In past years, this report has focused on a review of Lightfair's best products. In all fairness, that's a pretty good way to tell the Lightfair story because new products are the nuts and bolts of North America's largest lighting trade show. However, since Lightfair is a larger reflection of the lighting industry, this year's report will focus on the feel, buzz, trends, and perceptions that a week at the show provides for attendees.
Welcome to LEDFair The best joke heard at Lightfair this year was from one manufacturer who proudly stated that there were only light-emitting diode (LED) luminaires in their booth. This could have been said about half of the manufacturers present, I think.
The issue this year is that LED luminaires have matured to the point of relevance in a large number of practical applications. The glam of color-changing LED systems is still there, but finally there is a large number of white light, practical LED lighting products priced low enough to be used in better quality projects. For instance, quality LED downlights with 600 to 1200 lumen packages are now available from a number of companies, many of whom offer both warm and cool white light choices. My favorite LED product was a linear wall grazer capable of illuminating multistory walls. But I also found a lot of small, creative lighting systems not possible with big, hot incandescent and compact fluorescent lamps.
The use of LEDs in outdoor luminaires was one of the biggest triumphs. Logically, an LED luminaire will be big and have lots of fins to dissipate heat—almost exactly the dominant style of many outdoor luminaires. Good designs from “shoeboxes” to “acorns” using LEDs were shown. The promise of LEDs, especially long life, seems naturally matched to the needs of outdoor lighting and at least a couple of the fixtures tried to address issues of glare with promising results.
Overall, what this means is huge. As chipmakers produce higher wattage, good color LEDs, and fixture makers devise better heat sync designs, the number of products flourish. To me, it looks like we are past the startup phase of LED lighting and going forward. Lightfair might have a new name—LEDfair. Expect 2009 to be the breakout year for solid-state lighting.
Finesse in Point Sources and Recessed Lighting Certainly, there were plenty of LEDs showing up in attractive recessed and monopoint lampholders, but limited light output still prevents broad applications. On the other hand, MR16 halogen and MR16 high-intensity discharge lamps appeared in several good recessed, track, and monopoint heads. The best design still seemed to originate from companies with long-proven histories, but many domestic and Asian companies showed very good point source equipment. This promises many more good choices at lower cost.
Now most companies are showing premium-recessed lighting of some type. The most popular are the “zero sight line” flush recessed luminaires and adjustable luminaires with hot-aiming, gear-driven adjustments. A lot of the latest recessed products are square, but with the ability to be aimed in all directions. With the addition of a 39W MR16 metal halide lamp, retail and display lighting through small apertures has just improved dramatically.
Spotted in several booths were drop lens downlights. Once available only from a couple of European lighting manufacturers, a drop lens downlight appeared in several variations at a number of booths. A nice way to provide a little ornament and eliminate deadly scallops, drop lens downlights using compact fluorescent lamps are now affordable and a dandy alternative, especially in office corridors.
Long Live the T5 Keeping in mind that LEDs are still only half as efficacious as T5, the mainstream fluorescent market was present, but, notably, it was hard to find any T8 lamps on the show floor other than at the lamp companies' booths. The majority of linear and mainstream fluorescent fixtures take advantage of smaller size and better looks, and now that T5 lamps are priced comparably to premium T8, the shift is inevitable. Message to manufacturers: thin is in, and the T8 is now the “fat” lamp.
But the lamp companies have not missed this trend. Having made the T8 lamp almost technically perfect with cheap dimming ballasts, 60,000-hour life span and 100-plus lumens per watt, their efforts are now focused on the skinny T5. Big improvements in the T5HO are particularly important, with better efficacy, better ballasts, and lower costs all important improvements in this particularly important product category.
Modernist Revival Is Here When it comes to decorative lighting, Lightfair is not the place. A few companies do a nice job, but the newly introduced decorative lighting pavilion at Lightfair this year was not up to par with other decorative lighting venues. With too few companies, and too few products, it was not enough to entice a self-respecting interior designer to spend even a lunch hour at the show.
Of course, there were some bright spots. A trend spotted in April at Light+Building in Frankfurt was apparent here, too … the '60s modernist revival style with its chrome and geometric shapes.
Digital Controls The long wait may finally be over. Digital lighting controls have been an interrupted dream for too many years. Digital addressable lighting interface (DALI) and several other systems have been exciting ideas, but sadly, they've been too incomplete to use as much as we lighting designers would like—until now.
Radio frequency systems, based mostly on mesh networks, are on the rise. Powerful and complex lighting control systems can now be plugged in—almost. With the exception of complete systems from the big guys, there is a lot to go wrong when there are separate overlay, system, and ballast companies. However, designers need to be on top of these developments because the promise of whole building lighting control is fundamental to achieving net zero performance. Moreover, the ability to install these systems in existing buildings should encourage widespread retrofitting as energy costs rise.