched the Hue app on my iPhone and it found the LightStrips and named it 'LightStrips 1'. Clean and easy, I should have started here from the outside of the box!
The app continued to search for lights for about another 45 seconds and then gave me a 'Done' option. This screen is another example of where Philips could do a better job on the user experience. I do not think it would be very hard to put a 'count down timer or thermometer indicator' to tell you how much longer you have to wait for the search to complete.
The LightStrips added to my network without any problem and are working exactly like my other Hue bulbs. I will have to point you to others that are more qualified to talk about the light quality and color of the LightStrips. My initial two thoughts are as follows:
  1. The LightStrips do not seem to have as fine a level control as the Hue.
  2. The color of the LED's in the LightStrips do appear to be different and not as vibrant as the Hue bulb.
I think both of these assessments may be 'feelings' rather than any science differences in the LED's.
At USA $90, these are not going to be a main stream product for 85% of American consumers. That said, for those with a good application and the money, the Philips Hue LED system is the beacon to guide all of us to both better and more energy efficient light for all. The prices will fall, and I hope that Philips opens their technology enough to allow other quality lighting providers to work in a common system architecture. We do not need competing and different lighting control systems! The energy efficiency needs of the human race and planet need to be a higher priority than localized corporate profit. Consumers should be able to go out a buy a reasonably priced lighting device from quality providers that is 100% interoperable with all the other vendors. We do not have the luxury of time for the 'best socket' to slowly wind its way to market dominance, it is time for the big lighting corporations to get together and do the right thing together. Soap box off.
I was able to control the LightStrips with the same JSON and python code that I have been using with my original Hue bulbs. I admit I have not followed the API's closely since Philips published their official API documents, so perhaps their are more functions waiting to be exposed with these second family members of Hue.
The last set of LED strips I installed were about 5 years ago,  dinosaurs in the current scope of progress. Those were from Ikea of all places, I can say I have not saved enough energy to replace those with LightStrips as yet, but for folks that are a bit behind the 'beading' edge, Philips LightsStrips might be a great place and time to start in wireless LED lighting.
Bottom line, congratulations Philips! This is a useful and quality 2nd product in your wireless LED lighting direction. You are a leader and innovator! Keep it up. All my nit picks aside, okay one more 'Friends of Hue'????? WTF?????? I am not getting it. Don't let this EXCELLENT AND TIMELY FAMILY OF GREAT AND USEFUL TECHNOLOGY get tripped up by dumb marketing slogans, bad installation experiences, price and lack of interoperability. You have the Edison Socket by the 'horns', use this wonderful position you are in to lead the world to better light!
Hue lightstrips 02


  1. Would love to see how you're using this interesting/unique product... Post photos! Use Glass :)

  2. I appreciated your work very thanks