LIFX+ color LED smart bulb review: This light bulb helps your security camera see in the dark

LIFX has taken its top-notch Wi-Fi color LED smart bulb and added a terrific feature to create the LIFX+: Infrared LEDs that illuminate the surrounding area even when the bulb is turned off (via software, that is). You can’t see this with your naked eye, but it will help your home security camera see in the dark.

“Night vision” cameras—of which there are many on the market—can’t really see in the dark. What they have is a sensor that can detect light in the infrared spectrum, and most models have a small infrared LED on the front to help light up the surrounding when the sun goes down. Infrared light is invisible to our eyes, but it makes a huge difference in what the camera can pick up. The catch is that those infrared LEDs aren’t typically very powerful, which is why nighttime footage from most of these cameras looks fuzzy and muted.

Both photos were captured from a home security camera. In the image on the right, the LIFX+ bulb is in the lamp, but it's turned off via the app. The glow is from infrared light that only the camera can see.

Solution: Light up the scene with an external infrared light source, courtesy of bulbs you already have installed. The LIFX+ throws out a ton of light—far more than your typical IR camera—really brightening up nighttime footage no matter which IR camera you’re using. The before and after sample photos above give you a much better sense of this: Note how you can make out individual books on the far-right bookshelf in the after picture; in the before photo, they’re little more than a gray blur.

It’s a vivid scene… and yet, to the human eye, the lamp positioned in the picture is actually turned off in the right-hand photo (via software, that is. If power to the lamp itself was shut off, this trick wouldn’t work). The LIFX+ IR feature activates when you dim the light to 10 percent or below, or if you turn the bulb off in software; there’s otherwise no way to manually control just the infrared light or its power level.

The LIFX+ uses the same app as its stablemate.

This new model uses the same control app and is identical in size and weight to the LIFX Color 1000 we reviewed in October. The only visible difference is a very slight bump in luminosity, from 1055 lumens to 1100. Apart from that, this bulb functions the same as the less-expensive Color 1000, and it delivers the same rich colors, scheduling, and other smart-bulb trappings.

That means you have a single $20 question to answer if you’re considering one of these bulbs. Obviously, if you don’t have a night-vision camera in the vicinity of the bulb, stick with the cheaper model. But if you aren’t happy with the clarity of your video shot at nighttime, this is actually a reasonable way to solve that problem without adding additional hardware (or upgrading your camera).

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