Last year I visited About-face Lighting, a baby Silicon Valley aggregation that claimed to accept congenital article revolutionary. Switch’s product: a ablaze ball that produced the aforementioned warm, abating afterglow that we accessory with Edison’s constant beaming ball but lasts 20 times best and uses a atom of the energy. It was beautiful, too. A pear-shaped bottle orb that sat aloft a agleam brownish heatsink, the About-face ball looked like a assignment of art. Best of all, it was appreciably affordable. The About-face ball was activity to amount $20, but over its 20-year-lifespan—yes, 20 years!—it would save you about $100 in activity over an beaming bulb.
I was won over. In my story—“The World’s Greatest Ablaze Bulb”—I promised that aback the About-face bulbs went on auction in the abatement of 2011, I’d be affairs them for my house. I wasn’t the alone one who was captivated by the anticipation of a absolute ablaze bulb. Wired put the aforementioned About-face ball that I’d hailed on its cover. There was alone tiny botheration with the ball that Wired and I went arbitrary for: It was never released. The aggregation says that it ran into abrupt accomplishment challenges, and backward aftermost year it had to go aback to the animation board. The close absolutely redesigned the ball with an eye to authoritative it easier to manufacture. The acceptable account is that the anew advised About-face ball is now on sale. You can aces one up at a Batteries Plus abundance abreast you.
The bad account is that the About-face isn’t the absolute bulb. For one thing, rather than $20, a About-face ball that’s agnate to a 60-watt beaming now costs $50. What’s more, in my testing, the About-face bulb’s afterglow doesn’t absolutely bout the affection of ablaze put out by an beaming bulb. And it’s not aloof Switch: Over the aftermost few days, I’ve been testing four altered LED ablaze bulbs that are now accessible for sale. I begin them all to be appealing good, but anniversary was one cleft abbreviate of perfect. Considering that you’ll be spending a lot of money on these bulbs and application them until about the time Malia Obama runs for president, you’d be astute to authority off affairs any LED ball adapted now. Abutting year, they’ll be abundant afterpiece to perfect.
The lighting industry has been aggravating to appear up with an energy-efficient backup for the beaming ball for a continued time now. The following has afresh become added urgent, back federal activity regulations are appointed to absolute the sales of old-school bulbs. In October, 100-watt incandescents were banned. Seventy-five-watt bulbs are appointed to be discontinued abutting year, and 60-watt bulbs, which comprise the aggregate of the home market, will be banned in 2014.
At the moment, the capital another to the beaming is the bunched fluorescent, but lots of bodies don’t like these bulbs. I’m one of them. Most CFLs are ugly, accommodate trace amounts of mercury, and put out a harsh, blanched ablaze that feels clinical. Hordes of CFL-loving readers attacked my attitude on these bulbs, pointing out that “covered” CFLs attending aloof as acceptable as approved bulbs, and additionally aftermath warm, chicken light. Indeed, in accurate tests, some CFLs accept been apparent to aftermath ablaze that bodies like added than incandescents. Alas, I still flinch at the afterimage of CFLs—but if you don’t, your absolute ball is already here.
For the blow of us, the best achievement for analogous beaming bulbs is with LEDs, which are semiconductors that aftermath light. The adventure to about-face LEDs into the absolute ball has bedeviled the lighting industry over the aftermost few years.
So what’s amiss with the About-face and added LED bulbs now? Let me explain what I was attractive for in the bulbs I tested. First, I capital a nice “color”—I was attractive for a ball that produced a bare ablaze rather than a blanched light. The LED bulbs I activated all aimed to aftermath a “color temperature” of 2700 kelvin, which corresponds to a “soft white” beaming bulb. (The college the blush temperature, the “cooler,” or whiter, the ablaze looks.) I was additionally attractive for a ball that produced a axle that was commensurable to that of an incandescent. Placed below a lampshade, I capital the ball to afford ablaze in all admonition (rather than aloof advancement or downward). I additionally didn’t appetite the ablaze axle to actualize aciculate patterns on the axle or the floor, as a spotlight would—instead, the ablaze should hit altar gently, with a bleared band amid ablaze and dark. Finally, I adjourned the bulb’s actualization aback it was both on and off. I capital a ball that would attending beautiful in a cellophane fixture—something you’d be blessed to appearance off rather than hide, as you’d do with a CFL.
My appraisal was subjective—I didn’t use a blush beat to analysis accuracy or color, aloof my eyes—but I did aim for rigor. I approved a array of these bulbs in lamps in my bedroom, both one at a time and side-by-side, and I took abundant addendum on how they performed. I additionally enlisted my wife to brand the bulbs on all of these criteria. For acceptable measure, we compared the LEDs to a 60-watt agnate CFL and a acceptable old 60-watt GE incandescent.
My atomic admired LED bulbs were the two cheapest ones—the HitLights Balmy White Globe, which sells for $18, and the Tuwago A19, which goes for $20. Like all the LED bulbs I tested, these were dimmable and angry on instantly. (This is a big advantage LEDs accept over CFLs, abounding of which booty a additional to about-face on and can’t be dimmed.) Both bulbs are well-designed—with a baby artificial arch on top of a acclaim arced base, the HitLights and Tuwago bulbs both attending like ice chrism cones. What I didn’t like was the affection of their light. I begin both to be hardly too white, as white as the CFL ball in our mix. My wife agreed—she alike adopted the CFL to both these LEDs. (To my eye, the CFL looked a bit harsher, but the aberration was slight.)
But the affliction affair about the HitLights and Tuwago bulbs was their axle direction. Both bulbs primarily shined ablaze upward. This is OK for some uses—it’d be accomplished in a directional board lamp and apparently not bad in a downward-facing axle fixture—but it wouldn’t be ideal for a attic or bedside lamp. If you charge a ball that you can about-face to altered fixtures, don’t buy one of these.
Next was the $50 About-face bulb. I admired about aggregate about this long-awaited product—the ablaze it produced was luxuriously balmy and bright, and clashing the cheapest bulbs, it was blessedly omnidirectional. This About-face is also, by far, the prettiest ball of the lot. Both on and off, it’s a artefact you appetite to appearance off—if you’ve got a lot of dough, buy bisected a dozen of them and abode them in the axle of your ultra-modern kitchen. Your adolescent affluent accompany will abhorrence you.
But in accession to its aerial price, the About-face had one annoying flaw: It produced arresting geometric patterns on the axle and attic about the lamp. It was the alone ball I activated that produced these patterns, which attending like a agglomeration of overlapping squares and rectangles, and I begin them actual off-putting—the arrangement seemed added adapted to a exhibit than a active room. My wife was so angry off by these shapes that she rated the About-face asleep aftermost of all the bulbs we tried; I didn’t like the patterns, but I still anticipation the About-face rated bigger than CFL and the two cheaper LEDs.
When I asked the aggregation about these patterns, Gary Rosenfield, the firm’s carnality admiral of marketing, explained that they were an antiquity of the specific adaptation of the About-face ball I was testing. My adaptation has a ablaze bottle dome, which is declared to aftermath brittle ablaze patterns, and is best for use in “bare bulb” accessories central and in some alfresco applications. The About-face ball is the alone LED ball on the bazaar to action this clear-glass dome. But the aggregation additionally makes a ball with a arctic arch that helps to broadcast its light. The aggregation says that version, which I did not try out, doesn’t aftermath the annoying shapes I saw.
Finally, there’s the Philips AmbientLED bulb, which goes for aloof over $20. Both my wife and I absolutely admired this one. We begin its ablaze to be bright, warm, omnidirectional, and chargeless of any spotlight-like shapes. It’s additionally analytic priced. To my wife, the Philips was the absolute bulb—she rated it college than all added bulbs including the CFL and the incandescent. But I had a botheration with the Philips: It’s affectionate of animal aback it’s angry off. Though it produces white light, the Philips has three mustard-yellow artificial panels on its face. My wife anticipation it was cute, like a animation adaptation of a bulb. I anticipation it resembled a bug’s eye; it seemed added conflicting than avant-garde to me, and I wouldn’t appetite to abode it in a accoutrement area the bulb’s visible.
Obviously, this is my own claimed take. If you like how the Philips looks, there’s no acumen not to accomplish it your abutting bulb. It’s bargain and works absolutely well.
But you won’t lose annihilation by cat-and-mouse to buy a slate of LED bulbs. That’s because it’s acceptable they’ll appear bottomward in amount abutting year. Tracy Bilbrough, Switch’s CEO, tells me the close is alive on a new ball that’s easier to accomplish at ample scale; it should appear out abutting year and will acceptable be cheaper than today’s model. Meanwhile Kevin Hou, the CEO of Tuwago, told me that his abutting bulb, appointed to be appear ancient during the abutting brace months, will be omnidirectional. Hou wouldn’t acquaint me how abundant it will cost, but he did say that it’s reasonable to accept that all LED bulbs will get hardly cheaper over the abutting year, as accomplishment expands. Bilbrough, of Switch, agreed—if today’s LED bulbs ambit from $20 to $50, he said, we can apprehend them to be about $15 to $45 abutting year.
Those promises—and yes, I’ve been austere by promises from LED manufacturers before—are abundant for me to wait. The accepted 60-watt ball will go off the shelves in January 2014. Aloof afore then, I’m acquisitive LED bulbs will be acceptable abundant and bargain abundant to rank as aboveboard alternatives. You can alter all your bulbs then—and afresh never anticipate about them afresh for 20 years.
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