Friday, 31 July 2009

Coloured LED review

Here I'll be reviewing coloured LED lamps. The two first are moved here from my Energy Savers review (which I'll also keep updating with new bulbs as I find them) and below my latest and most entertaining purchase so far.

* 1.1W Osram Lunetta Colormix LED night-light

Info: Plugs right into the electric socket and has a little button at the bulb base: each new click gives light blue, hot pink, cool green, soft orange, bright blue, alternating and no light. Also has a light sensor and turns itself off in the daytime or when ambient light is bright enough. Rather sophisticated for being the size of a golf-ball and will probably last 'forever'. Price about 15€.

Impression: Love this one! LED technology used for what it does best: produce coloured decorative/lead light at extremely low wattage and heat loss. Is hardly even warm when you touch it. Great for kids!

* 3W unknown brand RGB E27 LED

Info: Remote-controlled LED retrofit lamp that can replace a standard bulb. Light output 140 lumen. Price about 36€ (incl shipping).

Impression: I wanted to know a) if I could get a more natural looking warm-white by tuning it myself and b) if I'd be able to create any shade imaginable. The answer to both is "no". a) The white is nowhere near white, but a visible mix of different colours. b) The 16 colours are pre-set and cannot be adjusted manually as I had mistakenly assumed. A home spectral test with a DVD shows the blue-green part of the spectrum very clearly, then a dip in the yellow-orange area, then a nice bright red and no magenta. Lighting food and clothes with it made red bell peppers and a blue robe look almost fluorescent.

But what did I think of it otherwise? Well, the truth is that I love it anyway! What is probably an unintentional design flaw - that in mixed colours it shows the mixing colours separated into concentric rings instead of being displayed as a smooth blend - actually makes its light beam uniquely special, intriguing and pretty, as long as one does not need a white light to see well in. It's purely decorative, but very much so!

This is what its beam looks like on my pebble-patterned desk:

* 7W Philips Living Colors RGB LED

Info: Remote-controlled indirect floodlight that puts colour on a white wall. It does what I thought the simple RGB lamp would do: with the remote control it is possible to choose any hue by scrolling on the colour circle, and fine-tune both colour saturation (from deep to pastel) and light intensity (from bright to dim) to the desired shade. Price about 150€. Also comes in a mini-model for around 100€.

Impression: I'm fairly impressed with this one. Very cool futuristic design: a decorative object in itself. Almost the size of a soccer-ball (though more resembling a small gold-fish bowl with a goth vase in it). Nicely designed and easy-to-use remote as well.

Great light for mood & decorative purposes. Not sure about the "16 million colours" - that's probably more theoretical than practically achievable - but it seems to have enough versatility to let one create one's favorite hue and shade fairly exactly. Except a good white, just various pastel tints (which are nice in themselves, though not perfectly white).

I'll give it 4½ lightbulbs out of 5. One of the most fun and versatile lighting products I've ever seen! I especially like the possibility of creating pastels, as they make the room brighter and create a softer and more sophisticated lightscape. I'm finding that I can easily change it to match the dawn outside my window as it gets brighter and sunnier.

Example of how the beam looks on my (unfortunately not flat) white wall when I tune it from softest pink to brightest red:

YouTube has some videos of varying quality of how it looks while shifting colours:

Update 1 Aug: After using it as general lighting in my home office for a couple of days instead of my halogen two-way desk-light, I find that it has an odd side-effect on my vision. Directly after using it and turning it off, all natural light looks strange and 'fluorescent-like' for a while until my eyes have readjusted to normal lighting. I've noticed this with the other RGB LED as well. This does not happen even after a whole day staring at my CRT screen.

Update 4 Aug: I first thought the explanation might be the odd spectral distribution unique to LED in general, but it's probably as simple as the light in the RGB LEDs being coloured and hyperstimulating the cones. After using the warm-white GU10 LED spotlight as desk lighting for a day, I do not get this effect.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Bush-Obama Energy Bill

Just a few words about the "new" U.S. Energy Bill (The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007) and how it affects incandescent lamps.

Original Energy Bill, 2007 (point 321 about lighting)
Energy Bill, 2009 amended version **snooze-warning on both**
Obama Administration Launches New Energy Efficiency Efforts (DOE summary)

Oddly enough, Americans seem to have made this into a party politics issue and mutual mud-slinging contest, when it was actually initiated under president Bush and only finalised and somewhat amended by the Obama administration.

But nevermind, let's see if we can sort out what the new lighting rules are:

1. It appears that the original idea was to regulate all types of fluorescent and incandescent lighting at the same time. But doing so too hastily might cause major problems and expenses for businesses - which use the majority of the linear flourescent tubes and reflector lamps produced. Thus regulating the latter two lamp types requires very careful consideration and in-depth analysis first, which takes time (several more years, according to DOE).
Energy Conservation Program: Energy Conservation Standards and Test Procedures for General Service Fluorescent Lamps and Incandescent Reflector Lamps

2. Incandescent general service lighting is easier to regulate and causes problems mainly for private persons, so the part pertaining to GLS lamps was lifted out of the lighting section in the original bill to be rushed through congress straight away.

(Ironic side-note: What a coincidence that this happens to be the same popular light bulb which is so unprofitable to manufacturers
that they literally can't wait to get it off the market! Only a scant few weeks after the "new and improved" Energy Bill, GE announces the closing down of several their U.S. and Canadian light bulb factories - despite the new GLS standards not taking effect until 2012.)

But there seems to be a lot of confusion as to what the new standards actually are - and small wonder if you look at how the rule is written: General Service Incandescent Lamp Provisions Contained in EISA 2007. (Why not just state required lumen per watt for each wattage class, as is done for the other lamp types?) Luckily for us, EnergyStar attempts to sort it out, in plain English:
"The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (the “Energy Bill”), signed by the President on December 18, 2007 requires all light bulbs use 30% less energy than today’s incandescent bulbs by 2012 to 2014.

"The phase-out will start with 100-watt bulbs in January 2012 and end with 40-watt bulbs in January 2014. By 2020, a Tier 2 would become effective which requires all bulbs to be at least 70% more efficient (effectively equal to today’s CFLs). It’s not entirely correct to say "CFLs will be required" or “incandescents will be phased out” because the standards set by the bill are technology neutral, and by 2012, a next generation of incandescent bulbs could satisfy the 30% increased efficiency.

"There are many types of incandescent bulbs that are exempt from this law: any kind of specialty light (ie. bulb in refrigerator), reflector bulbs, 3-way bulbs, candelabras, globes, shatter resistant, vibration service, rough service, colored bulbs (i.e. "party bulbs"), bug lights, plant lights.

"The law applies to the sale of bulbs, not the use of existing stock of bulbs."

That sounds straightforward enough, but look what the rule actually says:

Note the unusual max wattages. It so happens that the only lamps which exist in such wattages (29, 43, 53, 72W) are the new incandescent halogen energy savers. Which indicates that standard incandescent GLS bulbs are already counted out of the equation from the start (no doubt so that manufacturers can sell their halogen replacements at extortion rates to all those who hate CFL and LED light).

But the quirky thing is that the minimum lumen requirements for each wattage class are set just above what the best energy saving mains voltage halogen replacement lamps can produce today... hmmmmm... Checking manufacturer cataloges for actual lumen output, it seems that they don't quite save the claimed 30% but more like around 20%. So much for "truth in advertising"... WASP Diving Knife

Seems they have done the same thing as with the CFL: replace e.g. a 60W incandescent (which gives 700-800+ lumen) with a 12W CFL, or in this case a 43W halogen, which both give only 630 lm! If you only count the wattage, 60W -30% is 42W, yes, but then it needs to give as many lumens as a 60W bulb too, otherwise it's just one more case of consumer fraud.

"Oh, it's such a small difference, the customer will never notice." (I've actually heard manufacturer representatives use that exact phrase when I've asked about the light deprication in CFLs.)

So, have lamp manufacturers shot themselves in the foot by claiming their halogen energy savers save 30%, as government experts seem to have taken their word for it and set lumen requirements at that exact level..?

Back to decoding the confusing table:

* 2012 the standard incandescent lamps are out (unless some manufacturer is able to make them more energy efficient - and profitable..). All you can use is up to max 72W halogen energy saver (which is meant to equal a 100W standard incandescent GLS lamp) - if they can improve it to the full 30% efficacy by then.

* 2013 the 72W halogen goes. Max permitted is an (improved) 53W halogen (= '75W GLS').

* 2014 the 53W halogen goes. Max permitted is an (improved) 43W halogen (= '60W GLS').

* 2015 the 43W halogen goes. Max permitted is an (improved) 29W halogen (= '40 GLS').

What will all those elderly and vision impaired do, who may need bright light of the highest quality (= incandescent light) in order to see?

EnergyStar claiming that the phase-out "will start with the 100W incandescent bulb and end with the 40W" is thus not correct, if one is to follow what the table mandates. Oh dear, if not even EnergyStar can interpret the table correctly, who can one trust? (Although EnergyStar also forwards the PR truth-stretching about CFLs "saving 75% energy" and "lasting 10 years" etc. - despite government & consumer tests + growing customer complaints giving a very different picture - so I guess they're not exactly an infallible source of information.)

Update 3 Aug: Something is definitely not right here... The only existing incandescent halogen lamp on the market which should pass the new requirements is the expensive and hard-to-find Philips Master Classic IR halogen with integrated transformer (see my Energy Saver Review) - which saves 42-45% (if you look at lumen/watt) not 50% as advertised, compared with a standard incandescent. But only the 20W seems to qualify, the 30W misses the max 29W category by 1W and the max 43W category by 130 lumen, despite being the most efficient incandescent-type lamp on the market, and with a life-span of 3000 hours!

And by the way, 72% Don’t Want Feds Changing Their Light Bulbs, but I guess legislators care more about keeping the lighting industry happy than about how their voters feel. Because it sure isn't going to save the planet, quite the opposite (but more about that in another post).

Next up for slaugher are reflector lamps (both in Europe and the U.S.).

Thanks to Peter at for most of the links.