LEDs Light the Way to Cost Savings for Studios

Incandescent bulbs are dead. CFLs, as they’re known, will be replaced by something better: bright, longer lasting and better-looking bulbs using light emitting diodes (LED) as a light source. I regularly write about LEDs for the New York Times, and my articles generate some very intense interest and debate. Some of the more vociferous critics […]

Last Updated: March 23, 2009 @ 6:26 PM

Incandescent bulbs are dead.

CFLs, as they’re known, will be replaced by something better: bright, longer lasting and better-looking bulbs using light emitting diodes (LED) as a light source.

I regularly write about LEDs for the New York Times, and my articles generate some very intense interest and debate.

Some of the more vociferous critics of LEDS say that the excitement that the lighting industry is showering on the product is fantasy, that LEDs will never become cheap or bright enough. Instead, they argue, LEDs will remain useful only as Christmas bulbs. So it’s fitting that one of the first practical uses of the light source is in the entertainment industry, which thrives on make-believe.

A few television stations have started to make the move toward replacing their studio lighting with LEDs, and they’re saving a ton of money in the process.

LEDs generate a fraction of the heat of traditional lighting sources, so the stifling temperatures of sound stages can become a thing of the past. Using a combination of red, green, and blue LEDs in a single fixture allows lighting directors to create literally millions of colors. There’s no need for colored gels, which fade over time — and there is no need to have studio staff spend their time replacing them.

Those workers better find something else to do too, because they also won’t need to spend time changing LED bulbs — tests show that LEDs are already capable of lasting up to 50,000 hours, more than 10 years of heavy use. These are bulbs you put in your will.

WTCT, a TV station in Marion, Illinois, gets it. According to Richard Brown, a well-known Los Angeles-based lighting designer who retrofitted the station with a mix of LEDs and more traditional lights, the station has cut its power usage by an amazing 90 percent, reducing consumption from 1,100 amps per day, to 150.

The savings come not just from the lights, but from the reduced use of air conditioning that was formerly needed to counter the heat from the standard lighting.

Now, Brown jokes, the station has to put on the heating, rather than the air conditioning, to make the place comfortable.

In Southern California, Christian Choi used LEDs to light a TV production facility owned by the Saigon Broadcasting Television Network in Garden Grove, and cut energy consumption from 27 2K lamps to just one.

In Florida, lighting designer Frank Gatto installed LEDs at WSFL-TV and saved the station $10,000 per month in power costs. For HBO, he mounted LED lights to his cameras to shoot fighter walkouts at boxing matches. Their low energy consumption means that he can cut down the size of his battery packs.

Before you run out to buy some LEDs for your home, a word of advice: Don’t waste your money.

Most of the stuff out there today is simply overpriced junk that will only give the technology a bad name. Less costly and reliable products are coming from such industry giants as GE, Osram, and Philips. Until then, keep those compact fluorescents burning and let the entertainment industry iron out the kinks.
 

BIO Eric Taub

Eric Taub has covered the intersection of technology and entertainment for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications for more than 15 years. A former pay TV analyst for Paul Kagan Associates, Eric has written two books, including "Gaffers, Grips, and Best Boys: Who Does What in the Making of a Motion Picture." He produced the first-ever pay-per-view concert, and worked for 12 years as an independent overseas feature film distributor.