If you’re thinking of smartening up the lights in your home, Philips Hue is one of the first names you should consider. Among all of today’s smart lighting platforms, it’s the most well established, the most well developed and the most well connected, too. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Alexa user, an Apple HomeKit fan, an IFTTT nerd, a Razer gamer, a Google Home devotee, a Logitech Harmony connoisseur, a Nest aficionado, or about a bajillion other examples — Philips Hue’s lights work with all of it.
If you barely understand what any of that last sentence means, don’t worry: Philips Hue is a great pick for smart lighting newbies, too. And hey, maybe that’s why you’re here. You want to know more about the platform before you buy in — especially because a lot of these lights don’t come cheap.
Well, we’re here to help, with everything you need to know about Philips Hue in one place: What it is, how it works, how to put it to use in your home, which bulbs to buy first — and which ones are overpriced duds, too. And please note that I’ve included links to Amazon where appropriate, as well as a few of our top picks here at, well, the top — CNET may get a share of revenue from purchases made through those links. Gotta keep the lights on, right?
Best for beginners: Philips Hue White Starter Kit, $69
The most important thing to know if you’ve decided to invest in Philips Hue’s ecosystem is that you’ll need the Hue Bridge plugged into your router in order to control your lights (it’s the square-shaped hub in the middle there).
You can buy that Hue Bridge on its own, but the best way to get it is to buy a starter kit that packages it with a couple of bulbs — and the best value among those starter kits is the Philips Hue White starter kit, available with two white-light bulbs for $70 or four bulbs for $100. It’s a great way to test the platform out and learn the basics of automating your lights with the Hue app, and you can build upon it over time, adding new lights to your system whenever the ones you want go on sale.
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Best color-changer: Philips Hue Play, $128
Maybe it’s controversial to pick Hue’s relatively new light bars over the classic Hue bulbs, but if color-changing bulbs are all you want, you’ve got options from other brands that cost less. And besides, the Hue Play fixtures are perfect to hide behind a monitor or to mount beneath a shelf or on the back of a TV — sneaky smart places for color-changing accent light, and places where bulbs can’t traditionally go.
If you’re interested in Hue Entertainment, which syncs your lights with what’s on your computer’s screen, then these lights should keep getting better over time — just know that Hue Entertainment still needs a lot of work. I also love that you can power up to three of them with a single plug, but wish that they unplugged for battery-powered portability. And yeah, I wish that they cost slightly less, too — but waiting for a sale is par for the course with Philips Hue at this point.
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Best accessory: Philips Hue Tap, $49
For $50, the Philips Hue Tap is a wireless four-button remote that can control your Philips Hue lights. The coolest thing about it is that it powers itself whenever you press a button, so you’ll never need to recharge it or replace its batteries.
Like the rest of the Hue lineup, the Tap also works with Apple HomeKit, which means that you can use it to trigger HomeKit-compatible gadgets from other brands, too. We’ve been using one to control the lights at the CNET Smart Apartment for a few years now, and it’s never failed us. Seriously, what’s not to like about this thing?
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All right, so what is Philips Hue?
Skipped the first paragraph, huh? That’s OK, I was gonna expand on it anyway.
Philips Hue is a line of smart LED light bulbs and fixtures. Each one communicates wirelessly with the Hue Bridge, a little modem-looking thing that you keep plugged into your home’s router. That connection to the cloud lets you can control Hue’s lights from your phone, with a voice command via Siri, Alexa or the Google Assistant, or by automating them to turn on and off at specific times or when other devices trigger them.
Many of Philips Hue’s bulbs and fixtures can change colors upon request (hence the “Hue” branding), but some are just basic bulbs that put out plain ol’ white light and nothing else. Prices range from $15 a piece for bulbs like those to $250 for a 58-inch tall Philips Hue Signe color-changing floor lamp (spoiler alert: that’s one of the overpriced duds you can definitely skip).
How do I use these lights?
To get started with Philips Hue, you plug in the Hue Bridge and connect it to your router via Ethernet cable. Then, you’ll screw in your Hue bulbs or turn on your Hue fixtures. Download the Philips Hue app to your Android or iOS device and open it up — it’ll walk you through the rest of the setup process.
Once you’ve paired your lights with the app, you sort them by room and give each one a unique name. The app (and if you’re using them, the Siri/Alexa/Google Assistant voice controls) will let you control entire rooms at once, as in, “turn on the living room.” You can control individual lights, too, which is where naming everything is important.
The Hue app comes with a number of preset “scenes” that, when activated, will automatically change all of the lights in the room. Along with basic scenes for normal, soft white and daylight-toned white light, there are multicolor scenes that will randomly apply colors from a preselected palette across all of a room’s lights. For instance, a Spring Blossom-themed scene will randomly assign shades of pink, red and white across your lights, while a Northern Lights-themed scene goes with shades of green and blue. You can make and save your own scenes in the Hue app, too, which lets you return to a custom mix of colors that you like with a single tap or voice command.
And how does Philips Hue work?
In a word? Zigbee.
…Oh, right, I should probably be a little more specific. Zigbee is a wireless communication technology like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. You can think of it as a language for smart lights to talk to each other and to their control hub. All of Hue’s bulbs and fixtures have their own built-in Zigbee radios, as does the Hue Bridge that you keep plugged into your router. Its job is to act like a Zigbee-to-Wi-Fi translator for your home network and your lights.
For instance, you send a signal to your router whenever you turn a Hue bulb on using the app. From there, the Hue Bridge translates that command into a Zigbee signal and sends it out to the bulb. All of that happens in a fraction of a second, and since the connection to your router keeps your Hue Bridge connected to the cloud, it means that you can control your lights from anywhere in the world where your phone can connect to the internet.
Wait — does Zigbee cost anything?
Nope, Zigbee isn’t like Wi-Fi in that sense. It’s more like Bluetooth. It’s a local wireless network for your home — specifically for your smart home gadgets. Once you plug the Hue Bridge into your router, screw in a Hue bulb, and pair the two together via the Hue app, the two will start using Zigbee to communicate like two kids playing with walkie-talkies. You don’t have to sign up for Zigbee service or pay a monthly Zigbee bill or anything like that.
Are those Zigbee signals secure?
Yes. Since Zigbee is a local network, none of Hue’s bulbs connect directly to the cloud, and all of their Zigbee transmissions back and forth to each other and to the Hue Bridge follow standard encryption practices, which the Philips Hue team has been developing and refining with regular firmware updates for several years now.
Speaking of the Hue Bridge, you have to connect it directly to your router with an Ethernet cable. While that’s a little less convenient than hubs that just connect to the router wirelessly, the Hue team tells us that this approach ensures that your home’s Wi-Fi credentials are never transmitted wirelessly, and thus theoretically easier to intercept. Hue also requires users to tap the button on the top of Bridge during the initial pairing process and during setup for most third-party connections, which is an excellent way of keeping someone from taking over your system from outside of your home. On top of that, each Hue Bridge has its own unique verification key, which means that if one were ever to be compromised, the hacker couldn’t use it as a way to take over any others.
Connecting anything to the internet comes with risks, obviously, but Philips Hue has a long, solid track record of keeping its platform secure. There’s no reason to think that connecting your lights to the internet poses any more risk than connecting, say, your laptop, your phone or your TV. As always, just be sure to keep your Wi-Fi network protected with a strong password.
So what can these lights, you know, do?
On a basic level, smart lights like the ones from Philips Hue let you control and dim your lights using your phone, using voice commands or using automations that you set up in the Hue app or with a compatible third-party automation service like IFTTT.
Basic automations like those let you do things like schedule your lights to turn on automatically in the morning or at sunset, or even more creative use cases, like lights that blink whenever you receive an email from an important contact. You could also connect your lights with a motion sensor, then program them to turn on automatically whenever someone enters the room.
Other, more advanced features include automatic Google Assistant wake-up lighting that can slowly fade your bedroom lights up during the thirty minutes prior to your morning Google Assistant alarm. Another recent feature called Hue Entertainment lets you set your lights to mimic the color of whatever’s playing on your computer screen in real time. Connect that computer to your living room TV for a color-coordinated movie night with the kids — that is, if you don’t find the feature too distracting.
What all does Philips Hue work with?
Like I said before, it works with quite a lot. Most notable are the voice assistants — Hue was the first smart lighting platform to hit the trifecta and sync up with Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant (and hey, Hue works with Cortana, too). Make the connection, and you’ll be able to turn your bulbs on and off, dim them up and down or trigger your scenes by asking your assistant of choice to do it.
On the Alexa front, Philips Hue also offers direct compatibility between its lights and the Amazon Echo Plus, an Alexa smart speaker with its own, built-in Zigbee radio. That means that Echo Plus owners don’t need the Hue Bridge if they want to pair Hue bulbs with Alexa — though they’ll only be able to control those Hue lights in the Alexa app and by using Alexa voice commands. If they want to use the Hue app or any of Hue’s other integrations, they’ll still need the Hue Bridge plugged into their router.
You can also add Philips Hue bulbs and fixtures to a whole lot of other smart home platforms, including Wink, Samsung SmartThings and security-minded automation systems like Comcast Xfinity Home and Vivint. Just know that for all of them, you’ll still need the Hue Bridge.
Speaking of the Hue Bridge, it also supports third-party Zigbee lights that aren’t made by Philips. That includes inexpensive smart bulbs from names like Cree and Sylvania that cost a few bucks less than Hue’s white light bulbs at retail. Just make sure that those smart bulbs send their signals using the Zigbee wireless protocol.
Something else to watch for: A growing number of smart light switches designed to connect with Hue’s light bulbs, making it so your automations and voice controls will continue to work even when things are off at the switch (with a regular light switch, cutting the power makes it so your bulbs can’t receive signals from the Hue Bridge). We’ve already tested one such smart switch, and more are expected to arrive later this year.
OK, so tell me about those bulbs. What are my options?
You’ve got lots! Hue sells both color-changing and white-light bulbs in a variety of shapes and sizes. They include:
- Philips Hue White LED: A pretty standard, soft white, dimmable LED smart bulb that costs $15 each.
- Philips Hue White Ambiance LED: Slightly more advanced — adds in the ability to change the white light color temperature from a yellowy, candle-like glow up to bluish-white daylight tones. Still no colors, though. Costs $30 each.
- Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance LED: Hue’s flagship smart bulb does white light at any color temperature you like, plus the full spectrum of colors. They cost $50 each, but go on sale frequently.
- Philips Hue BR30 Floodlight LED: Hue bulbs in a floodlight form that’s better-suited for overhead lighting that shines down in one direction available. White Ambiance floodlights cost $30 a piece, with two-packs available for $50. White and Color Ambiance versions that add in the RGB spectrum cost $50 each.
- Philips Hue GU10 Spotlight LED: Hue spotlight bulbs designed to replace specialty halogen bulbs with dual-pronged bases. A bit niche, and priced the same as the floodlights: $30 for a single White Ambiance bulb, $50 for a White Ambiance 2-pack, $50 for a single White and Color Ambiance bulb. A White and Color Ambiance bulb with a more traditional screw-in base is also available for $50 each.
- Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Smart Bulb Candle: The name is clunky as hell, but this is just Philips Hue’s color-changing candelabra LED. Each one costs $50, which is too expensive given that you’ll almost certainly need to buy at least a couple of them to fill out a fixture.
- Philips Hue White Outdoor PAR38 Floodlight LED: Available in a two-pack for $50, this is a weather-rated Philips Hue floodlight that you can use outdoors. It doesn’t change colors or color temperatures, but it’s rugged enough to stand up to the rain.
Geez, that is a lot. And what about the fixtures?
There’s a lot of these, too (and even more of them if you’re shopping in Europe). Among the most notable:
- Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus: The second-gen version of the brand’s color-changing, stick-up light strips. They can go behind TVs, beneath countertops and cabinets or anywhere else you’d like via the included adhesive backing. A single 80-inch strip costs $80, with 40-inch extensions selling for $30. You can also get the Hue Bridge for free when you buy two lightstrips.
- Philips Hue Go: It looks like a cereal bowl of color-changing light, and it has a built-in rechargeable battery so you can unplug it and take it wherever you like. Weird, but weirdly likable, and a good pick for kids because it has a physical button on it for quick, easy color changes. They cost $80 each.
- Philips Hue Beyond: Fancy, lamp-style fixtures with built-in color-changing LEDs. Available as a $200 table lamp, a $300 ceiling lamp, or a $350 hanging pendant-style lamp.
- Philips Hue Wellner: A weird-looking product with a weird name. It’s basically a white plastic blob of a table lamp that puts out white light at any color temperature you like. It costs $100.
- Philips Hue White Outdoor Fixtures: Dedicated porch lights that you can mount outside your home. Each comes with its own Hue White bulb, but I’d like them better if they had built-in motion sensors. There’s the classic, lantern-style Inara fixture for $50, a more modern-looking Lucca fixture for $60 and an over-the-garage-style Ludere fixture that comes with two of Hue’s outdoor PAR38 LEDs for $130.
- Philips Hue Outdoor Lightstrip: A rubbery, weatherproof version of Hue’s color-changing light strip. Not nearly as easy to mount as the indoor strips, and also a bit costlier at $90 each.
- Philips Hue Lily Outdoor Spotlights: Outdoor spotlights that you stake into the ground to light up your garden or your home’s exterior. Unlike the mountable fixtures mentioned above, these are fully color-changeable. A base kit with three lights and the power supply costs $280, while a single light extension kit sells for $80.
- Philips Hue Calla Outdoor Pathlights: You stake these color-changing lights into the ground like the Lily spotlights, but they’re omnidirectional pathlights that look a bit like little lighthouses. A single light starter kit costs $130.
- Philips Hue Signe: Probably my least favorite Hue fixture, the Signe is basically a vertical stick that casts color-changing light in a single direction. You’re supposed to aim it at your wall as an accent light, but it casts a very narrow pool of color and it doesn’t have a physical on/off button. At $160 for a 25-inch table lamp and $250 for a 58-inch floor lamp version, it’s much too expensive to recommend.
- Philips Hue Play: A black or white plastic bar of color-changing light that you can stand up behind your computer or mount to the back of your TV. A pretty good pick for Hue Entertainment, which syncs the color of your Hue lights with what’s playing on your screen. One point of note: You need a special plug that comes in the starter kit. Each plug can support up to three lights, which can help keep your power strip from getting overcrowded. A starter kit with the plug and one light costs $70, while a starter kit with two lights costs $130. Additional lights without the plug cost $60 each.
Man, OK. Is that it?
Nope! Philips Hue sells accessories for its system, too. These include:
- Philips Hue Tap: Probably my favorite Philips Hue accessory, the Hue Tap is a $50 wireless remote for your Philips Hue lights. It doesn’t use any batteries — instead, the clever design harvests the kinetic energy of each button press, which is just enough juice to send out a low-power Zigbee signal to the Hue Bridge.
- Philips Hue Smart Dimmer Switch: A wireless remote that can pair with up to 10 Hue lights at once for quick dimming controls. You can also mount it to the wall with the included base plate. It’s not self-powering like the Tap is, but it’s well priced at $25.
- Philips Hue Motion Sensor: For $40, a wireless Zigbee motion sensor that can trigger your Hue lights automatically whenever you enter the room.
- Philips Hue Outdoor Sensor: For $50, a mountable, weather-proofed version of the Philips Hue Motion Sensor that also tracks temperature and ambient light.
Cut to the chase. Which Philips Hue products are worth it?
Of all of these, I think most people will get the most value with a Philips Hue White starter kit, which includes the essential Hue Bridge and a couple of Hue White bulbs to get you going. A kit with two bulbs costs $70, while a kit with four bulbs costs $100. It’s enough to get your feet wet, and since it comes with the Hue Bridge included, you can build upon it, gradually expanding your setup, light by light.
The smart way to do this is to figure out which products appeal to you the most and then wait for a sale. You shouldn’t have to wait long — Philips Hue products are frequently marked down at major retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and Home Depot. Good deals on days like Black Friday and Prime Day are pretty much a given at this point.
To each their own, but I tend to think that color-changing bulbs are often a bit frivolous in lamps and overhead lights that you typically use as primary light sources for shared spaces (seriously, how often are you really going to want to be able to bathe your entire living room in purple?) Instead, I find that lights like these are best suited as accents that you aim at your walls wherever they might benefit from a pop of color.
That’s why I tend to like the Philips Hue Play light bars and the kid-friendly, battery-powered Philips Hue Go fixture a little bit better than the bulbs. At $60 and $80 per light respectively, they’re each a little expensive, but they fit the bill as colorful accent lights for high-tech homes. Same goes for the Philips Hue Lightstrip, though I wish that it was capable of putting out more than one color at once, like the Lifx Z Lightstrip is.
Philips Hue offers some solid accessories for its system, too. First among these in my mind is the self-powering Philips Hue Tap remote. With no need for batteries, it’s a great little gadget at $50, and a nice Apple HomeKit accessory, too.
I was also recently impressed when I tested out Philips Hue’s Outdoor Sensor, which, like the Tap, costs $50. Mount it outside your home if you want your Hue lights to turn on automatically as you’re fumbling for your keys at the front door after a long day at work. I like it for indoor use, too — even more so than the standard Philips Hue Motion Sensor. For $10 more, the Outdoor Sensor adds in sensors for temperature and ambient light.
What Philips Hue alternatives should I consider?
You’ve got plenty of options when it comes to color-changing lights, so it’s smart to shop around. Just keep in mind that no other competitor has a smart lighting platform that’s as steady or well-developed as Philips Hue.
The closest is probably Lifx, a smart lighting startup out of Australia that caught fire in the crowdfunding scene several years ago. Lifx offers terrific app controls, it works with a great range of third parties, including Alexa, Siri, IFTTT and the Google Assistant, and it’s done a good job of building out a wide product lineup. Lifx products communicate using Wi-Fi, not Zigbee, so they don’t require a hub — you can just buy a single color-changing Lifx Mini LED for $35, screw it in, pair it with the app and go.
Lifx also offers color-changing LED light panels called Lifx Tiles that you can stick to your walls, similar to the likable Nanoleaf Canvas Light Panels. Philips Hue doesn’t offer anything like that for your walls.
If you just want a cheap color-changing bulb for your next party or for a game room, then a Philips Hue starter kit is probably overkill. You’d be better off with Wi-Fi alternatives that don’t need a hub.
Low-cost color-changing bulbs from names like Eufy (Anker’s smart home brand) and Kasa (TP-Link’s smart home brand) will do the job just fine, complete with Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility. For a hub-free color-changer that works with Apple HomeKit, consider the Sylvania Smart Plus LED, which costs $45 at full price, but often goes on sale (as of writing this in April of 2019, it’s marked down to $23 a piece on Amazon).
Soon, GE will jump into the category with color-changing smart bulbs of its own. Those are worth keeping an eye out for, too — especially if you’re a Google Assistant user, since GE bulbs are “Made for Google” products. And, while Philips Hue offers a full lineup of its own outdoor lights, you might consider waiting for Ring’s upcoming outdoor lighting lineup, which looks to have a good variety of fixtures with their own built-in motion sensors.