Switching from ARC Source to LED: It's Not Always A Given

Switching from ARC Source to LED: It's Not Always A Given

Is it possible to do an entire lighting system with LED? Absolutely. But one should let the vision and the space drive the lighting choices.

LED. LED. LED. It seems that is all anyone is talking about these days.

Nearly every conversation I now have with ministries regarding lighting, always begins with the question, "Will this be all LED?" My answer always ends up being, "We need to let the space and your vision tell us what the equipment needs are."

And that's exactly what you want to do.

For smaller rooms, options for LED versus ARC source fixtures are much larger and more cost effective.

How do you intend to use the space? The space itself will tell us which gear is the right choice.

Is it possible to do an entire lighting system with LED? Absolutely. At E2i Design, we have put together countless systems with 100 percent LED lighting, from house lights to stage lights.

But it isn't a go-to for us.

Our go-to is to let the vision and the space drive the choices.

Here are some things to be considered when thinking about either switching from ARC source to LED, or when considering your first purchase (none of this should be confused with decisions that are related to incandescent to LED that's a different process).

Typically ARC source lamps are found in some form of a moving head profile or wash fixture, just so we're all on the same page.

1. Size of the space

If we have a smaller room with lower trim heights (say 10 feet to 30 feet), our options for LED versus ARC source fixtures are much larger and more cost effective. Most of this is in part due to where LED lighting technology is at currently. Lower wattage LED diodes are a dime a dozen and can do a very nice job. The fixtures they are found in tend to be lower on the price point and often lower on the available feature set, but nonetheless, get the job done with excellence.

The larger the room and higher the trim height (say 30 feet-plus), the brighter the fixture needs to be. That seems simple enough. However, the available options for a fixture that can handle a room like this with an LED-based lamp source, slim down quite a bit and the price goes up fast! There are a lot more options on the market for fixtures that are ARC source-lamp based, designed for these larger spaces. While their price points tend to be high as well, they are also feature rich and efficient at their job. Often they are also a nice size. Some LED fixtures for larger rooms are also very large in physical size, in order for the heat management system to be effective, so this is something to consider.

Make sure the fixture fits in the room!

2. Color temperature

ARC source lamps are naturally cold in color temperature. They tend to start around 6,000k and go up from there. This produces a very crisp white that designers love. This color tends to be rather easy for LED diodes to replicate. However, quite often in worship environments, we want the ability to color temp correct (CTC) the coldness of the white into a warmer look, to be used for creating natural skin tones. This is a more difficult process for a fixture to handle as LED, even though it may look the same initially, and doesn't produce the same light as an ARC source so it can color correct differently.  You will want to check the quality of the warmer corrected light in your environment and on camera, if you are shooting video with the fixtures to make sure it looks good to you.

One thing not related to color, but still very important, is to make sure the fixture has a good lens system that can effectively blend the separate diodes together to create one homogenized beam of light, as if it were coming from a single ARC source lamp.

If the lenses and filters inside of the fixture aren't good, you will see tiny beams of light that attempt to make up a single look, but don't actually pull it off. This is important as it can affect the look of your design.

3. Type of Fixture

There are different types of ARC source- and LED-based fixtures on the market. I look at them in the following category:

a. Profile: This type of fixture will have a hard edge to it. It has a gobo wheel or two, a color wheel or two, may or may not have a CMY color mix system and an assortment of other goodies like prisms, framing shutters, zoom control, etc.
b. Wash: The inherent features of a wash fixture will be a soft edge fixture with a very even field of light. Wash fixtures come in a full body or a pancake version. I'll explain A full body wash fixture has the same physical body as its profile brother. An example of this would be a Martin MAC Viper Profile and a MAC Viper Wash (neither of them are an LED-based fixture, but they have the same physical attributes from a physical exterior perspective).

A full body wash will have, again, a color wheel or two, possibly a CMY color mix system, and usually a frost or zoom and occasionally framing shutters to help shape the beam. Usually this style wash does not have any gobos or image output possibilities. A pancake style wash looks completely different from any of its associated siblings. An example of this would be the Martin MAC Quantum Profile and the Martin MAC Quantum Wash. The wash is a "pancake" style and looks nothing like the profile that it's related to. Usually a pancake wash has an RGB or RGBW color system and can have either a fixed beam or zoom. Otherwise, they are usually very limited on features but pack a big punch in terms of output. Which fixture to choose, again depends on the space and requirements of the fixtures to serve the space.

The bottom line is it is very possible to move from ARC source to LED sourced fixtures for your entire lighting system, with some considerations and exceptions.

You will want to keep in mind that maintenance does exist. While it tends to be less work for an LED than an ARC source, the fixtures still need to be cared for. Also, heat is still something to be aware of. LED fixtures still create heat. While not nearly the amount of heat compared to an ARC source, it still exists. You won't typically change the temp of the room with an LED, but the heat still causes fatigue on the components and does need to be managed appropriately, which often speaks to having a good maintenance schedule.

The biggest consideration with LED is the significantly lower energy consumption. By far and away this allows so many changes from an infrastructure perspective within the building as it relates to electrical. This fact puts LED fixtures in a category that we call a "diminishing cost of ownership," meaning that the more you use the fixture, the faster you recover your investment, because the operational costs are so much lower. This fact, along with many others, makes LED a very attractive solution in lighting fixtures.

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