Control the light with your own smartphone or voice control. What is necessary for this and what do the systems cost? This guide gives an initial overview of what to look for when buying smart lighting.
“Ok Google, turn on the light in the kitchen!” – A simple voice command and the lightbulbs go on. Fifty years ago still spinning in science fiction series and today reality. What are smart light sources anyway? How do they work What should you buy there? Here we present the different types of networked light bulbs and possible areas of application, so that entry into the smart home is possible for every budget.
This guide is aimed at everyone who is looking for initial information on smart light sources or who wants to get a rough overview of the topic. If this information is too general for you, we advise you to take a look at our smart lighting theme. There we compared 5 Zigbee LEDs with E27 sockets, show smart outdoor lighting for retrofitting or introduce vintage LEDs.
What are smart light sources?
Smart illuminants are light sources that can be operated via an app with a smartphone (Android or iPhone) or via voice control. Switching on the light, dimming it, programming automated circuits, changing the color or playing music are possible functions that are possible with smart lamps. This is the decisive difference to classic, non-smart lights, which only go on and off with a light switch.
According to EU regulations, since September 2016 all light sources must be so-called LED lamps with an energy efficiency class A. This technology is particularly energy-saving and generates the light using semiconductor technology. This regulation also applies to smart lamps.
Smart lamps can do more than just light. For example, they also work as loudspeakers, have motion sensors or have integrated rechargeable batteries so that they can continue to donate light in the event of a power failure.
Differentiation according to light intensity, color temperature and RGB
The smart lights are differentiated according to light intensity and representable colors. The light intensity is given in lumens. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light. The color spectrum is measured in Kelvin. A value of 2,000 Kelvin corresponds to the warm color temperature comparable to a candle light or a sunrise. At a value between 2,500K and 3,500K, the lamp produces the warm tone of a regular incandescent light bulb. The values between 4,000K and 5,000K correspond to daylight. Values from 5,000K to 9,000K are then gradually cooler and contain increasingly more shades of blue. White or warm white lights usually only support a small spectrum between 1,500K – 3,500K. RGB lights support the entire color spectrum and can also display color combinations of red, green and blue.
Changeable vs. Not changeable vs. Existing light sources
Interchangeable lamps are light bulbs that have a standard base so that they can also be used in different sockets. Smart lightbulbs with an E27 socket are widespread. These are available from all smart lighting manufacturers. It becomes more difficult if you want smart lightbulbs with E14 (smaller candlelight socket) or GU10 (for ceiling spots) base.
Non-replaceable light sources are permanently installed LED lights without the possibility of replacement in the event of a defect. This includes, for example, ceiling lamps, desk lamps, wall lighting, outdoor lighting, LED strips and many others. These lamps are plugged directly into the hanging cables on the ceiling or socket. By eliminating the standardized base, a smaller design is possible.
Existing lamps and lighting elements can also be made smart with small aids. This is made possible by smart sockets for floor lamps (advice) or smart switches for ceiling lamps. This then works regardless of the light source used, regardless of whether it is exchangeable or not.
There are various techniques for integrating the smart light sources into the local network. Should the lamp use Bluetooth, WLAN or a separate smart home industry standard such as Zigbee, Z-Wave, EnOcean or others? And how do all these technologies differ when it comes to smart light bulbs?
In the early days of the smart home, Bluetooth was the standard for all gadgets. You had to pair each light bulb individually with the smartphone via Bluetooth. However, this has now changed. Many lightbulbs now work either with WiFi or one of the smart home standards. WLAN-supported lamps connect to the WLAN router and not directly to the smartphone. Bluetooth is also still available, which is particularly worthwhile for individual devices.
But when is a hub needed for smart lighting? Smart home standards like Zigbee rely on such a control center. The advantage of hub-controlled smart lighting elements is that they do not have to be individually connected to the WLAN router. Depending on the number of lightbulbs and lighting elements to be connected, this can counteract a collapse of the network, and communication using Z-Wave or Zigbee requires significantly less power. The hub does not necessarily have to be from the same manufacturer of the lamps, the Amazon Echo Plus 2 (test report) also supports Zigbee.
Voice assistants and further automation
After you have dealt with the types of lightbulbs and their integration into your own network, the next question is to what extent the new lights should be compatible with other gadgets. Voice assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri should be mentioned here. Almost every Android smartphone supports the Google Assistant as standard and every iPhone supports Siri.
There are also automation options. The If This Than That (IFTTT) standard is widely used for these. If you want to set up an automation setting for the home in which the networked lights work together with other IFTTT devices, you should ensure compatibility. One possible scenario would be the following: The television is switched on and IFTTT has set the lights to automatically switch off at a certain 8 p.m. IFTTT support is required for this and other individually created scenarios. The colleagues from heise tips + tricks in the article IFTTT: What is it? compiled.
Classification: who needs what?
If you only plan to equip the living room or kitchen area with one or two smart lighting elements, the cheap Xiaomi Yeelights are more than sufficient. When using several light bulbs, a WLAN-oriented solution can be useful, such as the light bulbs from Lifx. If you have a large apartment and lots of light sources or are planning to equip the entire apartment, you should rather rely on a hub. Philips Hue or Ledvance (formerly Osram) are suitable products or you can use Zigbee lightbulbs with an Echo Plus 2.
Existing non-networked lighting elements can be integrated into the local network with smart sockets or smart switches. Smart sockets are available from manufacturers such as Philips Hue, Ledvance, AVM or TP-Link. The first two manufacturers mentioned offer smart sockets with Zigbee, AVM relies on DECT. TP-Links intelligent socket offers a Bluetooth and a WLAN connection. For example, the manufacturer Sonoff offers a smart switch for the intelligent integration of existing ceiling lamps.
Smart lamps can not only be a nice gimmick, they can also be practical. The light can be dimmed by voice command or smartphone while watching a film or the light can be switched off completely if you are already in bed. It is important to be clear beforehand what your expectations of the light sources are, as fully equipping your home with intelligent light bulbs can be quite expensive. From a price of eleven euros, there are inexpensive entry-level options from Xiaomi or Sengled into the smart home world.
If you want to have a large range of different types of lightbulbs, sockets and sensors, you should start with the Philips Hue system. Even if you only buy a single lamp, it offers a good option for subsequent upgrading thanks to the Bluetooth interface and the option for the bridge. With products like Nanoleaf (test report) or Lifx Tile you can find smart and decorative wall lighting panels. Cheaper alternatives to this are already available from various Chinese manufacturers on Amazon. If you only consider using isolated lamps, you can also use cheaper light bulbs that only support the Bluetooth standard.
Would like more? Then we recommend our Smart Lighting theme world. There we compared 5 Zigbee LEDs with E27 sockets, showed smart outdoor lighting for retrofitting or presented vintage LEDs.