Philips Hue has long been one of the better and more versatile options for DIY smart lighting on the market. They offer a wide range of products from colored bulbs, to light strips, to white bulbs and ambient lighting. The problem is that Hue bulbs tend to be very expensive, easily costing 20x more that a standard LED bulb.
I’ve already written about how you can score great deals on the Hue Lux Starter Kit if you shop around. What many people don’t know is that Hue works with a number of other manufacturer’s bulbs right out of the box. While even 3rd party bulbs can still cost $15-$50, it can still save you a ton of money over buying regular Hue bulbs. These third party bulbs are generally just as capable as Hue bulbs but for 25-50% less money.
How It Works
Hue uses the ZigBee protocol to communicate. ZigBee is an open source standard for wireless communication used mainly in smart home products, and it is one of the most popular standards used in smart lighting. If you have a Hue Bridge set up, you’re already good to go. If not, you’ll need to have a Hue Bridge on your home network before you can add any 3rd party bulbs to your Hue ecosystem.
The downside here is that not all ZigBee devices are compatible. For one reason or another companies decide that they want to block their products from communicating with other ZigBee products. Usually companies will cite security concerns, but in reality, it’s normally because they want to force you to buy more of their products. Thankfully, Philips has developed the “Friends of Hue” program, and by extension, has also decided to work with a number of major manufacturers to make their bulbs work with Hue.
The 3rd Party Bulbs
At this time, there are quite a few companies that make bulbs that work with Hue. Before we get into the name brands, a little aside. Despite its long history, the smart home market as we know it is still in its infancy. There are many reputable companies, like Philips, churning out fantastic, well made products that make our lives easier. Those products can cost a lot of money. That said, there are now many companies, mostly Chinese and Korean, that are flooding the market with cheaper alternatives to name brand products. They’re not necessarily knockoffs, but products that perform the same or similar tasks at a significantly lower price.
In this case, there are a number of light bulbs that will work with Hue, made by these off-brand “companies” (many don’t even have a company name, they’re just a product listing). Having tested a couple, I can say that they’re generally cheaply made and the light quality and dimming options pale in comparison to even the cheapest name brand bulbs. I have said it numerous times, but it’s worth repeating; home automation is an expensive hobby. You often get what you pay for. I can’t stop you from buying these products, but I’d advise against it.
The most notable name brand bulbs that work with Hue are GE Link, Cree Connected and Sylvania Lightify (aka Osram Lightify)*. These companies sell quality smart bulbs that will work with Hue out of the box. By out of the box I mean that just like a new Hue bulb, if you turn on one of these bulbs and search for new bulbs in your Hue app, you should be able to quickly and easily connect them to your Hue Bridge.
*A note about pricing: I provide links to Amazon because Amazon pays me to do so. While I generally enjoy making money, I caution you that Amazon sellers of all smart home products like to play with the prices. On any given day, the bulbs linked above will cost between $15 and $40 per bulb. I highly recommend tracking the price or shopping around. You can find all of these bulbs from $12-15/bulb at Amazon or big box stores on the right day.
Pairing 3rd Party Bulbs
Cree, Sylvania and GE would have you believe that it takes a team of engineers with protractors and other nerd related gear to pair their bulbs with Hue. I’m here to tell you that it is a much simpler process than these companies let on. Here is my never fail* six step process to adding third party bulbs to Hue
- Install one new bulb in the light or fixture of your choice.
- TURN THE LIGHT ON! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD REMEMBER TO TURN THE LIGHT ON!
- Open your Hue app and go to Settings -> Light Setup and click the + button to add a new bulb.
- Hit the Search button to search for your new bulb.
- OPTIONAL: If the search fails
- Re-read step 2 and make sure your new bulb is turned on!
- If the bulb was turned on and the search still can’t find it, click “Add serial number.” Locate the six character serial number on your bulb and search again
- Repeat as necessary
*A note on processes that never fail: So long as you keep repeating this process until it works, it will work or you will die trying.
If you’re a savvy shopper you can light new areas of your home, while still using your existing Hue app and integrations, for a fraction of the cost of buying all Hue products. So long as you stick to reputable products, you will not be disappointed.