It's also baffling as fuck combined with so easy it's almost uncanny. Right now, the biggest problem is quite literally it's updating and generationing like fruit flies and there are so many systems and so many protocols.
I took the easiest route; my laptops are Dell because they're locally founded and owned, my BFFs brother works there along with some of my friends, and I will be with them probably until the bitter crashing end, and my smarthome controller of choice is Samsung, which has a local headquarters and my ex-BIL and his son--my son's BFF--works there. Yes, Samsung makes phones that on occasion are known to abruptly explode; no one's perfect.
To break this down into pieces, I'm going to start with my smartlight review. All of these option require home wifi and a working router, and we'll get more into the router part later.
Your Hub Light Ecoystem
The easiest way to start is buy a single wifi controlled lightbulb like Lifx and go to town with the app. However, this is going to be assuming you're starting your home ecosystem, with or without an Amazon Echo for voice control. Or a one-room light ecosystem.
- White Starter Kit - $69.99
- Color Starter Kit - $175.99
The White Starter Kit comes with one standard Philips Hue hub and two white A19 bulbs of the standard bulb shape. You can get the bulbs for between 14.99 and 16.99 at various places, two packs, and if you're very lucky, three packs that lower the price to 13 each; the white ambiance ones start around 24.99 and are a more tapered shape. They are dimmable, have a dizzing array of whites and are eight hundred lumens.
The Color Starter Kit comes with one standard Philips Hue hub and three color A19 Ambiance lights. The bulbs are more tapered up. They retail individually at 44.99 to 59.99. I have yet to see them sold in packs, much to my displeasure. They are dimmable and you have access to all the whites AND all the colors.
My Current: one Hue Hub, three Hue Ambiance (the taperish shaped ones), eight Hue Lux (aka Hue White or the ones that come in the white starter kit) (aka no colored bulbs)
The Difference: well, price, but also functionality aka ALL THE COLOR. These will fit anywhere that can fit a lightbulb including three inch diameter recessed light fixtures. If you are sure you're going to eventually want color options, I'd go for the color starter; math says that's a much better deal. If you are never ever going to want color OR you're not going to care about color for the next six months, go with the white starter. Also if you're on a budget and this is a long term project, go with the white starter.
The hubs in both are the same, and a single hub can control fifty lightbulbs. The ecosystem beyond this is pretty good; there are BR30s that can be used for floodlights and recessed lights of five to six inches (measure the interior diameter of your recessed lights; this will not work with anything but five or above. There are LED lightstrips; there is the bloom which just go to Amazon and look it's kind of like a small personal colored spotlight.
Advantages: Out of the box it works perfectly. Download app, hook the hub up to the wifi, turn on power, enter wifi password, then turn on your lights that have Hue lightbulbs and touch the button on top of the hub. You're done. After that, you can assign them names, rooms, and play with scenes and color (or shades of white). As of second generation--aka now--they are reliable as hell and their performance is exactly as stated.
Downside: Out of the box, the Hue Hub is not compatible with any other lights other than Hue or Friends of Hue (don't ask). It also is not the brightest even at equal lumens and temperature to other smart lightbulbs.
Other Options for Hub Base Ecosystem for Lights Only:
Sylvania Lightify, GE Link, Cree Connect
Honestly, their biggest drawback is that they're not as popular for various reasons. Sylvania has backward compatible recessed light options as well as a few more sizes; Cree and GE are cheaper and both can work without other ecocystems well. They're also overall cheaper, and Cree is brighter. (I'm buying a Sylvania lightbulb next month so I can truthfully say I've tried everything hub related on the market and tested it.)
Philips greatest strength is how goddamn easy it is, and being second generation, reliable as hell. The Hue system is also ridiculously compatible with SmartThings, which is also the most popular home monitoring system. We've already had two generations of it and everyone and their dog talking about it, monitoring it, playing with the code and integrations.
Now, other options.
Your Non-Hub Light Ecosystem
This would be running your lightbulbs individually, without a centralized hub, so one less purchase you need to make.
Lifx Wifi lightbulbs
- Lifx White 800 - $22.80 (can be $22.80 to $29.99)
- Lifx White 900 BR30 - $24.99
- Lifx White 1000 - $49.99 - $59.99 (right now out of stock from Amazon)
- Lifx White 1000 BR30 - $39.99
TP Link Wifi Lightbulbs - All three white versions are here - $21.99 - 49.99
I haven't tried the TP Link, but the reviews both at amazon and home aumoation sites are good, so I'll add that to my list. For now, we'll narrow down on Lifx in particular and then wifi bulbs in general.
Advantages: Lifx is bright. The 810 lumens beat the Philips 800 considerably, especially if you're using the 800 A19 for recessed lights. There are many shades of white from the warms to the cools to the near daylight. You don't need a hub, you just buy them and use the app to get them linked to the router. This is not exactly a perfect process or as easy as Philips, and you will need to run a firmware update immediately, it's not a showstopper by any means, just a little more patience.
(Note: If you get these and have problems, email me. I did everything wrong like four times and still got it working.)
These are also lightbulbs without a hub. With hub-based lightbulbs, your router assigns the hub one IP that is shared by all the lightbulbs that are attached to that hub: ie XXX.XXX.X.5 is my Philips hub, all lightbulbs are also on this IP. That means of course that if your hub is acting up, all lightbulbs attached to it will be affected as well. With wifi non-hub lightbulbs, each lightbulb attaches to the router individually and receives its own IP address. That means if one lightbulb acts up, it doesn't affect the other wifi only lightbulbs any more than your laptop being cranky affects your tablet.
Disadvantages: these are wifi lightbulbs without a hub.
I started this entry last week and left in draft. Then I discovered on Tuesday, routers can be a problem and so held this entry until I'd solved it. It has to do specifically with wifi networks in general.
Now I'm going to tell you a story, and this applies to anyone with multiple wifi devices in your home. For something that didn't even exist for most homes twenty years ago, wifi not just ubiquitous but at this point almost a requirement for survival; most jobs are applied for and posted online, many of us have jobs where we use wifi to log into work, and many of us work in the tech industry where wifi is literally a job requirement.
For a geek household, the baseline may look something like this for your internet use:
Game consoles: 3 (to 5 for old games)
Amazon Fire: 1
Amazon Echo: 1
TV: 1 (our other TV isn’t smart, just LED for gaming)
Home Server: 1
Raspberry Pi: 1
Total (before all hubs, lightbulbs, thermometer, doorbell): 19 (to 21)
(This does not include wireless printers, scanners, etc that you may have. Anything that hooks individually to the internet should be counted as a device, LAN or wireless.)
The first thing I did when my internet was turned on (this was literally before I'd even moved in most of my furniture) was change the password for the wifi and then the router admin. Then I sat down with my old home network spreadsheet, where I kept track of all the assigned IPs and MAC addresses of everything I owned with access to the network, copied it to a new spreadsheet for my apartment, and worked out my ranges for IP assignment:
XXX.XXX.X.2-XXX.XXX.X.9 - Echo, Sensi, Hubs
XXX.XXX.X.10-XXX.XXX.X.19 - SmartHome Devices
XXX.XXX.X.20-XXX.XXX.X.29 - Watson, server gateways
XXX.XXX.X.30-XXX.XXX.X.39 - Raspberry Pi, program gateways
XXX.XXX.X.40-XXX.XXX.X.49 - TV and Accessories
XXX.XXX.X.50-XXX.XXX.X.59 - Computers
XXX.XXX.X.60-XXX.XXX.X.69 - Phones, tablets, kindles
XXX.XXX.X.70-XXX.XXX.X.79 - Gaming Consoles
Then I logged into the router and began individual MAC assignments to IPs in the corresponding device range. For I am this anal, one, two, it makes checking my network stats and logs a lot easier when I can identify by range if there are problems, and three, it takes those IPs out of the assignable addresses. Super easy check for wifi freeloading, of course. Some had two: one LAN MAC and one Wifi MAC and each got their own IP. Memorizing a ton of MAC addresses is hard; knowing I only have four things assigned to a range and a fifth one shows up is much easier.
Then I hooked everything up that could go to LAN, including an extra eight port LAN switch to give me a total of ten LAN ports, but one of had to remain unused at all times in case I needed direct access to the router, so effective number of LAN ports is now 9.
(I'm still in the moving process--as in, there are boxes both here and in need of retrieving--with some of these items)
So at that point, the following are true:
- X-Box One
- Bluray player
- Amazon Fire
- Samsung SmartThings Hub
- Philips Hue Hub
- Watson (my server)
LAN Total: 7
- my laptop (1)
- phones (2)
- Tablet (1)
- Kindle (2)
- Amazon Echo (1)
- Raspberry Pi (1)
- Wii (1)
Wifi Subtotal: 9
I added the following to Wifi after:
- Ring Doorbell
- Ring Chime
- TP Link Wifi Outlet
- Sensi Thermometer
- Lifx 900 BR30 lightbulb
- Emberlight smart socket
Wifi Subtotal: 6
Wifi Total: 15
Overall Total: 22
Not all of these are online all the time: Ring Doorbell only comes online with someone ringing it or motion sensing; Echo activates with my voice; Kindles only when I wanted to download a book from Amazon; emberlight I wasn't even using until I got my swag light. Everything was fine. Or so I thought.
On Tuesday, I added the three Lifx lightbulbs for the kitchen and two would not stay on the network for love or money or sobbing; Kitchen 2 and Kitchen 3, the last two devices I added to the network and assigned IP addresses. Okay, then.
I double checked for the firmware update for them and updated them again; didn't help. I cycled them; didn't help. I wondered if I got bad bulbs, which was possible, but I couldn’t get over how this problem wasn't happening with Kitchen 1 (at least, not as much) but always with Kitchen 2 and 3.
I googled and discovered the Arris modem/router had a weird quirk with single digit ending IPs; I opened my spreadsheet, reassigned my affected ranges, and moved everything to XXX.XXX.X.10 and above, went to my router, released all IPs that were affected (20 and 40 and above were fine, 2-19, 30-39 were dramatically updated), rebooted the router, reassigned those changed individually, then rebooted the router again. That didn't help.
Then I noticed, weirdly, that Ring Doorbell refused its new IP and kept going back to the original (6) no matter how many times I released and rebooted, which I put aside as a freak occurrence until I realized it wasn't.
I googled more and checked Lifx's FAQ and discovered the potential 16 wifi device limit occurring on some routers. Though Arris wasn’t listed, that didn’t mean much since there were not many that had been reported or checked.
So I made a list of my wifi devices that were always online using the router's client list:
Effective Wifi Devices (aka always online):
- My Phone
- My Tablet
- My Laptop
- Ring Chime
- TP Link Wifi Outlet
- Sensi Thermometer
- Lifx 900 BR30 Lightbulb
- Lifx 800 Lightbulbs (3)
Total Wifi Always On: 11
Overall Total: 18
So I was five under when it came to wifi devices (16-11=5), and still only four under if Ring Doorbell came online. But I was two over (three with the doorbell) if I added in LAN.
I went to my router, restarted it, cycled the lightbulbs, and then opened the LAN assignment page and then the Wifi client list to watch what happened. Five to ten minutes, I lost those two Lifx lightbulbs (Kitchen 1 and 2), and then I kept watching and noted that it also would occasionally drop my Kitchen 1, though it would come back on its own in a few seconds without needing to cycle. It took me about thirty minutes to note that Kitchen 1 would drop whenever the Ring Doorbell's motion sensors went off and it's wifi came back on. Ring Doorbell also kept refusing its new IP address even though it was showing as assigned correctly.
I checked the wifi stats page with number of clients connected: it said eight. Everything but Kitchen 2 and 3, again. And the weird thing where Kitchen 1 would briefly go off was when Ring Doorbell sensed motion and came online. I unplugged the Wii, recycled, and boom: Kitchen 1 and 2 stayed on, Kitchen 3 would not, and Kitchen 2 would go off briefly every time Ring Doorbell came online. (I set it off to see if I was right, and I was!)
When i closed my laptop and used my phone for the login to the router, paydirt: Kitchen 1, 2, and 3 stayed online, and 3 only barely flickered when Ring Doorbell became active.
When Child got home, I plugged in the Wii and his phone joined the network, and I opened my laptop: all three kitchen stopped working after five to ten minutes and the BR30 lightbulb went off every time the Ring Doorbell came online.
So my effective wifi client number was actually eight: anything above that, they'd get kicked off after five to ten minutes from the network. Specifically, this applied to the very last things I added to the network this last time: those four lightbulbs, and the Ring Doorbell. The doorbell just wasn't particularly affected because it only comes online when something happens and then goes off well before the five to ten minute limit is reached.
(I don't know if the number of LAN devices has any bearing on this, but to be safe, I'm going to assume all devices, both wired and wireless, count toward the 16 device limit because that seems to be what the numbers are telling me.)
Now, this is actually easy to deal with; get an old router or buy a cheap new one (I paid $25 for a TP-Link), slave it to the master router, and get not only all devices to stay online but also get a second channel AP. Nice benefit, but something I didn't realize would be a problem. From what I can see in the logs, this has also cleared up some of my internal traffic (that's another reason I assign permanent IPs), also nice. I've been watching the logs and client list since Router 2 was added and there have been no problems at all.
In general, if you're having a lot of drop issues with your router (as opposed to signal strength), this might be the problem and not your provider themselves. It just surprises me that it never occurred to me that what a router can theoretically do is this far from being what it can do practically.
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