If you’re looking for the latest advancements in incandescent light bulb technology, one place you don’t want to go is to a lighting trade show. I learned that in about five minutes last week, while touring the aisles of Lightfair, the lighting industry’s big convention, held this year in Las Vegas.
In case you didn’t know it, Thomas Edison’s invention, in use for more than 100 years to illuminate virtually everything, is quickly heading for the exits. What will eventually take its place is the light-emitting diode (L.E.D.) bulb, made up of tiny light sources the size of a head of a pin that use a fraction of a regular light bulb’s electricity, produce little heat, and last for tens of thousands of hours of use.
This is not some comic book dream. The exhibits at Lightfair were filled with new L.E.D. products, many shipping now: standard-type room lights, under-counter lights, commercial spotlights, garden lights and huge L.E.D. displays designed to light the Empire State Building.
I saw L.E.D.’s controlled by a cell phone. Forgot to turn on your porch light? Just dial in a command.
L.E.D.’s are not widely used today because of their high cost: An L.E.D. bulb can run as high as $90. Even if they would save money in the long run, few people are willing to spend that much up front.
But costs will come down, and when they do, expect to see the end of what is in essence an interim technology: the compact fluorescent bulb. Fluorescents, while using much less power than incandescent light bulbs, are sometimes too bulky, often can’t be dimmed and produce light that is less pleasing than incandescents.
L.E.D.’s, on the other hand, can produce literally millions of colors, which you will be able to witness yourself at the end of this year, when Philips, the Dutch electronics giant, introduces its $199 Living Colors product into the U.S. market.
Living Colors is Philips’ L.E.D. Trojan horse, an electronic lava lamp that uses L.E.D.’s to project a palette of 16 million colors against a wall. Operated with a remote control, you change the projected color by touching a point on the iPod-like color wheel, then push other buttons to decrease the brightness or alter the color’s saturation.
The company has already sold 250,000 Living Color products in Europe; in the U.S., it will offer the regular model plus a $79 mini version that offers a limited palette and no remote.
I’ve been playing with one for several weeks, and after some initial resistance to its corniness, I’ve taken a liking to it. Every night, I set the color of one wall of our bedroom to a different hue, hopefully matching our moods. It’s a nice change from standard yellow light and gives some added dimension to the space.
Philips points out that you can set up a chain of Living Color units around a room and control them all with a single remote. For me, that’s just a bit over the top. I don’t fancy turning my house into a Las Vegas facade.