Linus Tech Tips Doesn’t Know Smart Bulbs
Manufacturers and Reviewers Don’t Get Smart Homes
tl;dr, Linus sees the Yeelight as a cost-effective solution comparable to Philips Hue and LIFX. I think the video is missing the point; that cost doesn’t tell the whole story about a whole-home smart bulb solution.
I’d love to see how Linus got his Yeelight setup working. If it really was just a cheaper smart bulb, and it actually does work for his smart home, he’s gotta know something I don’t, and I wanna know it too!
I’ve got a large smart home setup and from my experience, this video is lacking a ton of important information; things that Linus Tech Tips usually covers in their other hardware videos about TVs, monitors, computer electronics, etc.
But I might be wrong. Maybe those are in-depth reviews and this is just a “hey, here’s this thing you might wanna consider looking into”. I don’t know. Now that I think about it, I don’t really know which videos are what category anymore because of all the click-bait titles.
First thing I’ll get out of the way is the inaccuracy of how LIFX bulbs work. Since the 2nd generation of LIFX bulbs, they no longer use 802.15.4 meshing and each bulb individually connects to Wi-Fi. I also don’t think you need to have an account to use them.
To Linus Tech Tips’s credit, they already posted a correction in the description even though no one’s probably going to read it. YouTube doesn’t have annotations anymore so there’s no way to put in errata without uploading another vid. Honestly, that’s on YouTube, not Linus Tech Tips.
I noticed the only place still talking about LIFX using 802.15.4 is Wikipedia. Literally the first sentence:
LIFX (pronounced Life-X) is a line of energy-efficient, multi-color, Wi-Fi enabled LED light bulbs that can be controlled via a Wi-Fi equipped device such as a smartphone or smartwatch. The master light bulb connects to the router via 802.11b/802.11g/802.11n and then to all the other LIFX bulbs in the house via a low power IPv6 802.15.4 mesh network.
Seriously? You’d think Wikipedia, with the fact that anyone can update it, would have this corrected already. In fact, I could do it myself, but I can’t find the original forum post about the removal of 802.15.4 aside from a Reddit post.
A Whole-Home Smart Bulb
Linus doesn’t write his own scripts anymore, but I’m going to refer to what “he” said since Linus’s physically saying the words, not the organization named Linus Tech Tips.
From what I gathered, the goal of the video is about how the Yeelight is a cheaper-cost alternative to Philips Hue and LIFX for a whole-home solution. At no point does Linus talk about a single lamp or room; he’s talking about an entire smart home and the device cost to get into it.
And isn’t that the problem with pretty-much all this smart home stuff? By the time you’ve got your brand-name Caséta switches, Nest Thermostat, Argust Lock, Hue Bulbs, you’re 5, 10 grand deep in this stuff. And everytime I pull a calculator and add it up, I basically end up with — Yeah, screw it. I’m gonna find another way.
If we had to pick a winner, I’d say the for me, the low cost of Yeelights is definitely gonna be what finally gets me on the smart bulb train. For my house, seven-hundred dollars to do everything (40 lights) —which I probably wouldn’t — it’s still a lot of money, but it’s a lot less than two grand or more.
Device Cost is a Subset
That’s the first issue. The device cost is only a small portion of the whole story. Depending on the systems you get into such as Z-Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth, and-or Wi-Fi, there are other unseen costs. You’ve also got to think about company support in the future and the resale market as you might not always want to buy these devices new.
Not to mention all proprietary hub protocols, including wireless APs, have an upper bound on the total number of devices. When you have over 170 Wi-Fi devices, you run into major logistical problems like routing Ethernet cables all around the house in odd spots or configuring a mesh network which has as few hops as possible and making sure your 2.4GHz and 5GHz are on the right channels separate from neighbors and other APs in the house.
I experienced a similar issue because of my 40+ Bluetooth buttons. Raspberry Pis really only support 10 devices each unless you’re okay with higher-latency responses when triggering the buttons.
From the video, it sounds like neither Linus nor anyone working for him uses smart bulbs in their house; at least, not the whole home. When someone in Linus Media Group is an expert on something, Linus always queries that person for more information, and I saw none of it here.
Oh the Hardships
And that’s the second problem. If you’ve never built a smart home with off-the-shelf parts, you have absolutely no clue the hardships people have to go through to get everything playing nice.
Yeelight supports Alexa, great! Are groups from the Yeelight pulled into Alexa or do I have to double-configure everything? Can I change the light color? What color names can I use? For instance, LIFX has pre-programmed different white levels and colors into their Alexa skill. Does Yeelight support all the same things or does it only allow changing the brightness? Dunno; none of it was talked about in the video. How would you know if this is a good whole-home solution relative to your time and the maintenance cost? Again, cost doesn’t tell the whole story.
I’ve come across so many “glad I chose this” or “man, this experience totally sucks” scenarios over the last couple years from managing 113 smart bulbs and over 210 smart home devices in my house. I even had to write my own software to captures button presses from smart buttons because light switches render your smart bulbs inert.
While he talked about Philips Hue benefiting from tons of accessories like wireless buttons, he missed the reason why buttons are paramount. I can tell you I’m not gonna to use my phone to control the lights, and that doesn’t even pass the wife test.
What happens when I have guests over? They don’t have my account credentials so how are they supposed to access the bulbs? I can hear it now: “Hey Kevin, I gotta go to the bathroom. Can you turn on the lights?” Another option is to buy a tablet for every guest-accessible room and maintain smart home software on each one, but that’s just not feasible.
And what about voice control? You think everyone I invite over is gonna figure out all my room names and use the smart controls in Alexa or Google Home? Heck no. My parents have enough time trying to figure out the scene configurations let alone room names and everything related.
Also note that both Alexa and Google Home encourage you to put all smart devices in a room so when someone says “turn on Kitchen, it will turn on the lights, garbage disposal, and the wax warmer all at the same time. Woo-hoo! This is why the garbage disposal isn’t in the Kitchen group.
And if you changed the light colors or dimmed them the day before, when you turn them back on, they’ll be right back where you left them. That’s why you have to configure multiple scenes per room of various lighting configurations so you can let the scenes control your common lighting preferences and only use groups for turning off lights, not on.
Alexa has a great feature I never use where you can assign Echos to rooms and when you say “turn on lights”, it will turn on the lights configured for that room. Sounds great, but honestly, I can never guess which Echo will respond when I talk. If you actually put one in each room like I did, it’s possible the one in a nearby room will hear you instead of the one in the room you’re in. It’s all about acoustics. And it still suffers the same issue as before. When you actually have color-changing, dimmable smart lights, it’s the same issue where you really want to be using scenes instead of groups.
What about smart light switches? Those just physically turn on and off the lights acting as a regular light switch. Smart lights aren’t even compatible with AC dimming so that’s also a lost-cause. I’ve found absolutely no smart light switches which wirelessly control the lights when hooked into AC wall power. This is why Philips physical buttons are so valuable, but also why you can’t replace those physical wall switches already setup in your home.
To sum it up, you need physical buttons, you need scene configurations, and just about every app makes you reconfigure all your groups for each device so if you move a bulb from one room to another, you will have at least 2 places to change if not more. I have to change all the scenes, smart-bulb app groups, Alexa groups, Google Home groups, etc. It sucks.
Spec-wise, ‘ell it’s a lot of the same. With the major differences being the higher light output and the efficiency of the LIFX and the much lower price of the Yeelight. Otherwise, they all have the same rated life expectancy, the same warranty, and the same mount type.
While Linus skimmed over it, lumens are extremely important. High lumen output (1100 lumens) is a major reason to consider LIFX over the other solutions on lighting alone.
This is in contrast to how he talks about HDR whenever reviewing a monitor or TV. From his own videos, having 1000 nits is the minimum amount required to truly experience HDR, but when he’s talking about smart bulbs, he completely passed over lumens like they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
Also think about the cost of cost putting in new light fixtures to make rooms brighter. If you could brighten up a room with with the same amount of light bulbs at higher efficiency, what makes more sense to you? Buying and installing new fixtures and switches and boxes and cabling or buying brighter light bulbs?
After having all 1100 lumen bulbs for the last 2 years, I can tell you 800 lumens just isn’t enough. It changes the composition of your room when you can provide a significant amount of high-quality light. LIFX, even from the sides, produces a ton of lux all around the spectrum.
And what about color accuracy? I won’t go too deep into it, but from the reviews I’ve read, LIFX has far-better color accuracy overall than competing products. I would question how an $18 competitor would fare. This extends to white levels as well. These are more important to most folks because most lights are in the white light mode. Color-changing smart lights also have the added benefit of being able to product 3500K white. From someone who’s experienced it himself with LIFX bulbs, it’s pretty amazing when compared against 2700K.
The Wrong Comparison
None of these topics were mentioned in his video. It’s like he missed the point because he wanted to talk about how $18 bulbs make $45 bulbs look like a rip-off. The focus was on total cost within a smart home, not functionality.
It’s equivalent to saying “this i3 is only $60, but this i7 is over $1k! Obviously the i3 is a better-buy because they’re both processors that support the same feature-set, and this one’s significantly cheaper”.
What about core count, L2 and L3 cache, motherboard cost, RAM type, dual vs triple vs quad channel memory configurations, gaming performance, the integrated graphics chips. Come on! You guys do this for computer hardware in just about every video; why not smart lights?
As I stated earlier, I maintain a network of over 170 smart home Wi-Fi devices. It’s not cheap, and it’s not easy since you’re constantly flying blind. When you’re this bleeding edge, very few people even at Linus’s level are going to try it out.
And think of the complete picture. 40 smart bulbs might be fine, but what if you add a Google Home or Echo for every room? Then add some Chromecast or Sonos devices, smart TVs, smart Blu-ray players, smart remotes, smart plugs, smart fans, smart blinds, cameras, smoke alarms, thermostats, security systems, etc? At some point you’re going to see your network explode into something that isn’t easy for the average user to assemble and maintain.
- Lumen rating.
- White accuracy.
- Color accuracy.
- The latency involved with configuration changes through the mobile app or a web interface. You don’t want to wait 4 seconds for your lights to turn on when you’ve already left the room.
- The ability to work with 3rd party devices like buttons in a whole-home solution.
- The ability to control it outside of the mobile apps such as in web apps.
- Programmability via HTTP and LAN APIs.
- Community support in 3rd party tooling so you’re not stuck with vendor lock-in.
If you like what you read and want to know more about my smart home ventures, check out my other articles: