The Philips Hue system was one of the first unified smart bulb systems on the market and remains justifiably popular despite the cost. Read on as we show you how to incorporate cheaper third party smart LED bulbs into your Hue system for that great Hue ease-of-use at a lower price.
Why Do I Want To Do This?
Even with the introduction of the economical Hue Lux system (a white-only bulb that’s significantly cheaper than the original color-changing Hue bulbs) the Philips Hue bulbs are still priced above the third party bulbs on the market like the Cree Connected and the GE Link.
When it comes to outfitting multiple rooms the $5 difference between the Hue Lux ($20) and more economical bulbs like the Cree Connected and GE Link (both $15) is significant. At those prices for every three fixtures you outfit with a third party bulb (compared to using the Lux bulbs) you essentially get a fourth bulb for free.
Further, given the quality and the ease with which you can both add third party bulbs to the Philips Hue Bridge and control them with the Hue software there’s little reason not to expand your stable of smart bulbs in such an economical fashion.
What Do I Need?
To expand your Hue system with third party bulbs you first need a properly configured and up-and-running Hue Bridge. If you found this article via search query there’s a good chance that you already have your system up and running. If you’re reading up on smart bulbs in general, however, and wish to get started with the Hue system (and expand it with third party bulbs) we’d encourage you to check out our review of the Philips Hue Lux starter kit here.
In addition to the configured Hue system you also need third party smart LED bulbs to work with. We wish we could just tell you go out and get any ZigBee-certified bulbs (ZigBee is the radio system that is rapidly becoming the standard for smart bulbs) but, alas, it isn’t that simple because of the ways manufacturers have implemented the protocol and locked the devices to just their own smart home bridges (or those they have partnerships with).
The WeMo Smart LED Bulbs from Belkin, for example, only work with the WeMo Link hub and cannot be paired with the Hue. The same story with the LG Wireless LED Bulb. Both of those bulbs are ZigBee-based but won’t pair with the Philips Hue Bridge. That’s really no great loss as far as we’re concerned though; both bulbs are $5-10 more expansive than the two bulbs we had success with.
Note: Consider the Amazon links above for comparison purposes but be forewarned that at the time of publication the GE Link was at a normal price ($14.97) and the Cree Connected was oddly elevated ($27.83) compared to the prices you’d find right off the shelf at your local Home Depot.
How to Pair Third Party Bulbs
One of the things we strongly emphasized in our review of the Philips Hue Lux starter pack is how simple the installation process was. Philips ships their Hue starter kits pre-linked and installation is as simple as plugging everything in, turning on the light bulbs, and pressing a button.
We were very curious to see if that ease of use extended to third party bulbs; after all if other companies with an investment in the burgeoning market of smart home lighting were locking people out (and into) their systems it didn’t seem out of the question that Philips (with such a huge and early investment in the smart bulb market) would do the same.
Thankfully adding bulbs to the system was incredibly easy and didn’t even require running back and forth between the Hue bridge and the bulb to push any buttons or toggle any switches.
Let’s take a look at how to add both the Cree Connected and the GE Link (as the mechanism for adding them is identical) and then we’ll look at some device specific troubleshooting techniques on the off chance that you actually do run into a problem.
Pairing the Bulbs
With your Hue Bridge set up, adding bulbs should be an absolute snap (but don’t worry if things don’t go as planned as we have some troubleshooting tips in the next section). If you look at the instruction sheet that comes with the Cree Connected it’s quite lengthy (the list runs the entire length of the insert holding the bulb in the package). You can outright ignore all the instructions in the box. Go ahead and do the same for the GE Link.
Both bulbs include instructions for pairing the devices with generic smart home hubs, instructions to download device-specific apps for the bulbs, and so on. We can ignore all that because the Bridge and the Hue app offer a much simpler and more elegant experience.
We recommend pairing the bulbs one at a time simply to cut down on any identification problems or fussing around in the app renaming them. Same thing goes for grouping bulbs together: do all the bulbs in one fixture or in one room before moving on so if you do desire to create a group of bulbs or a scene based on that room it’s easy to test and set up before cluttering up your lighting menu with additional bulbs.
The following instructions apply to both bulb brands. When you’re ready to pair the bulb simply insert it into the socket and turn the power on (again, we’re ignoring the instructions included with the bulbs that indicate you should perform a bunch of steps before turning the power on).
With the bulb on open up your Hue app and tap on the Menu button in the upper left corner then select “Settings.”
From within the main Settings menu, select “My lights.”
At the top of the “My lights” list select “Connect new lights“; in the screenshot below disregard the “Lux” entries as these are existing bulbs already connected to the Hue bridge.
Turn on the smart bulb. When the Hue app asks you if you want to automatically search or manually search, select automatically. Bulbs outside the Hue system appear with generic names like, as seen below, “Dimmable light 1.” The appearance of the generic bulb entry in your lighting list should correspond with the bulb blinking on and off several times to indicate which bulb it is and that it is connected.
Feel free to press and hold the entry to rename it or otherwise interact with the bulb as it is now part of your Hue lighting system. Repeat for any other Cree Connected or GE Link bulbs you have.
Troubleshooting the Bulbs
Although it took us a grand total of 20 seconds to pair the Cree and GE bulbs used for this tutorial it’s always possible you’ll run into a hiccup of some sort. Let’s take a look at how to manually add bulbs to the system (outside of the automatic search function) and how to reset the bulbs if they are misbehaving and displaying erratic behavior (or not connecting at all).
How to Manually Add Bulbs
This particular trick is quite useful but unfortunately not applicable to both of the bulbs we tested. The Cree Connected bulbs each have a tiny serial number printed on them that allows for you to force the Hue bridge to seek out the bulb even if it is unable to automatically detect it. The serial number is located at the base of the bulb as seen in the photograph below.
There’s a lot going on with the label but the alphanumeric string you want is located just below the stamp “LED LAMP” and above the IC/FCC codes.
To add the bulb manually simply repeat the steps in the previous section but, instead of selecting automatic search, instead select manual search.
Enter the serial number, turn the bulb on, and press the search button to manually locate the bulb on the network.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, despite the fact that the GE Link has a unique address like any other networked smart bulb must there is no evidence of the serial you can use for manual assignment on the bulb or the box it came in.
That said, it’s a rather minor consideration. If you really like the highly stylized look of the GE Link bulbs or they’re the only ones available at your local store we’d hardly encourage you to skip them over the lack of a manual-entry serial number. We only used the manual feature to ensure it worked and not because we ever needed it.
How to Reset the Bulbs
On the off chance that something in the setup process goes really wrong and you just can’t get the bulbs to appear (or once you do pair them they act flaky) then your best bet is to reset them.
The first time we came across the reset process for smart bulbs was with our testing of the Belkin WeMo Smart LED Bulb system. We thought the process was silly then and, we’re not going to lie to you, we still think it’s silly.
What’s so silly about it? The reset process for smart bulbs is universally, to the best of our knowledge, to flip them on and off a bunch of times rapidly in a row. No joke; if you need to reset your bulbs just flip the light on and off a bunch of times in a row like you’re a kid trying to send your older sibling into a blind rage.
The actual frequency and timing varies slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer (GE says to turn on and off the Link bulb five times with three second intervals whereas Cree says to do it four times with a two second interval) but we found it wasn’t really that sensitive. Flip the bulb on and off a bunch of times until it blinks (to indicate the reset) and call it good.
That’s all there is to the process: when it’s all said and done you’ll most likely have spent more time researching smart bulbs, reading this tutorial, and deciding how many bulbs you want than you’ll actually spend installing them.
Have a question about smart homes, home automation, or the growing internet-of-things genre? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to help!