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Philips Hue 2.0 Starter Kit review: New Siri controls, same old system

Of course, you'll need to upgrade to the new bridge before you'll be able to do any of this. Fortunately, Hue now offers a "bridge transfer" mode in the app that makes it easy to make the switch. Just follow the onscreen instructions, and Hue will save your existing settings in the cloud, then load them into the new bridge. It only took me a few minutes to get things switched over in the CNET Smart Home, and after doing so, my lights and scenes remained intact. The Siri-powered voice controls worked well, aside from the occasional language mixup (she often hears "Hugh" when you say "Hue," for instance).

There was one unexpected casualty with the switch, though: Hue's integration with the voice-activated Amazon Echo smart speaker, which we already had up and running here at the CNET Smart Home. The new bridge won't currently let the Echo talk to your lights -- Philips tells us that they're working with Amazon on a fix.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

About those bulbs...

The new Hue LEDs, now dubbed "Hue white and color," offer more brightness (and a slightly higher wattage) than the existing versions. Whereas the old bulbs could only hit a maximum of 600 lumens, putting them awkwardly in between the 40 and 60-watt replacement level, the new ones go all the way up to the 60-watt benchmark of 800 lumens.

At least, they're supposed to. Turn them on at their default, soft white setting of 2,700K, and they still shine at less than 600 lumens -- same as the old bulbs. The same is true as you cycle through the RGB spectrum. None of the colors get up above 600 lumens. The worst is blue, which only offers 27 lumens' worth of brightness.

Brightness by color

Color Lumens
Soft white (2,700K) 535
Daylight (4,000K) 734
Red 140
Blue 27
Green 502
Orange 338
Purple 84
Yellow 540

It's only when you dial the bulbs up above that yellowy color temperature of 2,700K toward the hotter, whiter daylight tones that you hit anything north of 600. The brightest spot of the spectrum seems to be around 4,000K. Testing it out in our integrating sphere, the best reading I was able to get was 734 lumens at a measured color temperature of 3,870K. And keep in mind that the color selector in the Hue app doesn't include color temperature readings -- you're really just eyeballing it.

Something else worth considering is color accuracy. After all, if you're going to spend big bucks on color-changing lighting, then it's fair to expect those colors to shine true. This was a nitpick of mine with the original Hue bulbs -- they did fine with reds and yellows but had a hard time putting out accurate, vivid blue and green tones.

Unfortunately, the new bulbs aren't any better than the old ones. In fact, at almost every color and tone it's just about impossible to tell them apart. The green setting is still tennis-ball green at best, the blue setting still has a purplish tinge to it, and the cyan or light blue part of the spectrum still gets completely washed out with white light.

The reason for this all comes down to diodes. Crack a Hue bulb open, and you'll find an mix of light-producing diodes. Red and yellow are both well represented, but you only get two blue diodes. That's why Hue bulbs come in so dim at the blue setting, and also why the blue setting looks a little bit purple: Philips bumps the brightness by adding in a touch of red.

From left to right, here's the old Hue bulb, the new Hue bulb, and the Lifx LED all set to green. Like the old Hue, the new Hue looks yellowed-out by comparison.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Green is the more obvious problem area. Compare the Hue version of green with what you'll get from a color-changing bulb with a greater number of blue diodes, like Lifx , and the difference is night and day. You can see that exact comparison for yourself in the gallery of images posted above -- from left to right in each shot, you're looking at the old Hue, the new Hue and Lifx. Set to green, Lifx is the clear winner. The same can be said for the cyan setting -- it's a color the Hue bulbs just can't produce.

Again, all of these faults were a lot more forgivable with Philips Hue's first generation. A lot's changed since then, though. Along with Lifx, competitors like iLumi have emerged, along with color-tunable, white-light-only bulbs like the ones you'll find in the Osram Lightify Starter Kit . Philips Hue costs more than all of them. If generation two was an opportunity to stay competitive by either improving the color quality or cutting the price, Philips missed it.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Red light or green light?

Hue's interoperability is still its trump card. If you have a variety of smart-home gadgets, and you want color-changing bulbs that will work with as many of them as possible, Hue can't be beat. If you're an existing Hue user and an iOS user as well, then upgrading to the new Hue Bridge to add Siri controls to your setup is a no-brainer, especially considering that Philips will let you trade in your old bridge for a $20 discount.

But if you haven't bought in with Philips Hue yet, I'm not sure that there's enough here to get you to do so now. At $200, the cost of getting started is still is just as high, and there's really nothing new to get excited about beyond that HomeKit integration. What's more, the competition is starting to get compelling. Lifx offers brighter bulbs with better color quality and an easier to use app that now cost $60 each. With no hub needed, you can control each one right out of the box, meaning you don't need to plunk down $200 just to get started. To me, that seems like the better choice for anyone who just wants to try out color-changing light.

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