Today on the hookup we’re going to take a look at the Shelly RGBW2 LED controller, talk about it’s strengths and weaknesses and determine if it’s the right device for your project.
As a tinkerer who feels confident with soldering, prototype boards, and programming, my initial impression of the Shelly RGBW2 was that $22 seemed a bit steep for a 4 channel pwm based led controller. But when I started looking around at the competition it became pretty apparent that the shelly RGBW2 is actually the best deal by far for this type of product.
I was surprised to see that LIFX is making a killing selling 2 meters of wifi controlled RGBW LED strips for $78 dollars, Phillips hue wants $80 for the 2 meter kit that works with their hub and app, and even the fully DIY version of the controller made by MK Smarthouse costs $30 and you have to solder and program it yourself.
Another thing the RGBW2 has going for it is the ability to pick your LED strip type and drive a much higher total wattage of LEDS than the competition. With the LIFX setup you can supposedly chain up to 10 meters of LEDs per controller, although I’m pretty confused how the 30 watt power supply is supposed to power 10 meters of RGBW LEDs since most LED strips average between 15 and 20 watts per meter, my bet is that they are using smaller, dimmer LEDS, or perhaps limiting the brightness via software when more strips are plugged in… oh, and the price for 10 meters of those those smaller dimmer LEDS? $272. To do the same with phillips hue you’d spend $280 plus the cost of the hue hub, and it also uses a 30 watt power supply for all 10 meters.
The Shelly RGBW2 by comparison is not so straight forward when determining the length of LEDS that it can handle. The RGBW2 can handle a total of up to 288 watts of LEDS, but again, that’s an oversimplification. In actuality the RGBW2 an handle 3.75 amps of current per channel. That means that if you’re using 12 volt LEDS you can have 45 watts per channel to work with, which is equivalent to between 300-500 typical white LEDs, which translates to between 5 and 8 meters of white LEDS per channel. If you are only using RGB LEDS you could do around 3 times that amount, since each color chip uses around 1/3 of the power of a full white chip.
By using 24 volt LED strips you’ll increase the wattage per channel to 90 watts which means more brightness, and also less susceptibility to voltage drop. If I were trying to make a package that directly competed with the 10 meters of LIFX and hue LEDs mentioned earlier I’d pair a Shelly RGBW2 with 2 24V RGBW strips and a 24V 10 amp power supply. Total cost for that would be $102 less than 40% of the cost of hue or LIFX, and you’ll end up with significantly brighter colors than the 30 watt LIFX and hue equivalents could ever produce.
It’s important to note that these types of LED strips which are often called “dumb led strips” will be the same color for the entire length of the strip, so if you want to do animations you’ll want to look into individually addressable LED strips, and buckle up because the possibilities with those are nearly endless.
In addition to LED strips, the RGBW2 can also be used to drive LED pot lights like I used in my dimmable ceiling light video. In fact, just for fun I decided to see how the RGBW2 would perform in that situation. The downsides are having only 4 dimmable channels instead of 8, and also the lower available dimming frequency of the ESP8266 instead of the ESP32, but ease of use and setup easily make up for that. I also think the RGBW2 is actually cheaper than buying all the parts for the circuit board that drives my ceiling light, and you get to skip all the soldering and programming. Speaking of hardware, lets take a look at how the RGBW2 actually works.
In standard shelly fashion, the RGBW2 is crazy small. Like almost all smart home products these days, using the default firmware you have the option of using the shelly cloud service to easily and conveniently control the color and brightness of your LEDS with the shelly app, google home, and amazon echo. But unlike other smart home products on the market, the default firmware also give you the option to disable the cloud completely and use advanced features like MQTT to integrate the shelly with your home automation platform of choice, which is home assistant in my case. Down in the description I’ve included the specific YAML that you’ll need to add to your configuration file to use the RGBW2 with home assistant. You can also control the RGBW2 via a physical switch, and if you use a momentary push button you’ll also be able to control the brightness by using the long press functionality.
As for the hardware, inside the RGBW2 you’ll find an ESP8266 controlling all of the PWM signals and 4 N-channel mosfets regulating the brightness of each of the LED channels. I hope to see the ESP32 in future versions of the shelly RGBW controllers since it is capable of significantly higher PWM frequencies than the ESP8266 which makes the dimming significantly smoother. For some reason my eyes are really sensitive to light source frequency, but I didn’t notice any strobe effect at all until under around 20% brightness with the RGBW2 my wife didn’t notice them flickering at all.
If you’re feeling adventurous there’s also a set of header pins to program the RGBW2 with your own firmware, but I haven’t had time to mess with custom firmware yet. If you’ve got custom firmware running on your RGBW2 let me know down in the comments.
Overall the shelly RGBW2 is a reasonably priced, very functional piece of smart home tech that serves many purposes. Whether you want to control the color of a single long RGBW strip or set up dimmable zones using led strips or pot lights, the RGBW2 can accommodate your needs all for just $22.
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