Cree's 60-watt replacement LED is the bulb to beat

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

If you've thus far been resisting the urge to run out and replace your incandescent light bulbs with something more efficient, you won't be able to resist much longer, as rising efficiency standards will render 60- and 40-watt incandescent bulbs obsolete come January 1, 2014. This means that once existing stocks of common incandescent bulbs are sold out, they'll be gone for good, leaving you with a new generation of halogen, CFL, and LED lights to choose from.

Fortunately, bulb technology has taken some big strides in recent years, leading to higher quality lights at increasingly affordable prices. Our current favorite among this new generation is the Cree 60-watt Replacement LED Bulb. With a light output of 800 lumens coming from just 9.5 watts of energy usage, the Cree bulb is a legitimate replacement for 60-watt incandescent bulbs, and one of the most efficient household LEDs currently available.

It's also comparatively affordable, with a retail price of $12.97 per bulb. That might seem steep next to the buck or so you'll spend on an incandescent, but given that Cree bulbs are rated to last 25 times longer than an incandescent (over 20 years at 3 hours per day) and covered by a best-in-the-industry 10-year warranty, the price definitely seems right. For comparison, another favorite of ours, the 60-watt replacement LED from Utilitech Pro, costs around $15 per bulb, and only comes with a 5-year warranty.

The pricing gets even more attractive if you live in a region that subsidizes high efficiency lighting, as Cree's 60-watt replacement earned Energy Star certification this year. This qualifies it for instant utility rebates in those parts of the country, pushing the cost well below $10. According to a representative from Home Depot, where Cree bulbs are sold exclusively, over 400 stores carry the bulbs at these discounted rates.

On the left, Cree's 9.5-watt LED. On the right, the 60-watt incandescent it's designed to replace. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Cree's bulb glows at a low color temperature of 2700K, putting it on the same end of the spectrum as your common incandescent bulb. The "soft white" variety of the bulb (pictured above) has a noticeably yellow quality to it, but if you're accustomed to the warm tones of incandescent bulbs, then you should like what you see. Consumers looking for something more neutral toned will be happy to know that Cree has a "daylight" variety of the 60-watt replacement that features a whitish color temperature of 5000K, and that sells for the same price.

Like most LEDs, Cree bulbs rely on metal heat sinks in order to keep the bulb cool, which accounts for the additional bulk around the base of the bulb. This also means that Cree's bulbs are probably heavier than you're used to, weighing in at 3.8 ounces. Incandescent bulbs, by comparison, typically weigh less than an ounce.

If the weight of your bulb is a concern, you might be interested in checking out the new Philips SlimStyle LED, due in stores next month. It features an innovative design that eliminates the need for heat sinks altogether, and weighs much less than Cree bulbs. No word yet on the price of the SlimStyle, however -- we'll keep you posted on that front.

If you like what you see from Cree, but you're looking for a more professional level of light quality and color rendering, then take a look at the Cree 60-watt TW Series LED. Shoppers who simply want some additional lumens should check out Cree's 75-watt Replacement LED.

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Cree 60-watt Replacement LED Bulb (Soft White)

Part Number: BA19-08027OMF-12DE26-2U100
Pricing is currently unavailable.