Cree unveils 75W replacement LED (hands-on)

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/ Updated: December 4, 2013 11:44 AM PST

At the start of this year, rising efficiency standards mandated an end to the manufacture of 75W incandescent lights -- putting out less than 15 lumens per watt just doesn't cut it anymore. Fortunately, LED bulbs are looking brighter than ever, with many energy-efficient options offering light outputs comparable to their incandescent predecessors.

Cree's just-announced 75W replacement LED is the latest offering for homeowners looking for better brightness, and after spending some time with one, I'm convinced that Cree has yet another winner on its hands. The bulb carries the familiar design of other Cree lights, with a white plastic body, ridged heat sinks, and a tacky, rubbery-to-the-touch finish on the glass bulb. The difference comes when you flip the thing on. With 1,100 lumens -- an extra 300 lumens' worth of light output over Cree's 60W replacements -- this bulb helps put to rest any lingering concerns about LEDs being too dim.

Cree's new 75W replacement LED (left) is noticeably brighter than its existing bulbs. Colin West McDonald/CNET

However, those extra lumens don't come without a cost. At an MSRP of $23.97, the 75W replacement costs $11 more than Cree's 60W replacement, making it almost twice the price. If you're buying matching bulbs for an entire room or even an entire home, that isn't an insignificant expense, and unless the added brightness is truly necessary, you'd probably be perfectly happy saving your money and sticking with 60W replacements. Still, it's worth noting that Cree's greatest competition seems to be itself. A comparable 75W replacement LED from Philips, for instance, will cost upward of $30 -- and it won't come with anything close to the industry-leading 10-year warranty that Cree offers with all of its bulbs, including the new 75W replacement.

Uptick in pricing aside, I'm impressed that Cree has managed to up the light output without sacrificing very much in terms of efficiency. Its 60W replacement uses 9.5W to produce 800 lumens, meaning that it produces a very respectable 84 lumens per watt. The 75W replacement holds firm at about 81 lumens per watt, using just 13.5W to give off its 1,100 lumens. At an average of 3 hours of usage per day, your yearly energy cost per bulb would be just $1.63.

The fact that the 75W replacement is almost exactly as efficient as the 60W replacement is almost certainly no accident. In October, the 60W replacement earned Energy Star certification, qualifying it for consumer-friendly rebates in certain areas and driving the cost as low as $4.97 per light. With specs so similar to that bulb, it isn't hard to imagine the 75W replacement earning Energy Star certification, too. If that happens, expect prices to come down in regions that offer rebates, which would be a win for Cree and a win for consumers.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The introduction of the 75W replacement falls in line with Cree's strategy of covering its bases. After establishing a very solid baseline bulb for a very affordable price, the team at Cree have expanded light by light to offer different variations designed to appeal to different consumers. Want a less yellowy tone? Try one of Cree's daylight bulbs, with their cooler 5,000K color temperature (most other Cree bulbs, including the 75W replacement, sit on the low, warm end of the spectrum at 2,700 K). Want more vivid, accurately rendered colors? Go with the TW Series LED, which bumps Cree's standard color rendering index (CRI) up from 80 to 93. Now, with its 75W replacement and the 1,100 lumens that come with it, Cree's got a bulb that's sure to please consumers who simply want the most brightness for their buck.

Of course, the true feather in Cree's cap is that 10-year warranty, especially given the bold performance claims of its bulbs. Aside from being rated to last 25,000 hours (that's over 20 years at 3 hours a day), Cree bulbs are dampness-rated for indoor as well as outdoor use, and they're also fully compatible with almost all standard dimmers. That's quite a lot to warrant for a whole decade. Clearly, Cree has a great deal of confidence in the quality of its lights, and wants its customers to feel the same way, no matter which bulb appeals to them.

The lighting landscape is changing rapidly, and by releasing another high-quality, high-efficiency bulb that's more affordable than the competition, Cree remains ahead of the curve. The new 75W replacement LEDs are available online or in-store at Home Depot, although consumers in regions that offer energy rebates might want to hold off to see whether or not the bulb earns Energy Star certification before making a purchase.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Cree 75-Watt Replacement LED Bulb

Part Number: BA19-11027OMF-12DE26-1U110
MSRP: $23.97 Low Price: $15.96 See all prices