The introduction of LED technology has paved the way for a whole new category of light bulb: the color-changing bulb. Essentially, these bulbs contain tiny LEDs in three different colors of red, green and blue. If you switch on all the red LEDs and switch off the others, the bulb will produce red light; if you turn off the red LEDS and turn on all the green ones, it will give green light; and so on. By combining the red, green and blue LEDs in varying proportions, you can produce any color of the rainbow.
The Philips Hue Connected Bulb Starter Pack (Est. $200) includes three color-changing bulbs and a hub called the Hue Bridge, which plugs into your home computer network. Once it's hooked up, you can control the bulbs from your smartphone or tablet via a free app, available for both Android and iOS. In addition to changing colors at will, you can modify the bulbs' brightness, automate them to go on and off at particular times, or control them from a remote location. The Philips app lets you choose from a variety of preset lighting "scenes" or create your own. It's also possible to link up your lights to the web-based IFTTT (If This, Then That) protocol and program them to respond to nearly any variable. For example, one Amazon.com reviewer says you can set up particular scenes to run based on "weather, stock prices, or getting an email from your boss." You can also add bulbs to the system (Est. $60).
Experts and home users agree that setting up the Hue system is very easy. However, some of them find the app tricky to use, particularly for setting up new scenes. Nearly all reviewers love playing with the Hue system's different functions, but most concede that the Hue isn't the most practical solution for everyday lighting, especially given its high price tag. The majority concludes that while no one really needs this lighting system, it's a cool toy that's worth the expense for hard-core gadget lovers.
If you're interested in trying out a color-changing LED but are put off by the cost of the Hue system, a cheaper option is the Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb (Est. $60) . Unlike the Hue, the Lumen is a stand-alone bulb that doesn't need to plug into a hub. You simply screw it into a socket and then download an app to your Bluetooth-enabled device, allowing you to control the bulb remotely. CNET editors say the Lumen bulb "offers plug-and-play simplicity," but it doesn't have nearly as many functions as the Hue system. The app offers a few interesting features, like the ability to sync up with your music player, but you can't create your own scenes the way you can with Hue. A couple of Amazon.com users describe the Lumen app as "glitchy," but several others consider it the best overall value for this type of bulb.