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Could BeeWi Smart Color LEDs be the Hue competitor we've been waiting for?

At less than $40 per bulb, this affordable Philips alternative could make a colorful debut in the first half of 2014.

Josh Miller/CNET

Lighting that changes color on demand is nothing new, and if you've read our review of the Philips Hue Starter Kit, then you know that we're at least somewhat charmed by the idea. Unfortunately, the costs of these kinds bulbs have put them largely out of reach for a wide number of consumers. The Philips Hue kit will set you back $199, while slow-to-emerge competitors like iLumi and LIFX each cost over $80 per bulb -- if you can even get your hands on one.

That's why BeeWi's new Smart Color Light -- which the company plans to sell for less than $40 per bulb -- has us intrigued. Announced amid a wide slate of other Bluetooth-enabled smart home devices at CES 2014 last week, BeeWi's bulbs might have gotten a bit lost in the shuffle. After all, BeeWi, a rather whimsical company based out of Europe, is better known for developing Bluetooth-powered toy robots, headphones, and even battle-copters than it is for designing light bulbs.

Ry Crist/CNET

That might soon change, as their new Smart Color Lights are due on sale, "within the next 90 days," according to a company representative. Fully controllable from a free iOS and Android app, the Smart Color LEDs boast the same 16 million colors as Philips Hue bulbs, as well as preset modes for waking up or syncing your lights with your music (BeeWi touts the fact that its app will customize the color of your lights based on the specific genre of music playing: a reggae song, for instance, would be met with red, yellow, and green light). And then there's the actual brightness of the bulb: BeeWi is promising 850 lumens, comparable to a 60-watt incandescent. Philips Hue bulbs, on the other hand, only hit 600 lumens at their peak.

Aside from the lumens and the price point, another key advantage the BeeWi bulbs might have over Philips is that each one is completely controllable right out of the box, thanks to the fact that they use Bluetooth to communicate directly with your device. Philips bulbs use a Zigbee connection, which means you need to plug the Hue Bridge control hub into your router before you'll be able to operate them. Since the Hue Bridge is only sold as part of the Hue Starter Kit, this means that the cost to get started with Philips is effectively $199. That isn't ideal if you aren't completely convinced that color-changing lights are for you.

Ry Crist/CNET

We've already seen this Bluetooth-based, hub-free approach with the Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb, and while it can work well for those who just want to have a party bulb on hand, it probably isn't the best fit for more serious automation enthusiasts. Without that connection to your home network, you won't be able to control your bulbs from beyond the range of your Bluetooth signal. Fortunately, BeeWi users will have the option of purchasing a separate "Smart Gateway" accessory that will communicate with any local bulbs, then relay that connection out over Wi-Fi. This means that BeeWi users stand to get the best of both worlds, and also the ability to connect their lights with other BeeWi devices, like motion detectors or smart switches.

These advantages aside, Philips users will still enjoy much greater compatibility with third-party devices like SmartThings, Staples Connect, and the Revolv Hub, not to mention direct integration with the popular Web service IFTTT. Being pretty firmly entrenched into the always-evolving home automation scene is probably worth it for committed, long-term users. Still, at less than $40 per bulb -- easily the best price we've heard of for an automatable, color-changing LED -- BeeWi is looking like a brand worth keeping an eye on in 2014, and definitely a brand that Philips ought to keep its eye on.