Lightfair in Philadelphia this week bills itself as the world's largest commercial and architectural lighting trade show. But for the Consumer Reports staffers who test and report on energy-saving lightbulbs, Lightfair is our geeky go-to for the latest in lighting. As competition for the growing LED market heats up, manufacturers are promising lightbulbs that do more and cost less. Here are five developments from the show that turned us on.
Cree: Warm light at the right price
Consumers want energy-saving LEDs that look like incandescent lightbulbs and are lower-priced than earlier LEDs, says Craig Lofton of Cree. It makes perfect sense and explains why Cree recently introduced a $13 LED at Home Depot that's half the price of some and replaces a 60-watt incandescent. The Cree 60W Warm White Dimmable LED looks a lot like an incandescent and in our initial tests it did what it promised—it instantly gave off a warm, bright light. And its 10-year warranty is unusually long. "If you're going out there with a long-life product, you should put the teeth behind it," says Lofton.
Philips: Hue the Who's Who of LEDs
The Lightfair judges gave special recognition to an innovative product, the Philips Hue LED web-enabled system. It lets you switch the color of Hue LEDs from warm to bright white or numerous other colors using any smart device either in your home or remotely with the flick of a finger. In our initial tests last fall we said that Hue takes lighting technology way past on, off and dimmable, redefining what a lightbulb can do. "Hue shows the controllability issue of lighting and where lighting is going," says Ed Crawford of Philips. "For more than 100 years lighting was on and off, but Hue shows us that it's about interaction." You walk away thinking this all makes a light switch seem quaint.
Whirlpool: New to the lightbulb aisle
A multi-year licensing agreement gives Elec-Tech International the rights to manufacture, market and distribute LEDs bearing the Whirlpool name. They'll be available online in late June and in stores this fall, says Russ Owens of Whirlpool. He understands that you might find lightbulb lingo confusing—PAR, lumens, Kelvin—and blames engineers for not thinking like consumers. He adds that Whirlpool wants to make it easier for consumers to find the right LED and at an appealing price that's soon to be determined.
Samsung: Good, better, best?
Confusing or refreshingly straightforward? You decide. Samsung has grouped its latest LED lines into three categories based on performance qualities. For example, the Essential Range LEDs that replace 60-watt bulbs are supposed to last 15,000 hours but are not dimmable or omni-directional, meaning they cannot cast light in all directions. For a step up there's the Performer Range LEDs, which are dimmable and meant to last 25,000 hours. Want an LED that casts light in all directions like an incandescent does? The Optimum Range LEDs promise to do that and more. As you would expect, these LEDs go up in price as the capabilities increase. Samsung's David Douglass couldn't provide prices but said they'd be competitive and that Samsung is considering having these LEDS in stores by late 2013.
Lutron Electronics: Dimmers designed to save energy
Lutron claims its Maestro Occupancy Sensor C.L Dimmer has a sensor that only turns on the light if there's not enough natural light filling the space—say your laundry room when you're loading your washer. It also detects fine motion and sees subjects up to 30 feet away so lights don't accidentally shut off when you're reading or watching TV. Maestro is sold at home centers, lighting showrooms, and online with a suggested list price of $54.
Back at Consumer Reports, scores of LEDs, CFLs and halogen lighbulbs are undergoing our tests for brightness, light distribution, warm-up time, life cycle and more. We are testing replacement bulbs for 40- 60- 75- and 100-watt incandescents as well as lights for outdoor fixture. And all the lightbulbs in our tests are available now.