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Smart Home

So you got a smart home gadget...now what?

Here's what you need to know if you're bringing a brand new connected device into your home this holiday season.

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If you're new to the whole smart home thing and unsure of where to begin, don't despair -- there are a lot of ways to work connected devices into your life. You can use one product or kit on its own as a simple solution to a singular need. Establishing custom rules with one or more gadgets via IFTTT can up the ante a bit. But, the highest level of smart home self-actualization lies with the hub and other open-API multi-product integrations.

Read on to find out more about the three main smart home "tiers."

Getting started

Some smart home products are self-contained by design. Select DIY security kits, like Viper Home , and professional firms like ADT, only work within a limited framework -- their own.

Other gadgets, like the Belkin WeMo line or Philips Hue LEDs work with competing brands, but that doesn't mean that they have to.

You can buy one security kit to monitor your house or one Belkin WeMo Light Switch to control a particular light source and let that complete your smart home transaction. From there, it's all about installing your product, downloading the accompanying app and enjoying its functionality.

This is a great smart-home starting point, because you won't get weighed down with questions like, "Which protocol does this use?" and "Is it part of the " Works with Nest" initiative?" It lets you focus on the basics and gauge your interest in all things Internet of Things. Then, if you get hooked, you can start worrying about those more detailed questions.

If this, then that

If you're familiar with the basic tenants of the smart home and want to try something a bit more complex, IFTTT is a logical next step. IFTTT, which stands for "If this, then that," is a free Web and mobile service that lets you create custom rules. It gives you more control over how and when you use your smart home devices.

For example, if you have a Nest thermostat , you could set an IFTTT rule saying, "If the temperature outside drops below X, then set my Nest to X," or "If my Nest is set to Home mode, then send me a notification on my Android device ."

You can also create rules between two smart home products. Say you have a Nest thermostat and Philips Hue LEDs. Then, you could say, "If my Nest is set to Away mode, then turn off my Philips Hue bulbs."

Hub talk

You could always start with SmartThings , Wink or another hub if you're sure that you'll want to control multiple compatible devices, but it's definitely one of the more advanced options available to smart home DIYers.

Basically, there are plenty of connected devices that don't "speak" Wi-Fi. Instead, they connect via Z-Wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth and other protocols. Now, you have the option to buy your smart home gadgets and ignore this language barrier, but that means that you'll be controlling each product separately without taking advantage of any open APIs.

The Wink hub. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Hubs speak a lot of different protocol languages and unite all of your compatible devices under a single app so your thermostat, lights, deadbolt, security camera and more can all communicate, even if they weren't made by the same company. This takes the openness of IFTTT but gives you the chance to establish rules for an entire suite of smart home products.

As a point of reference, Wink works with GE Link Connected LEDs , Philips Hue LEDs, Quirky and Lutron products, the Dropcam Pro, the Nest thermostat and Nest Protect , the Chamberlain MyQ , the Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat , the Rachio Iro and more.

The final say

While there are a ton of interesting options within these three levels of smart home integration, voice activation might ultimately transcend the hub. If most of our smart home interactions take place on our mobile devices, Apple's Siri-based HomeKit and Google's recent have a ton of appeal.

They may not have dedicated hubs, but they are allowing developers to take a stab at integrating with their software, and that's something worth paying attention to as these software-focused integrations progress. For now, though, there are still a bunch of ways to use that newly-acquired smart home gadget: on its own, as part of IFTTT or as part of a larger connected home hub network.