Revenge of the Automated Home – OSRAM Lightify
The Family was down at Lowes this weekend because we’re finally getting around to using the spare room upstairs, and by “using the spare room” I mean “remembering it exists and we really should clean it out and paint it and use it for something other than a random item graveyard.” The use in question: crafting room. My daughter is slowly (oh so slowly) getting her feet wet with cosplay and is looking for a permanent place for the sewing machine. My wife has a bunch of random craft things — jewelry making, Cricut paper cutting, et al. — which is ensconced in the basement, but I’m in the basement trying to realize my vision of turning it into a home theater, and last time I looked there was no “crafting nook” at the local cineplex. So the crafting stuff is going upstairs, once the spare room has been cleaned and painted. Hence the trip to Lowes; for paint.
While there, I snuck over to the lightbulb section because its time to come clean: I’m newly obsessed with LED bulbs. Now that they’ve come down in price I can seriously start looking at them. We have two outside the front door, and they burn like the noonday sun. I like it, but I think the neighbors object. Anyway, while ogling the bulbs, I noticed something called the OSRAM Lightify Smart Home RGBW Lighting Strips.
We’ve had a problem since we moved into this house: we’re the second owners, and the first owners who had it built cheaped out on pretty much everything. The owner fancied himself a handyman, and he finished the basement himself, added a three season porch on top of the raised porch (without drywalling, adding electrical, or staining the porch first), and started a fourth basement in the basement before they had to beat cheeks and find another home for some reason. Much to our chagrin, the kitchen has some really crappy lighting, especially around the counter area. The best case scenario would be to get some cannister lights installed in the ceiling, but I value my life and wouldn’t dare try such a feat myself, and we’re not financially flush enough to hire someone to do it. Seeing this lighting strip, however, ticked two boxes for me. One, they would work great under the cabinets and over the counter, and two…home automation!
See, back in our previous house, I wired the place up with X10 gear. And I mean wired: I replaced the light switches and power sockets with addressable X10 switches and power sockets, and I ran a server in the basement that I could access remotely (this was before smartphones, so be more impressed). This was great because I could turn the outside lights on if we’d forgotten to do so and weren’t home at night, and could turn the Christmas tree on and off before getting out of or after getting into bed. I felt like a god with the power over electricity in my house, although this was the era of X10 which, if you were alive and Internet-enabled back then, you remember as being some of the first and most prevalent ads ever to rock a popover browser window. The remote control was a square box with a lot of ungainly buttons, but it worked, and after many years without it in this house, I missed it.
The RGBW lights worked like a champ. They’re nice and bright, and a single strip is long enough to cover one stretch of the counter where we do the most work. There was a problem, though: the set we bought wasn’t enough to use the “home automation” aspect of the
toy tool. For that, we needed another piece of gear, the Hub.
This afternoon I snagged the hub-and-bulb kit because it was only $10 more than the hub alone, and a single bulb was actually $14. I raced home and plugged the hub into a wall socket — any wall socket — and downloaded the smartphone app to get the party started.
This would actually turn out to be a party thrown by someone who’d never seen a party. First, the app wanted me to scan the QR code on the back of the hub because that registered the serial number of the device. Then I had to make an account. I got an error, but the account went through. I had to switch my phone’s network to the private network of the hub, and then use my phone as a handshake between the hub and my home network (“hub, this is network, network, this is hub”). This took a few tries because I have a wifi extender that I have apparently forgotten the password for, and then the hub and the network wouldn’t talk once I got the right wifi SSID set up. I called the app some bad names, and it decided to cooperate, so chalk one up for foul language.
Next, before I could start lighting things up (literally), I had to upgrade the firmware on both the hub and the light strip. The strip itself has a small wifi receiver, but it’s invisible to everything except the official Lightify hub, and the hub said everyone needed some new clothes. Another nightmare involving a phone reboot, more harsh language, and some time spent on the Xbox later, I managed to get everything registered and ready to go.
Where did this go, exactly, you might ask. Well, the light strip doesn’t have a switch. That’s OK because the point of this system is that it’s entirely modular. They sell switches that you can stick anywhere, so I could get a dedicated switch and put it next to the stove, for example, and control these lights. Right now, though, I can only turn the lights on and off from the smartphone. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker either. Although it’s not really useful for the kitchen, this lighting strip can modulate it’s color through the app. There’re several different built-in lighting schemes I can apply automatically, which got me thinking…but I’ll cover that later. The strip is dimmable, and when I turn it off it doesn’t just snap off; it dims itself to darkness. Pretty sexy! I can also set schedules, so I set the counter light to turn on at 5PM and turn off at 10PM, just in case we need it. It’s a small-watt user, so I don’t anticipate it being a massive energy hog.
The bulb ended up in a lamp in the basement, because why not? This also needed a firmware update, but is only dimmable and does not change color, although there are bulbs in this series that do.
Overall, I give the idea an A+. The construction of the equipment also gets an A+. The software on the smartphone gets a resounding D because it’s a piece of crap. The fact that I got it working at all saved it from an F-. The good news is that these satellite items aren’t proprietary, and there are other “hubs” that I could get that would work just as well, and even better if the apps to control them are better.
So, thinking about it at work today, I realized that now that I have this hammer of home automation lighting, everything in the house looks like a nail. I have Big Plans to work in the home theater area in the basement, and these strip lights are the perfect low-light, walkway style runner lights you see in more professional theaters. That they dim is a massive plus, as we can “dim the house lights” before the movies start. If I were into overkill, I could get the RGBW bulbs and put them around the house and when we have, say, a Christmas party, I could change things up to red and green and probably destroy retinas as a result. Maybe not such a good idea. But I could!