Review Switch Lightings liquidfilled Switch60 LED bulb

Review Switch Lightings liquidfilled Switch60 LED bulb

first_imgIt was a little over a year ago that Wired ran an article about the future of the light bulb. The feature covered a liquid-filled bulb made by a California-based startup, marking the first time most people heard about Switch Lighting Company. Eventually word spread, not to point where Switch became a household name, but enough that a smattering of geeks know who these guys are. Now, after about a year of delays, the liquid-filled bulbs are finally about to hit the market. We’re not quite at the release date yet, but it’s close enough that I’ve had a chance to test one out.The Switch60, a 60W-equivalent LED bulb is the same model I demoed last year and what will likely be the mainstay of the company’s lineup. It produces 800 lumens, has a CRI (color accuracy) rating above 80, and consumes 12W. It should last for at least 25,000 hours of operation and has a color temperature of 2700K, which translates into warm white light. The Switch60 is a standard A19 size, works in existing sockets in any orientation, and is should qualify for Energy Star certification. In other words, the Switch60 was designed to be the perfect replacement bulb.The defining feature of the Switch bulb is its liquid cooling system, which the company calls LQD. Filling the bulb with liquid silicone does a lot of things for Switch but, most importantly, it makes for a serious amount of cooling. With better cooling than a normal bulb Switch is able to get more heat away from the LEDs, which means that their lamps can use more LEDs or higher powered ones. This isn’t really an issue for 40W- and 60W-equivalent models, but it allows Switch to have a 100W-equivalent (1600 lumen) replacement bulb that is not over-sized.If you are curious about the LQD cooling system here is the quick-and-dirty explainer on how it works: The liquid silicone inside the bulb cools the parts through convection. In practice this means that the warmer liquid rises away from the heat source, while the cooler does the opposite. The convection happens because the liquid expands — you would not have convection without buoyancy. To account for expansion within a fixed volume the bulb has a compensation piston which moves in and out to adjust for changes in temperature and pressure. All that to cool 10 little LEDs…Through some clever engineering — all of which has been patented — Switch was able to create a liquid-cooled bulb that operates at -4° F TO 113° F, can be placed in an enclosure, and doesn’t turn into a bomb when it gets hot (and the fluid expands). Some of the downsides are that the bulb weighs a hefty 10 ounces and that it’s expensive to produce, but more on that later..I first tested out the Switch60 in a light fixture that is nothing more than a socket and a cord — given just how good this bulb looks, I didn’t want to hide it behind a shade. Once it was powered on the first thing I noticed is that the light is truly omnidirectional. This isn’t too easy to pull off with (directional) LEDs, but the placement of the 10 emitters inside the bulb allows it to get close to the light pattern of an incandescent. The light is the brightest around the equator, which means eye-level placement is not ideal, but the overall pattern is good.The Switch60 I tried was clear though a frosted version will be available as well. The clear exterior can look impressive under certain circumstances, but it does allow for visible hot spots on the bulb and can create multiple shadows in the room. This is an inherent issue with using more than one light source and while I never found it to be a problem, the aesthetes amongst us might be more picky. That said, it does seem like a shame to hide the interior of the Switch behind a frosted surface or a lamp shade.I don’t have any testing equipment that would allow me to quantify CRI, lumens, or other bulb characteristics, so I simply used the Switch60 and compared it to my arsenal of LED bulbs (from Philips, Sylvania, GE, Lighting Science, and others). On the whole I was really happy with the performance of the Switch60. Personally I like the color of the light — I could see it being a bit warm for some people, but this comes down to personal preference. The Switch60 did not make the inside of my apartment seem dingy or oddly colored (the marks of a low CRI bulb) and the pattern of light was in keeping with what I’d expect from an omnidirectional bulb. I did find the bright spots around the middle to be bothersome if the bulb was in an uncovered fixture, but this was not an issue when it was behind a shade.It should go without saying at this point, but the Switch60 had no problems with the basics: it powered on without a delay, worked upside down, was fine in a recessed fixture (a high hat), didn’t generate a considerable amount of heat, and it lasted for my entire testing period, though it was far, far, under 25,000 hours.My power meter put the power consumption of the Switch60 consistently at 10W, which is actually a bit below the “12W (typical)” that Switch’s material says it’s rated at. This puts the actual lumens per watt at 80, which is a great number for a consumer bulb.Light pattern – in theoryLight pattern – in practiceAbove is a chart from Switch’s documentation and then an actual shot of the bulb’s light pattern. (NB: The lower image was edited, but only the levels were adjusted. This was done to make the pattern more apparent.) You can make out the upside-down heart pattern, once you account for the bounce-back off the wall on the right. You can also note the presence of shadow patterns at the bottom of the shot. The multiple shadows are more clear on the ceiling.At this point Switch’s bulbs offer something that clearly stands out in the marketplace. At $50-60 they will be more expensive than the competition, but they have advantages that other companies do not. Foremost amongst these is that the Switch LED bulb is a stunning product when it’s off (the light quality is great when it’s powered on as well, but it’s not alone in this). This might not make a difference if you plan to put the bulb behind a shade, but if you run a restaurant or hotel you can’t ruin its interior design by having bright yellow bulbs in every socket that is not powered up. This sort of buyer will happily reap the lower total cost of ownership of LED bulbs while paying a sizable premium for Switch’s design.While that $50-60 expected price tag will make the Switch60 a non-starter for many people, the company has noted that they expect to release a sub-$20 bulb some time in 2013.The story is different for home buyers. While the design-minded and a small spectrum of geeks will appreciate what Switch has done, they will find the upfront costs to be harder to swallow. With high quality LED bulbs starting at considerably less than the Switch60 — under $20 in some cases — the argument for the Switch isn’t as easy to make for the individual. At this point the Switch will appeal to people who love the design and are willing to buy a premium product, or people that are really picky about their light quality and believe Switch is sufficiently ahead of the competition.Ultimately I was really happy with having the Switch60 in my home. I wasn’t able to keep it uncovered where everyone could walk by and gaze in wonder at it, but it provided very nice light in the bedroom where 2700K is an ideal fit for nighttime reading. Would my life be a whole lot worse if I had an extra $25 in my pocket and another brand’s LED bulb in that lamp? No, not at all, but that doesn’t mean Switch isn’t on to something. The hope is that their superior cooling technology will enable them drop prices faster than the competition and get a 1600 lumen, A19-sized bulb out before them as well. That might be easier said than done, given Switch’s delays and the very high starting price they have to deal with, but at least the company is starting off with a novel product.The Switch40, Switch60, Switch75, and Switch100 are not currently available, but the clear version of the 60 and 75 should be available in some time in October at select retailers. The Switch40 will be available in a frosted version (to account for its surplus of lumens) within that timeframe as well.For more LED reading check out my book, LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future. It’s available from O’Reilly (DRM-free), Amazon, iBooks, and others.last_img

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