High-end brands like Philips Hue and Nanoleaf are often the go-to smart lighting suggestion in “best of” lists. But with dozens of cheaper alternatives, is premium smart lighting worth it? Here’s everything you miss out on when you ignore the expensive brands.
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Shopping for smart lighting online gives people a false understanding of how products look in real life. You can’t tell how bright, colorful, or diffused a light looks when you’re looking at photographs, especially when those pictures come from the product’s manufacturer. For this reason, people think that affordable smart lighting brands look just as good as the high-end stuff, which simply isn’t true.
When it comes to full-color smart bulbs, Philips Hue and LIFX lead the pack. Their bulbs are brighter and have a wider color range than cheaper alternatives, plus better light diffusion, which allows bulbs to produce a soft evenly distributed glow instead of a harsh and uneven beam. This isn’t to say that affordable full-color bulbs look bad (in fact, they look great), but the quality difference between premium and affordable bulbs is noticeable in person and may be worth the extra price to some people.
This quality difference is even more evident when you compare smart LED strips. Cheaper LED strips have a limited color range and often look like speckled Christmas lights due to their poor light diffusion. If you want a room to have the soft natural light shown in the above photo, you have to shell out for an expensive brand. (I should also point out that the LED strips in the above image are pointed at a wall, which helps to diffuse the light).
And for some cutting-edge settings, such as entertainment center lighting, expensive brands are just further ahead of the game than their affordable competitors. A Philips Hue Play HDMI sync box allows your Hue LED strips, TV bias lighting, and smart bulbs to sync with video on your TV or computer, creating an immersive environment that matches everything on-screen. Alternatives like the Govee Immersion (which cost hundreds less than a Hue Play setup), cannot sync multiple light sources with your TV, and aren’t as accurate as Philips Hue due to the lack of an HDMI sync box.
LIFX Color A19 800 lumens, Billions of Colors and Whites, Wi-Fi Smart LED Light Bulb, No bridge required, Works with Alexa, Hey Google, HomeKit and Siri.
They ain't cheap, but LIFX color smart bulbs offer an amazing range of colors and excellent light diffusion for a natural glow. And unlike Philips Hue bulbs, they don't require a special hub.
Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box to Sync Hue Colored Lights with Music, Movies, and More, HDMI 4K Splitter, 4 HDMI in 1 Out, Philips Hue Hub and Philips Hue Colored Lights Required
The Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box allows you to sync your Hue bulbs with your TV, creating an immersive environment at your entertainment center or gaming rig.
High-end smart lighting looks better than affordable alternatives, something that’s evident when you compare two products in person. But is the difference in quality worth the difference in price? Well, it depends on how good the cheaper stuff looks, and of course, your personal preference.
The high price of premium smart bulbs, for example, is pretty hard to justify. Options like the Wyze Bulb Color genuinely look great and only cost $35 for a four-pack. Compare that to the $165 Philips Hue Color Bulb Starter Kit or the $80 LIFX white only four-pack, and the quality difference suddenly doesn’t matter as much, especially if you’re planning to fill your whole home with smart bulbs.
But smart LED strips, light panels, and TV bias lighting are a different ball game. Cheap alternatives exist, but they don’t look as good as the expensive stuff and lack some important features. This gap in quality is evident when you shop for wall-mounted light panels. Expensive Nanoleaf panels look amazing, come in all shapes and sizes, and can learn your habits or integrate with routines to incredible effect. LIFX panels are also wonderful and provide ample room for creativity. While cheaper alternatives from brands like Yescom look nice, they far thicker and not that much cheaper than the high-end options, while falling behind in terms of lighting quality, features, and programmability.
Affordable LED strips and entertainment center lighting are quite common, and fortunately, the money that you can save on cheaper brands like Govee is often worth the gap in quality (especially if you point your LED strips toward a wall or floor, which will compensate for their poor diffusion). But there aren’t any affordable LED strips that match the features of Philips Hue Play systems (Govee Immersion comes close if you just want bias lighting), and if you really want to go all the way with entertainment center lighting, you have to shell out for expensive smart lighting towers like the Philips Hue Singe and the Corsair iCUE.
Opting for cheaper smart lighting can save you a ton of money, and if you know what you’re getting into before you buy an affordable product, you mayight never feel the need to upgrade to a premium brand. But some high-end lighting solutions are exclusive to brands like Nanoleaf and Philips Hue. Even when cheaper alternatives exist, they fall behind on quality and features.
Wyze Bulb Color (4-Pack)
Grab a 4-pack of Wyze full-color smart bulbs for just $35. That’s about the same price as a single LIFX or Philips Hue smart bulb.
Govee Envisual TV LED Backlights with Camera, DreamView T1 RGBIC Wi-Fi TV Backlights for 55-65 inch TVs PC, Works with Alexa & Google Assistant, App Control, Music Sync TV Lights, Adapter, H6199
Govee Immersion LED strips add dynamic bias lighting to your TV based on whatever's happening on-screen. It's an incredibly affordable alternative to Philips Hue Play setups.
One of the great things about using Google Assistant, Alexa, and HomeKit is that they allow you to mix and match smart home products from different brands. So long as your smart lights are compatible with your preferred voice assistant, you can control them all at once with routines or room-specific voice commands.
When mixing and matching, you could buy premium full-color smart lighting products for your living room to impress guests and use cheaper white smart bulbs from a brand like Wyze in your bedrooms, office, bathrooms, and kitchen. Or, you could add brains to “dumb” dimmable bulbs with a smart dimmer switch, opening your budget for adventures products like the Philips Hue Play or Philips Hue Singe for entertainment center lighting.
If you decide to mix and match your lighting, try to stick with one smart bulb brand for each room, lamp, or fixture in your home. If all the ceiling fixtures in your living room have different smart bulbs, for example, then each fixture will look slightly different from one another. They may also turn on or adjust their brightness at different rates, which could look a little tacky.
Wyze Bulbs (4-Pack)
Fill out the less important rooms in your home with Wyze’s affordable white smart bulbs. They don’t give you extra colors, but they can adjust between warm and cool tones.
Kasa Smart Dimmer Switch HS220, Single Pole, Needs Neutral Wire, 2.4GHz Wi-Fi Light Switch Works with Alexa and Google Home, UL Certified, No Hub Required
Why blow your budget on bedroom lighting? Use a Kasa smart dimmer to add wireless control to "dumb" bulbs, and use your leftover money to deck out the living room.