Todays post is one that may surprise some of you. It is a post about lighting for your concerts, musical performances, music room, podcasts, or for that matter your home. Wait a minute… did I really just go there to the place of mixing performance lighting with home lighting? Yup! Stick with me and read along…
I’ve been fortunate to teach in a very supportive district with wonderful administrators and community not to mention great students and amazing parents. This is what led our district to build a better facility than a gymnasium for our performing arts groups! The new facility is not a full fledged auditorium but is pretty close! One area I’ve not been happy with in the performance area is colored lighting. We have pretty decent coverage with real stage lighting and a full fledged light board in the control booth. But white gets boring after awhile. We’ve done the gel thing but it is now 2017 and I know there are better options out there! LED lighting and the options there are just so much more amazing and affordable than what we had as choices 10 years ago. I also made the decision that I wanted lights that moved too!
So I had two options –
ONE – go the traditional route and find the money to buy DMX lights that you would traditionally find on a stage and that would be controlled by a traditional light board. This option is obviously a great choice but also would require some serious funds. I didn’t have immediate access to funds like that.
TWO – find an alternative. So I looked around and decided that possibly these fancy new “smart lights” from companies like Philips Hue and LIFX might work for us. This option also allowed me to start smaller – from one LIFX bulb costing $45 or a Phillips Hue Starter kit costing $199 and giving me 3 bulbs.
MY CHOICE? I think you would make the same choice as I did – start raising funds while we started small!
WHAT DID I FIND? I decided that since I had no one to really give me direct answers or to go visit to see what they were doing, that I would buy several of the LIFX bulbs as well as a Philips Hue Starter kit. How else was I really going to find out for sure which was best with out testing them!?
Part of the decision was that if we could DJ several middle school dances we could raise some of the funds to get started. So off we went to DJ. We got paid and made a trip to the store.
I came away with 4 Philips Hue bulbs and a Philips lightStrip and also 4 LIFX bulbs.
Then I had to find a solution to control BOTH brands of lights. Each brand has a great app for it’s own bulbs but I sure did not want to be jumping back and forth between apps during a performance. In my searching I found several apps that I thought would be great choices for filling in two separate needs –
- Light DJ Pro – I needed an app to use the lights to DJay dances – Kevin at NRTHRNLIGHTS, LLC has created an amazing app called Light DJ Pro – Light Shows for Philips Hue & LIFX
- Lightbow -I needed an app to be able to set the mode as I so chose for any given situation and Peter, from Brooklyn has written Lightbow that fits that need
THE HOOK UP – Upon getting the bulbs back to the school I started to find the reality of the differences between the two brands. Philips Hue requires their hub to connect everything to. That hub has to be connected to your wi-fi. The proved to be an issue at my school as the tech people did not want any part of my light bulbs on their network! Of course the LIFX require wi-fi access as well and we had the same issue there. Easy solution was that I set up an extra wi-fi router and created my own “lights” net work. I think the extra hassle of Philips having the hub for sure gives LIFX the first point for ease in set up. LIFX gets another point when it gets to be time to connect with another app – each time you want to connect with a new app Philips requires you to go push the connect button on the hub – LIFX is now two points up.
Once setup you will find that these bulbs are simply amazing to work with!
One beauty is that you can use whatever lamp fixture you want to put the bulbs in. I stole a couple of lamps from home, leaving the old dumb bulbs at home. Then I went to WalMart and bought like 6 el cheapo lamps for like $7 a piece for the other bulbs. This is a tie.
Using the LIFX and Philips apps are both easy to figure out and easy to operate. Both now have iPad as well as iPhone apps that work very well. So this is a tie here too.
Bonus – both brands have an Apple Watch app as well! Tie
Philips gets HUGE bonus points though because it supports Apple Home Kit. Now this is HUGE because using SIRI I can control the Philips Hue bulbs! It’s pretty cool to use my Apple Watch and say things like “SIRI, turn my lights on!” or “SIRI make my lights red at 50%!” – Personally this is HUGE for me at HOME, at school not such a big deal. Still Philips take this round!
LIFX gets points though for their colors and brightness. There is a noticeable difference in the richness and brightness of LIFX vs Philips bulbs. Now please don’t take this the wrong way – I was every worried that any of these bulbs would be bright enough to make a difference on my huge stage let alone simply in a small room or even on my desk. Both lights are great but LIFX gets an edge here!
LIFX also gets one last extra point because of the response time when controlling the lights. When using either of the two apps I mentioned above to make changes to all lights at once the LIFX are FAST while the Philips are always lagging behind. Again, don’t take this the wrong way because Philips isn’t exactly a turtle but LIFX is for sure FAST!
I have now used the lights at two middle school dances and also two Christmas concerts. They have exceeded my hopes for the dances and they also added such a nice ambience at the band concerts that everyone loved it!
If any of you have worked with DMX lights and DMX light software/hardware/light boards then you will be amazed at the ease of the smart bulbs. The benefits are that it is WAY easier to haul around 16 of the smart bulbs, plug them in, connect to the wi-fi network and use one of the four apps I’ve mentioned to control them. The other obvious benefit is cost! $45 for smart bulbs vs $99 and up per DMX light (and trust me those are the cheap lights!).
There are limitations when using smart bulbs compared to a full fledged DMX light rig. Those drawbacks are that DMX will do more animations and you can get things like movers with lasers! BUT do YOU know how to program all of that? Do you even realize the time involved in programming all of those fancy lights?
The bulbs are so very easy to control and adjust that anyone can do it! I will write my next blog post on the two apps I’ve mentioned to that I can go into greater detail about those apps.
These Philips Hue and LIFX bulbs are wonderful! I think I will continue to buy more of the LIFX products for school and I look forward to the day when they add Apple Home Kit capability to LIFX.