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Light Bulbs

Lifx at CES 2019: New lights, hidden features, and a plan for your TV

"We've got all these concepts that we think would work. We just can't do them all."

Chris Monroe/CNET

I've just left a meeting with with the Philips Hue team at the Aria casino and hotel. I head down the elevator, grab a quick drink of water and turn right back around for my next meeting -- a sit-down with the smart lighting brand Lifx at an Aria suite of its own. They're just a floor or two beneath Hue.

The proximity feels appropriate. After all, Lifx has been nipping at Philips Hue's smart lighting heels for years now. An early Kickstarter success story back in 2012, LIfx is now a legitimate lighting brand of its own with a healthy catalog of color-changing smart lighting products and integrations with all of the major players -- Alexa, Google, Apple HomeKit, you name it. 

It isn't as big as Philips Hue, mind you, but it wants to be.

Sam Moore, Global Marketing Director at Lifx.

Ry Crist/CNET

'Latent capabilities'

My guide back up the Sky Suites elevator is Sam Moore, global marketing director at Lifx. A laid-back Australian clad in a t-shirt, Moore apologizes and tells me that my appointment is overlapping a meeting between Lifx heads and representatives of one of the larger platforms the brand is compatible with. They're sitting in the suite's living room, and I'm dying to listen in, but Moore guides me into the adjacent dining room instead.

On the table, he's got a set of Lifx Tile wall panels laid out and powered on. They're running a flickering flame effect, a recent addition to the app's animated presets, but that's not what he wants to show me. He gives one of the Tiles a tap, and the preset changes. That's totally new -- the Tiles launched with no mention of touch controls at all.

"It was built in from the beginning," Moore tells me, adding that Lifx will activate the touch functionality for all users with a software update in the coming weeks.

Company CEO Tim Peters steps out of his meeting for a minute to say hi, and tells me that the lack of touch functionality at launch came down to "focus and resources." Lifx sells a lot of bulbs, but it's still a fairly small company.

"We've got all these concepts that we think would work," Moore adds. "We just can't do them all."

Peters tells me that the brand puts a lot of "latent capabilities" into its products, and gives me a few off-the-record examples that catch me by surprise. I like the forward-thinking approach, but in the case of the Tiles, I think Lifx might have been rushing to get a product to market before its chief competitor in the wall panel race, Nanoleaf, pulled too far ahead.

lifx-candelabra-bulbs

New multi-color candelabra bulbs are coming in the second half of 2019. No word on pricing yet.

Ry Crist/CNET

New bulbs -- maybe some new light strips, too

Peters goes on to show off the brand's upcoming multi-color candelabra bulbs, a new reveal here at CES. He grabs an iPad with the Lifx app to show me some of the different color effects, but realizes that he has no idea which of the dozens of lights on screen is the one he's trying to control. 

The same exact thing happened in my meeting with Philips Hue. I smile at the deja vu and tell him that it's fine -- he has a meeting to get back to, anyway.

Don't be surprised to see some interesting updates for the multi-color Lifx Z light strip in 2019.

Ry Crist/CNET

That leaves me with Moore, who gets right back into the concepts Lifx is looking to pursue. I ask him if Lifx has anything planned that would sync its lights with your TV to compete with Hue Entertainment, which enables real-time lighting effects that match the colors on your screen.

"We're interested," he says, "and looking at third parties that can help with that." Stick a pin in that for just a second.

Moore then mentions one potential Lifx concept that seems especially smart -- new versions of the Lifx Z multi-color light strip that are designed to run around all sides of the the back of your television, complete with corner connectors. It's just a concept at this point, but it sounds like a no-brainer to me.

He mentions that it's similar to what a company called DreamScreen offers, and my ears perk up. DreamScreen syncs its own full-perimeter color-changing TV light strips with an HDMI pass through box. You plug your gaming consoles, set-top boxes, and streaming devices in, then you plug the pass-through box into your TV. The pass-through box scans the picture of whatever's playing and syncs the light strips for real-time color-matching effects -- a better approach than Hue Entertainment's software-based method, which only works via PC. 

Unfortunately, the quality of DreamScreen's lights left me less than impressed when I tested it out at the CNET Smart Home. A shame.

Perhaps to that end, DreamScreen told me late last year that it had an integration with Lifx in the works, so I ask Moore for an update. He nods, and tells me to stay tuned. I'll be sure to -- combining a full set of TV-specific Lifx Z strips with DreamScreen's clever pass-through box would definitely be pretty interesting. Sounds like Lifx plans to make it happen -- but what exactly that ends up looking like remains to be seen.

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