Be careful what you wish for…! I volunteered to check out a new line of LED dimmable household bulbs from OSRAM SYLVANIA, wondering at the time where I would test them. Almost immediately, light bulbs that had lasted fifteen years began to burn out all over the house! I no longer had to worry about test locations, but rather whether these bulbs would prove worthy enough that I would go buy more of the same to fill my empty sockets. Read on to learn the answer.
OSRAM SYLVANIA sent me an assortment of four bulbs from their new A-Line LED products. “A-Line” refers to the physical form factor – “A” is the familiar shape of incandescent lamp bulbs with a screw-in base that have been around since their development by Thomas Edison. Most single-wattage incandescent bulbs are the A19 form factor; larger bulbs like 3-way are A21 or A23 (the number is the nominal bulb diameter in eighths of an inch). With most people still accustomed to thinking in terms of incandescent wattage as a brightness scale instead of lumens, LED bulbs are marketed as replacements for the equivalent-wattage incandescent bulb. I received 40-, 60-, 75-, and 100-watt replacement LED bulbs. They are all dimmable, a fairly recent advance in LED technology.
Unlike cheap incandescent bulbs, the ULTRA LED bulbs come in single packages, carefully protected in cardboard and plastic. You can see in the picture below that the packages highlight the marketing messages:
- The new technology, “LED,” is highlighted in huge type.
- The replacement wattage, so you know which bulb to select, along with the lower actual wattage used.
- The long life – “22+ years!” – which is actually 25,000 hours of continuous use versus typical 1,000-2,000 hours of use for incandescent bulbs.
- Low ($0.72-$2.29) estimated energy cost per year.
- The manufacturer for the two smaller bulbs is shown as OSRAM, while the larger two show SYLVANIA. OSRAM purchased SYLVANIA in 1993 and OSRAM SYLVANIA now markets lighting products under various brands.
Note: All images can be clicked to view a larger size.
The ULTRA LED bulbs are made in China and come with an impressive 5-year limited warranty.
All the bulbs in this ULTRA line that I received are “soft white,” meaning that, at a rating of 2700K color temperature, they are at the warmer end of the white spectrum that incandescent bulbs occupy and which must of us have come to prefer for general home lighting. Three other newly-introduced bulbs that I did not receive for review are “natural daylight” (5000K) bulbs that are cooler (bluer) and more suitable for task and office lighting.
If you’ve been ignoring the recent ad blitz for LED bulbs, the manufacturers are making a big push to replace your incandescent bulbs – aided by government regulations phasing out sales of the older technology. The reason is energy conservation, with LED bulbs currently running about five times more efficient than incandescent bulbs. You can see that in the picture above, where the labels show the actual wattage and lumens of the LED bulbs compared to their incandescent equivalents. Energy savings, together with a life span measured in decades, are supposed to offset the initial sticker shock. Even the price has been dropping rapidly as manufacturing volumes have ramped up. The bulbs in this review retail in the $8-22 range; while that is an order of magnitude greater than equivalent incandescent bulbs, the life expectancy is also ten times greater. Factor in the energy savings, and you shouldn’t be too unhappy to make the LED investment as long as it works just as well as the old-fashioned bulb.
It turns out that, despite improvements, there are still differences with LED bulbs that can be annoying, especially in the higher-wattage bulbs that are just coming to market. One is the weight: the 100W-equivalent ULTRA bulb tipped the scales at 11.5 ounces compared to the 1.3-ounce incandescent bulb. Some fixtures are not designed to handle that kind of weight, and some lamps could be more likely to tip over, so be careful. LED bulbs are also likely to be larger, especially at the high end. The photo below shows a standard 100W bulb in the middle, with the huge 100W-equivalent LED ULTRA on the left and the 60W-equivalent LED ULTRA on the right.
One plus is that, with a lower wattage, LED bulbs do not emit as much heat as incandescent bulbs. This can be a great thing on a hot summer evening. Again be careful, however, because many LED bulbs come with a warning like the one on these ULTRA LED bulbs: “Do not install in totally enclosed recessed fixtures.” The electronics in LED bulbs are sensitive to heat, which can drastically reduce the expected lifespan of an LED bulb if it is not well-ventilated. Some LED bulbs – not the OSRAM ULTRA LED – are designed to dissipate heat build-up better than others and don’t carry this warning. Seek those out, or stick with incandescent bulbs for now, for enclosed lighting applications.
Another factor to consider with LED bulbs is the direction that the light is focused. Typical incandescent lights are “omnidirectional” throwing light in all directions except straight through the base. With frosted bulbs, that light is also very even. Due to the added electronic circuitry in the base, LED bulbs have a tougher time casting uniform, omnidirectional light. Some bulbs attempt this with varying degrees of success, while others retract the omnidirectional claim altogether. The two larger ULTRA LED light bulbs (100W and 75W equivalents) have a solid lower half, only emitting light through the upper hemisphere of the bulb. This works okay for some applications, but not others, as I discovered.
As it happened, I had lots of opportunities to see how well the LED worked as a replacement for my rapidly-failing incandescent bulbs. The first test was my bedroom lamp.
The top photo is a 100W daylight bulb, and the bottom is the ULTRA LED 100W-replacement. Due to automatic exposure compensation, it is misleading to judge relative brightness from photos. What you can see is that the “soft white” color of the LED is yellower/warmer than the daylight incandescent. More important, you can see that the bottom of the lampshade is a bit darker in the lower photo because the LED bulb casts most of its light upward. However, the glow of the lampshade itself mitigates most of this effect, and I didn’t really notice this until I looked for it. I found the UTLRA LED 100 to be a perfectly satisfactory replacement for this table lamp, with one caveat.
The table lamp, like many others in our house, is designed for 3-way light bulbs. The bulb I removed, in fact, was actually a 50-100-150-watt bulb with the 50W filament burned out. I’m already used to twisting the switch 2-3 clicks to turn on the light and 1-2 clicks to turn it off, just as I must do with the LED bulb. If I wanted a 3-way bulb, however, I’d have to settle for a relatively anemic 40-60-100-watt replacement LED (not offered in the ULTRA line). Now that I do my bedtime reading on a Kindle Paperwhite, with its own illumination, I no longer require 100W+ beside my bed. Nevertheless, I don’t see much value in lowlight 3-way bulbs and wouldn’t suggest switching to LED bulbs as 3-way replacements (yet).
Next, I moved to the basement, where a 100W incandescent bulb had just burned out at the bottom of the stairs. Adding insult to injury, I moved another incandescent bulb to that fixture to take a baseline photo, and that bulb suffered the most annoying demise of all when the glass bulb separated from the base. As I worked the metal base free with a pair of pliers, I was ready to accelerate the banishment of all incandescent bulbs from my house!
Here is a comparison of the two light bulbs, where once again the second photo is the ULTRA LED bulb:
The photos clearly show the directional nature of the ULTRA LED 100 bulb. For a ceiling light, that’s actually a positive feature. The old bulb not only lit up the ceiling unnecessarily, but also wasted much of its light doing so. The ULTRA LED 100 actually appeared glaringly bright compared to the old 100W bulb in this application. When I replaced it with the ULTRA LED 75, I was much happier with the result.
I then headed back upstairs, where a minor bathroom remodeling project includes replacement of the light fixtures above the mirror. My wife, Emilie, hated the old “Hollywood” lights that not only were glaring but put out so much heat that she turned them off to try to stay cool while using the hairdryer. I was thinking that this could be an ideal application for cooler LED lights. I even bought a special LED dimmer switch so I could install plenty of lumens but dial them back as necessary. (If you’re spending $120 on six light bulbs, it gets expensive to adjust the brightness by swapping out the bulbs!)
The new light fixtures consist of two 3-bulb fixtures, with each bulb enclosed in a frosted glass sleeve. My main concern would be the evenness of the light distribution, given my experience with less than omnidirectional lighting from LED bulbs. I brought my LED ULTRA bulbs and two incandescent bulbs with me to compare the performance. I also brought another LED bulb to the picnic, the highly-advertised Cree light bulb. While the ULTRA LED bulbs have a semi-exclusive relationship with Lowe’s, Cree has a similar relationship with Home Depot. I would pit two featured LED technologies against each other. One reason for this choice is that Cree specifically claims “omnidirectional” quality. You can see that the Cree 100W bulb on the right below does look like it might have a wider light field the than ULTRA LED 100 , although probably not as wide as a conventional bulb.
Here is my initial test lineup on one fixture.
From the left are the ULTRA LED 60, the ULTRA LED 100, and the Cree LED 100. The lower-wattage ULTRA LED 60 appears to have the widest light field but, as expected, it didn’t provide as much light as I wanted.
The second fixture looked like this:
Here we have the ULTRA LED 75, the Cree LED 75, and the ULTRA LED 40.
When I added the glass enclosures, I immediately had to scrap the 100W-equivalent bulbs from both the ULTRA and Cree lines. Neither of these bulbs were physically small enough to be used in this application. They just barely fit inside the diameter of the glass and stuck out the top. So the picture below just shows the remaining candidates.
You can see that the ULTRA LED 75 on the left is really still too tall and, worse, its directional nature only lights up the top inch of the frosted glass. The Cree 75 in the middle is better, but still provides uneven light. The ULTRA LED 40 on the right is the best of the three, but still provided neither as bright nor even a light as I had hoped. I brought in the incandescent lights, and there was just no comparison.
The new bulb in the middle is a SYLVANIA 60-watt daylight incandescent bulb. It is a clear winner in providing a pleasingly even glow from within the frosted glass. The good news is that I had six of them in the closet. The bad news is that you can’t buy them anymore! I’m using them for now and hoping that I can find a satisfactory LED product before one bulb burns out or before they provide unwelcome heat next summer, whichever comes first!
One final note from the bathroom: ULTRA LED bulbs are dimmable but not as simply or to the same degree as incandescent bulbs. An LED dimmer switch has a control to help adjust different wattages to as low as they will go before they display an annoying flicker. This point will not be as dim as incandescent bulbs. The picture below shows two incandescent bulbs and the ULTRA LED 60 at their lowest settings. The lights are actually dimmer than the photo makes them look, but you can see that, relatively speaking, the LED bulb is brighter. This wasn’t something I cared about in the bathroom, but might be something to consider in other locations.
My last application was a burned-out 60W bulb in my garage door opener. Here, unfortunately, I felt that I couldn’t use the ULTRA LED 60 bulb due to the package warning that it shouldn’t be used in an enclosed fixture. I probably could have ignored this warning because the garage door opener light times itself off after a couple of minutes, greatly reducing the possibility of overheating. But I found another LED bulb at my electrical supply store without the warning and installed that instead. It works fine (and does not interfere with the radio signal that remotely operates the door, as I had read that some LED bulbs are prone to do). So this was a good place for an LED bulb, but not the ULTRA LED.
In the end, I successfully deployed three of the four ULTRA LED bulbs in my house. The 75-watt equivalent made a great naked overhead light in the basement. It provides plenty of light where it’s needed with 14W instead of 100W. Unlike some of the compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) that I had been experimenting with, it also achieves full brightness with no delay, an important consideration when heading down dark basement stairs!
The 100-watt replacement ULTRA LED found a home in my bedside lamp, where it looks just as good as the 100W bulb it replaced, for an 81% energy reduction. The 60-watt UTLRA LED similarly found itself in a lamp next to our family room sofa, freeing up one of the now-precious 60-watt incandescent bulbs for use in the bathroom fixture.
I don’t know where I could use the ULTRA LED 40 as I don’t use many bulbs that dim. I wish I could use it in the vent over our kitchen stove, where the existing light bulb is hot enough to have singed its plastic cover, but unfortunately these bulbs are not designed for that purpose.
The upshot is that you can probably benefit from these ULTRA LED bulbs. They work great as replacement bulbs in many common household applications. However, they are definitely not a universal replacement, especially where bright, omnidirectional light is required, or in enclosed fixtures. LED technology is advancing rapidly, so I expect that bulbs (or fixture redesigns) will come along to address these deficiencies as well. Meanwhile, it’s time to jump on the LED bandwagon, and these ULTRA LED bulbs are a good place to start.
Source: The samples for this review were provided by OSRAM SYLVANIA Inc. Please visit their site for more info about this product.