No matter how much headway LED lighting makes in your home, you’re still likely stuck with unsightly fluorescents at work—or pretty much anywhere else you spend most of your indoor waking hours. A product from LED specialist Cree hopes to change that, using a new kind of optical technology to save you from the washed-out grossness that plagues cubicles everywhere.
Cree’s new LN series suspended LED tubes are similar to the fluorescent counterparts you’re accustomed to, at least until you turn them on. That’s when they trade the familiar jaundiced glow for the softer, more palatable hues that have made LEDs a legitimate alternative to incandescents bulbs, to say nothing of more garish corporate fluorescents.
The aesthetic benefits aren’t limited to the lights themselves; the LN light fixture simply look better than the buzzing overhead blocks that fluorescents call home. “You can see those panels that come out to the side and go up at an angle,” points out Cree vice president of product strategy Gary Trott. “Those are about a quarter inch thin, whereas a fluorescent fixture might be 3-4 inches deep. It makes a far cleaner, more elegant look.” They serve a practical purpose as well, directing light upward and diffusing it across the ceiling, rather than shining it directly down into your eyeballs. While so-called suspended ambient lighting of this sort is already popular among those companies that can afford it, a cost-competitive LED version is a welcome, energy-efficient alternative.
That’s not to say the LN series is the first suspended LED lighting solution destined for offices; Phillips offers a handful similar options as well, as does GE. But Cree vice president of product strategy Gary Trott points to his product’s efficiency of 110 lumens per watt, compared to the 70-90 lumens per watt you might find in a comparable fluorescent tube. Perhaps more importantly, the LN series incorporates what Cree is calling WaveMax, a new technology that purports to allow for more customizability without sacrificing efficiency.
“WaveMax allows you to have the trifecta of benefits that hasn’t been possible before: control, efficiency, and comfort,” says Trott. It does so by taking a more fine-tuned approach to light extraction, giving more granular levels of control over the final effect.Cree
That granularity is matched by simplicity; the new Cree LN series also works with the company’s SmartCast technology, a plug and play smart lighting controller. First released a little over a year ago, SmartCast coordinates large groups of lights—allowing them to dim automatically based on daylight conditions, or to power off if there’s no movement detected in a given space—with minimal input from a user beyond the initial set-up.
More than anything, the Cree LN series represents more competition in a space that sorely needs it. There’s no question that LED lighting will eventually replace the unfortunate fluorescent aesthetic with something more palatable. But the rate of that adoption has been slow, thanks to both limited options and a high start-up cost for those that do exist. If you’re an office manager, there simply hasn’t been much incentive to switch out your entire lighting plan until absolutely necessary.
That’s starting to change. As LED costs continue to decline and the ease of use of money-saving smart systems continues to increase, our least palatable, most pervasive lighting will eventually give way to something brighter, softer, and, over a long enough time horizon, cheaper.
While WaveMax specifically isn’t likely to trickle down to a bulb that fits in your nightstand lamp, smarter LED solutions in the office in general will hopefully translate to broader LED adoption at home. Many of the misgivings over LED—they’re too expensive, they’d oddly shaped, they cast a cold glow—are rooted in products that have long since been replaced by models that look and feel like the incandescents you grew up with. Being exposed to LED lights that manage to not just match but beat their fluorescent predecessors in aesthetics both physical and luminary could entice the next generation of converts.
In the meantime, LED luminaires like the LN series may not make you actively enjoy going to work, but they should make the time you spend there that much more bearable.