LED there be light: We pick the best bulb upgrades for your buck

Looking to upgrade that old incandescent? Here are our favorite ways to replace a burnt-out bulb, from smart to simple and everything in between.

Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
Expertise Smart home technology | Wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
6 min read

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Incandescents have enjoyed a good century as the light bulb of choice, but times are changing. So too are efficiency standards, which jumped to a new, even higher threshold back on January 1, officially rendering 40-and 60-watt bulbs obsolete. Despite Congressional leaders postponing the official phase-out for the time being, manufacturers are continuing to lead the charge into a new era of higher efficiency lighting -- and largely leaving incandescents by the wayside.

Don't be too quick to mourn them though. Recent advancements in LED technology have brought prices down on these highly efficient, long-lasting bulbs even faster than anticipated, with some creeping down below the $10 mark. What's more, there's an increasing number of choices when it comes to color quality, brightness, and bulb design. Consumers willing to pay a little extra will find a wealth of new smart features, too.

With all of these new options, the lighting aisle can be a little bit intimidating if you haven't changed out your bulbs in a while -- but fear not! Aside from our handy Light Bulb Buying Guide, we've put together a list of some of our favorite LED upgrades to help give you an idea of what to expect.

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Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit
Thinking about upgrading to a brainier set of bulbs? TCP has just the thing with its Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit. Just plug the mercifully small Gateway into your router, screw in the bulbs, download the app, and voila -- you'll be all set. Each kit comes with the Gateway, three high-quality smart LEDs, and even a handy little remote control so you won't need to whip out your phone every time you want to dim the lights. You'll be able to set custom lighting scenes that trigger either at specific times or at the touch of a button -- perfect for movie night, date night, or my favorite, getting out of bed in the morning. Best of all is the cost. You can get the three-bulb kit at Home Depot for just $109, then add additional bulbs to your system for about $17 each. There's nothing that isn't smart about that.

Read our full review of the Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit.

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Cree 60-watt Replacement LED
If you're looking for a simple bulb that'll provide the most bang for your buck when replacing those old incandescents, you'll want to put Cree's 60-watt Replacement LED right at the top of your list. With a light output of 800 lumens generated from only 9.5 watts of energy usage, it's one of the most efficient household bulbs you can buy. Run it for three hours a day, every day, and you'll spend just over a dollar per year to use it -- not to mention the fact that it'll keep on working for well over twenty years. Skeptical about the longevity? Cree's got you covered with an industry-leading 10-year warranty. Best of all is that it only costs $12.97, and since it's Energy Star Certified, it costs even less in areas that offer instant utility rebates -- less than $5 in some regions, according to Cree. In our book, this bulb's a no-brainer.

Read our full preview of the Cree 60-watt Replacement LED.

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GE Reveal LED
Looking for a light that'll help the colors in your home shine bright? Consider a bulb from the GE Reveal line, like this 60-watt replacement LED. For less than $20 each, the GE Reveal LEDs cast an evenly toned, soft white light with an especially high CRI (that's color rendering index, and higher means more accurate-looking colors). It's a touch dimmer than the Cree TW Series LED, another bulb that boasts a high CRI score, but if color is your top concern, we think you'll be quite pleased with how this GE bulb makes things look.

Compare the GE Reveal LED's color quality with the competition.

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Insteon LED Bulb
If you're into home automation, then you've probably considered Insteon at some point, and if you haven't yet given its fee-free system a shot, the Insteon LED Bulb is a great reason to consider taking the plunge. With a life expectancy of 50,000 hours, it's one of the longest lasting smart LEDs that we've ever seen, plus it's directly automatable within Insteon setups. There's no plug-in module or dimming device required. Just screw it in wherever you want, pair it with a controller like the Insteon Hub, then sit back and bask in the glow of fully configurable light. You'll be able to schedule it to turn on and off at specific times, or sync it up with an Insteon-compatible sensor like a motion detector to have it turn on automatically whenever you enter the room. At a cost of $29.99 per bulb, we see value in getting smart with Insteon.

Read our full review of the Insteon LED Bulb.

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Philips Hue Connected Bulb Starter Pack
OK, OK, we'll admit that you almost certainly don't need on-demand color-changing capabilities from your home lighting. But admit it -- you kind of want it, right? Well, for $199, that's exactly what Philips is offering with the Philips Hue Connected Bulb Starter Kit. Each kit comes with three color-changing LED bulbs and the Hue Bridge that you'll plug into your router in order to sync them up with your smartphone. Hue bulbs are compatible with cool products like the Revolv Hub, as well as the free Web service IFTTT, which means you'll be able to flash the lights when your favorite NFL team kicks off, adjust the lighting to represent how well your stocks are doing, or connect your bulbs with other cool smart home products like the Belkin WeMo Switch or the SmartThings suite of sensors. They're a bit of a novelty, for sure, but as novelties go, this kit is one of our favorites.

Read our full review of the Philips Hue Connected Bulb Starter Pack.

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Lumenation Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb
Tempted by the thought of a color-changing LED, but too broke to drop hundreds of dollars on the Philips Hue kit? Consider the Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb from Lumenation, a $65 standalone bulb that's just as colorful as those Hues. You'll control it on your smartphone over a Bluetooth connection, so there's no need for a hub -- just screw the Lumen bulb in, download the app, and start figuring out whether it's teal, fuchsia, or lime green-tinted light that does a better job of tying the room together. Lumen's app offers a few colorful preset cycles, along with fun features like a music sync mode and a wake-up light, but it isn't quite as smart or as well-connected as the Philips Hue bulbs are. Still, at a (relatively) affordable price of $65, it's a novelty that might feel like less of a risk.

Read our full review of the Lumenation Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb.

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Philips SlimStyle LED
We've seen a lot of rapid advancements in LED technology over the past year or so, and the new SlimStyle LED from Philips might be one of the most intriguing. With an unusual shape that flattens out the bulb and distributes the diodes along the perimeter, this LED probably doesn't look like any bulb you've ever used in the past. What's the point of this strange design? It eliminates the need for those heavy, bulky heat sinks, meaning that this bulb (if you can even call it a bulb) weighs a lot less than other LEDs -- and costs less than a lot of them, too.

Read our full preview of the Philips SlimStyle LED.

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