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LED Lamps to Replace Incandescent Bulbs - But When?

by October 03, 2011

Have you been keeping up with the LED lighting movement? I'd even go so far as to call it a "transition". The future is here - it's just a tad expensive right now. What is driving consumer and professional fascination with LED bulb technology is that it lasts longer, uses less power and should, eventually, cost less. LED lamps produce more light than heat - and that means they are more efficient. They are also safer - both for you (they don't shatter) and for the environment (they are toxin-free). You can also run LED lighting with existing dimmers. Right now they have a higher threshold for dimming than their incandescent counterparts, but they do indeed dim. The other thing we like about LED lighting is that it doesn't require the expense or bulk of a ballast system. That's less to troubleshoot, and less to pay for. It also makes LED lamps smaller - giving them the potential of being used in some pretty creative and compact scenarios where fluorescent technology fell flat on its face. For home theater, LEDs represent the next logical step for projectors - and they've already made their way into the backlighting systems of flat screen televisions.

So with all that excitement, why isn't everyone using LEDs in their homes, replacing traditional light bulbs?

The pricing still sucks. I mean, you can do the math and it's actually cheaper in the long run - but that's just it: you have to do the math. It's a tough sell to compare a $1 bulb with a $65 counterpart. And honestly, in some scenarios the price doesn't make sense - at least not if "price" is the ultimate objective and determining factor. And high costs, fortunately, are temporary. We know this because LED is essentially an on-chip technology. You stamp it onto a circuit board and there is no need for a fragile glass shroud. It's more stable during shipping and in high yields, the fewer parts are going to equate into a product that costs LESS to manufacture than traditional light bulbs.

LED lighting is appealing to the homeowner for the simple fact that it works, it can swap out with existing bulbs quite easily, and its cheap to operate. For commercial installations, it can save a boatload of money (literally) and for the custom installation market, you've got a wide field of options for accent lighting as well as controllable, dimmable solutions that look smart and save your customers time and money in the long haul.

Using Cyron Par38s to Replace Standard Flood Lamps

We got in some samples from Cyron Lighting, a California-based manufacturer of LED lighting solutions. They have a variety of products for the residential market, commercial market - they even create and develop solutions as an OEM provider for other manufacturers. In addition to that they are in the automotive, home theater and film industry markets as well. LED is taking over - and Cyron is one of many manufacturers positioning themselves to take advantage of the transition.

Cyron sent us four of their PAR38 lamps in "warm white" so we could check them out first hand in a residential application. These are exactly the kinds of lighting you'd see in an in-ceiling application designed to shine light down on a wall or floor to accent or illuminate a particular area. In our application, a kitchen with dimmable lighting, we replaced four 125W in-ceiling flood lights with the comparable LED solution - the PAR38. Since 4 PAR38 lamps replaced 500 watts worth of incandescent lights with just 60 watts, the energy savings was an astounding 88%!

Cyron PAR38s Up Close

Each of the Cyron PAR38 lamps illuminates using 12 LEDs arranged in a circle. Each LED has its own a dispersing dome that spreads the light outward and meshes it with the adjacent LED (these LED lamps don't work using a concave reflector as some other solutions do). The beam is a tad on the tight side rather than the flood pattern of a conventional in-ceiling flood bulb.

cyron lamp rear

Around the LED array is a black surround and a passive aluminum heat sink delivers the required cooling for the integrated dimmer assembly encased within. Aside from the fins, the outer shape is the same as a traditional flood lamp. As for output, the PAR38 emits a full 900 lumens in the "warm white" version and 950 watts in the "daylight white" model. That's about as bright as the calibrated lamp of many home theater projectors. The bulbs truly blow away incandescent technology in a variety of ways, but possibly none more impressive than how long they last. Each of these lamps will last around 30,000 hours. A traditional bulb is lucky to reach 1000 hours. That means you get 30x the life. It doesn't take long to do some rough figuring and quickly find out how much you can save in just time and energy alone. Remember, you can factor in both the replacement costs as well as the energy savings. Together, LED lamps just make sense.

in-ceiling LED lamp

Compact fluorescent bulbs were supposedly the bomb - pushed by the government like they were the second coming. The problem with CF bulbs, however is that they are expensive to make, bad for the environment, fragile, and downright awful when they aren't forced to be a different color temperature than the typical "super-blue" found in most offices. They will peel the skin off your eyelids - at least in my opinion. CF bulbs are also difficult to dim - and when they are they add even more bulk to an already bulky package. Dimmability in light bulbs is crucial to those using home control systems - and even just to most consumers who are used to dimming lighting in living areas, kitchens and home offices. In corporate America, dimmable lamps will also result in cost savings - particularly in locations that require some sort of 24-hour lighting. These Cyron bulbs also come with a 1 year limited factory warranty to cover manufacturing defects - try to find that in a traditional bulb.  They often don't even last that long.

The Final Word

Now, specs are cool and it's fairly obvious that LED lighting is the future - and a welcome one. But you have GIT to experience the sheer brilliance (no pun intended) of a true daylight bulb in your home. While the super-warm 3000K bulbs might be what we are used to, a D65 or 6500K lamp (as the one we reviewed was) is like casting sunlight into the room. In our kitchen test location, it truly felt like we had installed four mini sky lights to let in sunlight. This particular kitchen didn't have any windows (being located in the middle of a home) so introducing refreshing 6500K light was unbelievably beautiful. It made us want to replicate this color temperature of light in every room in the home - it's THAT beautiful.

How to Shop

When shopping for LED lighting, particularly when looking at in-ceiling lamps, pay close attention to the spread pattern and color temperature. There are nearly endless options for spread, size, output and color. You really can get just about anything you need.

So when will LED lamps replace traditional bulbs? Soon. Cree and other manufacturers are already providing inexpensive solutions that are rendering incandescent light bulbs obsolete. What needs to happen next is economy of scale. Unfortunately, the US government seems to be bent on forcing consumers into alternate lighting technologies earlier than expected - and this might keep costs artificially high for longer than if the market drove itself (particularly, the onslaught of inferior stop-gap fluorescent technology seems to have held back LED lamp development, which is only now starting to catch up). In any case, I believe we are merely years away from LED lamps replacing incandescents in most applications - and that replacement being welcome and pursued en mass by consumers.


j_garcia posts on February 16, 2012 14:31
Under $5 LED is now on the market. Low on lumens though, so not exactly ready to light the whole home.

Rickster71 posts on January 03, 2012 10:03
I had heard some problems with the old style ballasts.
I've only installed them in industrial / commercial locations where RFI wasn't really an issue.
The LED's are aimed mostly at residential customers. All the government funding is going toward LED's, which makes me wonder about the fate of Induction.
basspig posts on January 03, 2012 03:35
Rickster71, post: 852869
I remember some early versions of inductive lamps producing RFI. Now, almost all modern inductive units are under FCC rules.
You wouldn't experience anymore RFI than from a microwave oven or a PC.

That's what they said about BPL (Broadband over Power Line). Yet in every city where it was tested, the interference to the 2-80 meter bands was widespread and made communications impossible.
They can shield a lamp, so perhaps it is possible the manufacturer solved the RFI problem, but the very technology is RF noisy to begin with.
j_garcia posts on January 02, 2012 16:44
I have an old lamp that needed some new bulbs. LEDs were on sale, so I picked up two 40W bright white LEDs and they are considerably brighter than the previous 60W soft white CFLs. The bright white 40W CFLs only came in single packs and were only $2 each less than the LEDs, so the cost difference wasn't terribly different in reality.
majorloser posts on December 30, 2011 17:33
Rickster71, post: 852869
I remember some early versions of inductive lamps producing RFI. Now, almost all modern inductive units are under FCC rules.
You wouldn't experience anymore RFI than from a microwave oven or a PC.

I'm so relieved. The FCC is on the job.
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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