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Light Bulbs

Which LED floodlight should you hang overhead?

You've got plenty of new LED options in the lighting aisle -- here's how to pick the right one.

Now playing: Watch this: Need new LED floodlights? We're here to help
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Plenty of homes keep things lit using overhead floodlights in recessed lighting setups. BR30-shaped bulbs like those are ideal for overhead lighting because they cast all of their light downwards, thanks to the "bulging reflectors" that make up the "BR" of BR30.

If you're looking to upgrade bulbs like those, or if you've just had one burn out on you recently, then the answer is almost certainly to go with an LED, where your choices are on the rise as prices continue to fall. But which one should you go with?

The answer will depend on what you need out of your lights, but the good news is that you've got a lot of good options. All you need to do is sort through them to find the best light for your living space -- and hey, that's where I come in!

First things first: How much should I spend?

Like I said before, prices have fallen pretty steadily over the past few years, with most dimmable LED floodlights settling in the $5 to $8 price range. That's great, since swapping in an LED for a 65W incandescent will knock an average of about $7 per year off of your energy bill. That means it won't take very long at all for any of these LEDs to pay for themselves in energy savings.

Given how many options you have for $8 or less, I really don't think you should spend any more than that per bulb unless you've got a really good reason. Also, keep an eye out for multi-packs. Manufacturers use them to help bring down the cost per bulb without having to sacrifice too much on quality, so they can be a very good deal on some very good LEDs, especially if you need multiple bulbs anyway.

Dimmable 65W Replacement LEDs


Cree GE GE Reveal Osram Sylvania Philips Target Up & Up Walmart Great Value
Brightness in lumens (measured/stated) 655 / 665 810 / 700 711 / 650 641 / 650 639 / 650 624 / 650 669 / 650
Energy consumption 8 watts 10 watts 11 watts 9 watts 9 watts 10 watts 10 watts
Efficiency (lumens per watt) 82 81 65 71 71 62 67
Yearly energy cost (3 hours of use per day at $0.11 per kWh) $0.96 $1.20 $1.32 $1.08 $1.08 $1.20 $1.20
Color temperature Soft White (2,621 K) Soft White (2,673 K) Soft White (2,693 K) Soft White (2,805 K) Soft White (2,669 K) Soft White (2,699 K) Soft White (2,618 K)
Dimmable Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dimmable range 2.7 - 99.9% 10.4 - 100% 0.6 - 100% 0.0 - 100% 0 - 100% 0 - 99.5% 21.1 - 100%
Expected lifespan 25,000 hours 25,000 hours 15,000 hours 10,000 hours 10,000 hours 25,000 hours 25,000 hours
Warranty 10 years 5 years 5 years 3 years 3 years 3 years 3 years
Average price per bulb $8 $7 $13 $5 $5 $8 $7

OK, so what are my options?

I've tested several LED floodlights over the years, and I tested several more for this roundup, including brand-name options from the likes of Cree, GE, and Philips, as well as store-brand bulbs from Walmart and Target. I honed in on dimmable, soft white-toned, 65W replacement LEDs since those are the most popular option, but if you want something nondimmable or daylight-tinted, you'll find bulbs like those, too.

No matter what you pick, you'll want to look for a bulb that puts out at least 650 lumens of brightness from a power draw of 10 watts or less.

At this point, ask yourself what you want from your lights. Is brightness the most important thing? Dimmability? Color quality? Do you just want the cheapest acceptable option? No matter your answer, I've got a bulb for you.

I want something cheap I won't hate

Two of the dimmable LEDs I tested came out to five bucks per bulb: the Philips floodlight LED and the Osram Sylvania floodlight LED. The similarities between the two are pretty striking -- both put out about 640 lumens from a power draw of 9 watts. Both promise to last 10,000 hours (about 10 years, on average), and both come with a three year warranty. They even look alike.

Philips-led-floodlight-1.jpg

The standard Philips floodlight LED isn't anything special, but it works great with dimmers and comes in a $15 three-pack -- just $5 per bulb.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

But the Philips LED is your best bet. Of all the floodlights I tested, it was one of the best in my dimming tests, consistently dimming down lower and smoother than the competition, and in most cases without any noticeable flicker.

The Osram bulb did pretty well in the dimming tests, too, but it didn't dim down as low as the Philips bulb, and it flickered noticeably when I tried it on an old rotary dial.

Even if you don't care about dimmability, the Philips bulb is the better choice. It was mediocre-at-best when I tested out how well it handles heat build-up (not surprising or disqualifying for a bargain-priced bulb), but it did a heck of a lot better than Osram, which finished dead last in the test by a substantial margin.

With 810 lumens to its name, the GE LED is even brighter than the sort of incandescent you might be replacing.

Ry Crist/CNET

I just want something really bright

Easy enough -- go with the standard GE floodlight LED. It claims an impressive light output of 700 lumens, but finished way above that in my tests with a whopping 810 lumens to its name. That makes it the brightest bulb I tested (by a lot), and with a power draw of 10 watts, it was one of the most efficient, too.

ge-led-floodlight.jpg

You can find GE's LEDs at a number of different retailers, including Lowe's, Target, and even grocery stores like Kroger.

Ry Crist/CNET

It sells at a bunch of different retailers and pricing will vary, but I bought my test bulb at Target for about $7.

Aside from the butt-kicking brightness, GE's bulb was also the top finisher in that heat management test I mentioned before, which is strong evidence of a well-engineered light bulb, and one that would likely be a great pick for an enclosed fixture, where heat gets trapped. It performed reasonably well in my dimming tests, too -- although it wouldn't dim down any lower than 10 percent on any switch I tested, which isn't a great result.

One last note: I'm featuring a picture of the bulb packaging here because GE sells an awful lot of light bulbs, which sometimes gets confusing. If it helps, the specific model number of this bulb is "LED10DR303/827W".

I want the best dimmable option

This is a close one. If dimming is truly the only thing you care about, then you might as well go with that $5 Philips bulb from before, because it was the most consistently strong performer in my dimming tests.

cree-led-floodlight-1.jpg

The Cree floodlight LED sells in a three-pack at Home Depot for $25 -- about $8 per bulb.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

That said, the Cree floodlight LED was right behind it, and it's a much more well-rounded bulb overall. With a power draw of just 8 watts, it still manages to get up over 650 lumens bright, making it the most efficient floodlight LED I tested. 

It was also the runner up in my heat tests, losing less than 10 percent of its initial brightness as the bulb heated up in the first 30 minutes of use, then stabilizing like a champ for the remaining 60 minutes of the test.

Other reasons to go with Cree include the category-leading 10-year warranty along with the above average color rendering capabilities, which keeps the light from distorting the colors in your home or looking too yellowy. But, hey, since we're talking about color quality...

You can best see the difference in color quality a GE Reveal bulb makes by comparing the red and orange M&Ms, the white of the bowl, and the tone of the table's woodgrain.

Chris Monroe/CNET

I just want something that'll make my home look prettier

This is one of those fringe cases where you can justify spending more than $8 per bulb. For top notch color quality from an LED, you'll need to spend $13 on the GE Reveal LED, a bulb that filters out excess light from the yellow part of the spectrum in order to help the colors in your home look more accurate and vivid.

GE-reveal-led-floodlight-1.jpg

The GE Reveal LED is an easy way to upgrade the color quality in your home.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

And guess what? It works. In fact, each and every GE Reveal bulb we've ever tested works as advertised when it comes to color quality. It's a can't miss pick for better-looking colors, especially reds and oranges, a common LED weak spot.

The rub is that the GE Reveal LED costs so much more than average, so don't worry about filling your whole home with the things. Instead, identify the spots that would benefit the most from better colors and start there. The kitchen makes sense, as does the bathroom, bedroom, or anywhere else you tend to look in the mirror a lot. If you have artwork in your living room or a big red couch that you're really proud of, then upgrading to Reveal bulbs might make sense, there, too.

Oh, and if that $13 price tag is too expensive for you, then consider the Walmart Great Value Floodlight LED, which costs roughly half as much. It isn't the most efficient bulb I tested and it isn't great on dimmer switches, but the one thing it really excels at is color rendering. If that's all you want, it could be a good compromise pick.

No dimmer switch needed: The Philips SceneSwitch LED can dim down to a 10 percent night-light setting just by turning it off and back on again.

Chris Monroe/CNET

I want dimmability, but I don't have dimmer switches

It's nice to be able to dial your lights down low, but what if your home doesn't have dimmer switches? Sure, you could hardwire switches like that in place of your standard ones, but for an easier alternative, consider the Philips SceneSwitch floodlight LED.

You can cycle through three different light settings by turning the SceneSwitch LED off and back on.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Each one has three distinct light settings: yellowy soft white, whitish daylight and a dimmed-down night-light setting. To change between them, just turn the bulb off and back on within a few seconds. It's a good fit if you like the idea of changing between soft white and daylight tones throughout the day, or if you want to leave a bank of dimmed lights on at night. Best of all, no hard-wiring necessary.

SceneSwitch gimmickry aside, it's also a very good bulb in its own right. Each one puts out a measured 714 lumens of brightness at the soft white setting from a power draw of just 8 watts, making it one of the most efficient floodlights we've ever tested. The other two settings came in brighter than advertised, too. Also, It's fairly priced at $8 per bulb.

Of course, the other way to dim your bulbs down without dimmer switches is to upgrade to smart bulbs... On that note:

Now playing: Watch this: Philips Hue vs. Lifx: A color-changing smart home showdown
3:04

What about smart lighting?

I think it's definitely worth considering. Most smart lights are common A-shaped bulbs, but you've got a couple of floodlight options, too. Lifx and Philips Hue are probably the two most notable names here -- each offers smart floodlights that change colors, along with slightly less expensive versions that can change between a yellowy, candle-like glow and bluish-white daylight tones.

lifx-white-900-br30-smart-led.jpg

The Lifx White 900 is a very good smart floodlight that works with Alexa.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Smart lights are a great choice if you're picky about dimming. With bulb-specific dimming hardware built right in, most smart bulbs will dim flawlessly via their app or through some other integration, like an Amazon Alexa voice command. Plus, you don't need to use dimmer switches at all.

If you just want a couple of smart lights, then I'd recommend the Lifx White 900. At $40 per bulb, it certainly isn't cheap, but it's much brighter than Philips Hue, it works well with a wide variety of third-party services, and it offers outstanding color quality that's almost on par with the GE Reveal LED.

If, on the other hand, you want to fill your whole house with the things, then go with Hue. The bulbs don't use Wi-Fi like Lifx does, so you won't clog up your network if you buy a bunch of them. Plus, you can connect less expensive third-party smart bulbs to the Hue Bridge as needed to help bring down costs.

Anything else I should know?

I think that about covers it, but if you want to know more about the bulbs I tested for this roundup, here they all are:

As for my tests themselves, feast your eyes on my data. Up first, the results of that heat test I mentioned a few times earlier. Remember, this isn't ranking the brightness of each bulb, but rather, what percentage of initial brightness each bulb lost during the test as they heated up. The higher each bulb finishes, the stronger the result.

Ry Crist/CNET

Next, my color quality and brightness comparison shots:

Chris Monroe/CNET
Ry Crist/CNET

Want more light bulb buying advice? Our handy buying guide is here to help.

Check out our rundown of the best smart lights that work with Alexa.