As Halloween wanes, and we head to the LDI show in Orlando, it’s time to ask the question that haunts all forward-thinking staging professionals: Is the lighting arena the place where all the dramatic industry changes are occurring? Is lighting evolving at the kind of rapid pace that video did in the ‘90s? And, just as we began to absorb the news that LD’s were taking control of the LED wall joy-sticks backstage, what’s all this about LED-based luminaries?
As we have been following in the pages of this magazine for a couple of years now, the lighting industry is, ostensibly, facing one of the biggest changes in basic technology since the introduction of the incandescent lamp at the end of the 19th Century. After all the talk of a move to universal control of lighting, video, and everything else on stage; after high-lumen video projection and LED walls became common tools in the LD’s arsenal; after all that and more, is the biggest revolution the revolution in light sources, as we’ve been hearing from most of the world’s lighting manufacturers?
The evolution of light sources that in recent years brought us the tungsten incandescent lamp and then the fluorescent and high intensity discharge (HID) lamp, now brings us solid-state lighting LED lighting fixtures and power supplies. LED’s light output has grown to the point where they are useful for illumination. LEDs are very energy efficient, converting over 90% of the incoming electrical energy into luminous energy. Heat is reduced, and LED sources commonly offer life spans of 50,000 to 100,000 hours. This means fixtures can be run for years with no lamp replacement. And there is no refuting the digital advantage.
The two major players in LED-based luminaires, Color Kinetics and SuperVision, are still locked in an ongoing legal battle over patents underlying the technology. But this has not stopped the evolution of LED. On the contrary, it has heightened the drama. Color Kinetics has signed up over 30 licensees as of today. And a wide variety of lighting manufacturers are marketing products based on LED sources.
So is LED-based design of luminaries the future of lighting? I think it’s the wrong question to ask. The right question is: How is the digital revolution (that re-shaped video technology for one) finally transforming the staging landscape, including lighting?
The most exciting development in digital lighting is not LED-based light luminaries, but video-projection-based luminaries. Marrying a video projector to an intelligent lighting yoke is a marriage made in staging heaven, and coming as it does from the opposite end of the stage, it’s the one we should be watching more closely. While LED-based light luminaries are riding the wave of efficiency, economy, and practicality, products that combine the infinite source content of video with the projection fluidity of a moving light promise to do it all: video (anywhere in the room), wash light, spotlight, a million gobos, intelligent masking, and more. And best of all, they offer our customers new tools to upsell a show. Saving power consumption? Longer replacement cycles? Who cares? Well, we do care, but show me a product that can wow an audience. At LDI, I’ll be taking notes on all the new LED-based luminaries that promise better and cheaper, but I’ll have my eye on the true future of digital lighting.