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At LDI 2006, the hot topic was LED technology. We caught up with Lighting Designer Stephen Ellison to get his take on the emerging LED phenomenon.

TFWM: Why is it said that LEDs last longer than other light sources?

Stephen Ellison: Because they don’t have a filament. They have 50,000 hour full output LEDs out there, and you’ll get more time if you dim them. The range is extremely long. The reason why a lamp dies, is because you are literally boiling tungsten off of the filament all the time. That will eventually produce a weak spot and the lamp will go.

In theory, a red LED being used by itself on a console or a computer may never go dead. It’s one of those things that you never worry about. It’s one of those things that in the theater world we will begin to worry about, but it’s so far out there that you’re not going to care.

TFWM: At this point they are more cost prohibitive than customary fixtures, correct?

SE: Oh yes. About 2 to 3 times more. But again, the trade off is you pay for it up front, vs. the long term savings, once installed your costs are very low. People start to add up replacing the lamps after every 2000 hours- but it isn’t just the lamps you have to buy, it’s the hours you have to spend replacing them. The other thing is, not only do they not require as much energy to run, they reduce the burden on the heating and air conditioning systems as well.

TFWM: What is your projection on the price of LED’s coming down over the next three years?

SE: Well, it’s always the game of how many are being sold. I would say they’ll probably drop by about 25%. That may be a little ambitious, but I think that’s a pretty good shot at it. It’s already dropped to the point of having inexpensive LED fixtures now. I just recently did a youth room and put some LED fixtures in. Cute little things, I wouldn’t use them in a main sanctuary or a big production, but hey they did a great job and they weren’t really expensive. For what we did, they were cheaper than buying your standard fixture and dimming pack.

At the moment, LED’s are being used for providing lots of color. Not necessarily as individual fixtures. To a degree I think you’re going to start to see them more and more. The wash fixtures will definitely start to take over, because there are no moving parts. They’ll travel really well. Then there’s the power issue. I was talking to an electrician just yesterday- and we were doing a standard fixture installation- and he was like “You could power a medium-sized business off of that much power!” The maintenance cost is also going to go way down because you never need to change the lamps.

There are moving light versions of the wash fixtures already, so bit by bit you’ll see LED start to edge into the market. However as of now for the big concert tours, they still aren’t bright enough. I think LED’s will fit faster into the bus and truck tours or the Broadway shows.

TFWM: Is there a difference in between the way LED’s respond to DMX rather than a customary moving light?

SE: No, they take up fewer channels than your standard wash fixture, but not by much. There’s no dimmer, so you have an extra channel.

The other thing you’re seeing, is white light LED’s. There’s a really neat LED fixture available now for putting on the front of cameras. Now your power draw goes way down, so you’re going to get more out of your batteries. And, you can get color temperature out of it for mood.

Traffic and street light LED’s have been around for a while. Automotive LEDs. LEDTronics is looking at a medium screw-base lamp (R30 style floodlights). They’ve got an Edison based lamp, that is an LED. List price at $49.50 each- but you’ll never replace it. Energy used- 1.7 watts, at 12 – 15 volts DC, so you’d have to get a power supply on top of that to make sure you go down to 12 – 15 volts. This thing will also run on a solar cell charged battery, so you probably don’t even have to plug it into the wall.

TFWM: So how is the advent of LED technology going to change the industry?

SE: As you get more into LED’s, dimming will start to go away. I don’t think they’ll be completely obsolete, but you’re going to have the lamp manufacturers, the dimming people, and you’ve got the fixtures that don’t use LED’s. If LED’s take over, then these three manufacturing groups aren’t going to have any business. If you look at Altman, they’re already offering LED products. If you aren’t researching LED products right now, you’re making a mistake. If ETC doesn’t have someone working on developing an LED fixture, I’d be amazed. But they’re not going to tell you because they don’t want you to know what they’re up to.

LED’s will take a prominent place in the market, but we’re a ways off from replacing all customary fixtures with LED’s. They’re putting up streetlights just down the street from me right now, and they won’t be replacing those for a while, for example. It’s still quite a ways off.

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