Lighting is kind of like the salt of home decor. You can design a fab living room with all the right pieces, but without the proper lighting, it can all end up rather bland–just imagine your carefully considered decor awash in the florescent lighting at the dentist’s office.
That’s one reason why we are digging all the nifty smart LED lighting kits currently on the market that allow you to wirelessly control your lights, dim them to your heart’s content, and hardly ever have to change a bulb. The bulbs last a very long time (15 to 30 years), and are therefore more expensive. But you’ll make up the cost over time: Not only do you not have to run to the supermarket every month or two to replace a burnt-out incandescent bulb, you’ll save money on your energy bill. What’s not to love?
Connected by TCP wireless LED starter kit is one iteration of such a smart LED lighting kit, which premiered last November but gained a lot of buzz at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show in early January. What I like about this kit is that it appeals less to the hipster audience looking for a ‘status’ type product and opens up wireless LED lighting to everyone from the average homeowner to the builder. For example, instead of finding it at the Apple Store, you can buy it direct from TCP ($143) or at HomeDepot ($110). Connected by TCP’s packaging, apps, and user interface are not as ‘slick’ as, say, Philips Hue, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it makes the kit extremely straightforward and functional.
With Connected by TCP, you only get one color–soft white. It’s a very similar temperature to that of an incandescent bulb, in fact. When you buy it on Home Depot, you’ll pay $90 less than Hue, and replacement bulbs are $30 bucks, $40 less expensive than Hue’s. While we love Hue and Lumen’s ability to change the bulb’s color on whim, from a functionality perspective, it’s not necessarily a feature you can’t live without. Connected by TCP lets you add up to 250 bulbs to one Connected by TCP gateway, compared to Hue’s 50 bulbs, making it potentially more expandable for larger homes.
With the kit, you’ll get three bulbs, a wireless gateway, and, bonus, a remote control (without the remote, the kit is only $90). To set it up, just turn off the lamps or fixtures where you want to install the LED bulbs, screw in the light bulbs, connect the gateway to your wireless router, download the TCP Lighting app to your smartphone or tablet, and you’ll be in business. Like I mentioned before, the app is very no-frills, mostly a black and white color scheme, and the user interface is easy to use. First hit Configure, and the app will guide you through the process of labeling your lights by making each individual bulb flash on and off so you know which is which. Once you are all set with your bulbs correctly labelled, you can control each light individually by choosing the “My Lights” icon in the app, then turning it off, on, or dimming it. If you are digging the effect, you can save a scene instantly.
Go to Smart Controls to create your own lighting commands. There are a couple that are already done for you, including Away, which turns off all the lights, and Home, which turns them all on. You can customize them, however, if you want them to run on a schedule. You can also add new ones and label them as you like.
Setting up the remote is also a cinch, just a few button presses and you’ll be able to turn your lights on or off and dim them, using the remote–a very nice bonus for those times when you don’t have your phone handy. Keep it by your bed, and you’ll never have to get out of bed to turn off the lights. The remote can control up to four zones of lighting, not just four bulbs. I didn’t have that many bulbs to play with, but rest assured that the remote will work on 250 Connected by TCP bulbs with a range of 250 feet.
Finally, you can control your lights from afar using cellular networks and and quickly registering for Remote Access with Connected by TCP.
I created several “Custom” scenes to test the scheduling capabilities out, setting scenes to start and end in five minute intervals at various dimming levels and using various bulbs. The scheduling capabilities worked wonderfully, so long as you don’t control the lights manually. For example, when my Bedroom lamp was off, I decided to see what would happen if I randomly turned it on and off using the actual switch. Then I left it off and I waited to see if my scene would come on. It didn’t. When I left the switch alone and used only the remote or my iPhone, it worked like a champ. Not a big deal, really, just avoid using the switch if you can so you don’t interrupt the flow.
I especially liked the ability to turn off all the lights at once from the remote. You just hit the “1-4″ button at the bottom and then hit power and your house goes dark. A great feature–especially if you have kids who forget to turn off their lights.
I tested the Remote Access actively by turning lights on and off and having my husband confirm that what I was commanding on my iPhone at the mall was actually happening at home. Operation was flawless.
Fun Throwing Bulbs
The guys at TCP told me that the Connected by TCP bulbs were incredibly sturdy. Indeed, they felt very heavy. I assumed, like any homeowner might, that they were glass. But because LED has such low heat output, plastic suddenly becomes an option. I decided to test just how sturdy they were by throwing my Bedroom bulb around a bit. Here’s a video:
Below is an “After” image of the bulb. Not much worse for wear, and mind you, this was after I threw it about 20 times trying to get a video without a trash can in the background. If you look closely, you can see a few scratches, but I, for one, am pretty happy I’ll never have to step on a tiny glass shard from an incandescent again!
With most LED wireless lighting kits, the problem is that there are few types of LED bulbs in the LED line up that can connect to the wireless gateway. For example, I wanted to put a bulb in my overhead ceiling fan, which has a much smaller opening. While TCP currently does not make any other bulbs that connect to the gateway included in the kit, it looks like they are planning on introducing a few new products here soon. In the meantime, I highly recommend this kit to anyone who is interested in getting started with warm, no-frills connected lighting. Connected by TCP is inexpensive enough to outfit your entire home for a few hundred dollars.