Philips color orb

A lamp of a different color

I want to introduce you to what I feel is the coolest lighting-based innovation that I’ve ever experienced: the LivingColors Generation 2 LED Lamp by Philips. But first, I have to admit, somewhat painfully, that this particular product became like Ishmael’s white whale to me. No, it didn’t wreck my boat and eat my leg, but I’ve been trying to get my hands on one, even dreaming about it, for more than 10 years. When I finally held the orb in my hand, I was almost giddy with excitement. And even after a decade-long buildup, I was not in the least bit disappointed.

You see I’m a bit of a, lets call it, a visualphile. Anyone who has visited my home office over the years (and to some extent the GCN Lab) knows that it’s a very colorful experience. Using whatever I could find — from track lighting to neon signs to illuminated keyboards to those little strips of light you normally see shining down on the road from souped-up cars — I’ve been able to create a unique visual space (currently decked out in electric blue). But even though I’ve experimented with all types of lighting, I’ve gotten mixed results.

GCN Lab Reviewers Choice Award 2011

Philips LivingColors Generation 2 LED Lamp

Pros: Gives any space a huge wow factor; brilliant colors; plug and play; generates almost no heat.
Cons: No way to completely set colors with perfect precision.
Performance: A+
Ease of Use: A
Features: A
Value: A-
Price: $150
Reviewer’s Choice

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So I was blown away at the old Comdex Computer Expo back around the year 2000, when I witnessed the first generation of the Philips LivingColors LED bulb. Here was a bright bulb whose color you could change at will using a remote control. Say you wanted your office to be red, and then a week later didn’t really like the color anymore. Just touch a button and presto, you could change it to purple, yellow, green or any other of several thousands of colors.

Of course, I ran right to the front of the booth and begged to review it. But there was a problem: LivingColors was only available in Europe. Through the years I checked in on the bulb from time to time, but it never made it to the United States. Then recently I heard about the second generation of the LivingColors product line, which could shed light twice as brightly as before. And finally, it is available in the United States.

The unit itself looks a little bit like a small fishbowl. It is transparent except for a conical tube running down its middle and a white plastic plate at the top, which is used to capture and diffuse the colored light produced by the base unit. There is a very small flat surface along the bowl that allows users to set the LivingColors in one place and not have it roll around. If positioned correctly, the lit end of the unit faces upward at about a 70 degree angle. It’s designed to throw its light onto a wall or ceiling, allowing it to shine its colors around an entire room. There is also a standard power cord that comes out the back side.

Remote-control hues

The unit is controlled wirelessly using a remote control. The most prominent feature on the remote is a large color wheel, which makes it very easy to use. Simply press the color you want your room to be, and the bulb instantly changes to match it. Or, if you swirl your finger around the ring and press the On button, the LivingColors unit will cycle through its entire 16 million color palette. That’s a bit too disco for me, but it might be nice for a party or special occasion.

If I had one minor gripe, it’s that even though the bulb is capable of displaying 16 million colors, you won’t be able to get perfect precision with the remote control. For example, I’d like to be able to set the display to a specific hue, say “66FF99,” but instead I have to press the green part of the wheel and try to adjust the hue until I think it’s a perfect match for the setting or my mood.

There are two other button sets on the remote. The first controls color saturation. You will probably set this to maximum saturation to get the most of your colors, but if you want softer colors, you can add in more white, which is how you achieve some very soothing pastels — if that’s what you’re into. You can even turn the colors off altogether and create a very bright diffused white light that is easy to read under.

The last set of buttons controls the brightness. And these new-generation lights can get very bright. If you are stupid enough to stare straight into it under maximum brightness (yes, I made this mistake), you will be seeing spots for a long time, regardless of the color.

Powerful LED

The LivingColors unit is essentially a complex, powerful LED bulb, with all the advantages of such lighting. It should last somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 hours of continuous use. It also produces almost no heat whatsoever. You can have it on maximum brightness for a week and directly touch the front plate and barely feel any warmth, which makes it safe for kids and pets as well as heat-sensitive electronics.

At $150 on average, the price is a bit high, and even higher at some stores, but not much lower than that. Still, given that a single globe can light up a moderately sized room and last virtually forever, with very little drain on power and almost no added strain to your environmental cooling systems, the cost seems a bit more reasonable. I showed the LivingColors review unit to several techies and a few federal friends of mine, and everyone absolutely loved it. Some even began calculating how to justify getting a few for their office, and I know everyone who experienced it wanted one for their home.

The Philips LivingColors Generation 2 LED Lamp earns a Reviewer’s Choice designation for combining efficiency, innovation and even a little bit of fun. It’s not just a bright idea. It’s a colorful one.

Philips Electronics,


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