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Marvell chip designed to improve LED light quality

New controller chip for LED bulbs brings higher-quality light into the price range of consumer bulbs and the ability to connect bulbs on a network.

Semiconductor company Marvell today is set to introduce a chip geared at improving the light from LED bulbs and connecting them to a network.

The 8801 chip is small--about the size of a penny--and will be about the same price as existing LED lighting electronics. If Marvell signs on light manufacturer customers, it could bring the very good light quality of some commercial LEDs to more affordable consumer products, said Kishore Manghnani, vice president of Marvell's Communications and Consumer business. He said the chip, which integrates multiple functions on this single controller chip, is being tested by commercial or consumer light fixture makers now and it takes them about six months to introduce products with new chips.

This Philips LED bulb has a color rendering index of 80. Others have a CRI over 90. Martin LaMonica/CNET

Light quality for consumer LED bulbs has improved over the past few years but the color rending index (CRI), a measure of quality, is still not as high as incandescent bulbs. With the chip, Manghnani said a CRI of 95, higher than most of the consumer LED bulbs available now, is possible.

The chip can control the current and temperature of two types of LED light sources. So a fixture or bulb maker could use the chip and driver to use LEDs with two different colors, such as white and red, to improve color rendering. Until now, the electronics to control different colored LEDs would be too large or expensive for consumer products, Manghnani said.

The Marvell component will also make LED dimming more precise and allow a lighting company to embed a wireless chip in the bulb. With a wireless ZigBee or Wi-Fi radio, lights can be controlled from a central point or set on a schedule. Last week, Google demonstrated a networked LED bulb controlled by its Android@Home software due for release by the end of the year.

Marvell's main business is designing electronic components for consumer electronics but it is pushing into energy efficiency with LEDs and connected appliances, such as smart thermostats or smart outlets. One product already available is the Radio Thermostat which connects to a home Wi-Fi network and can be controlled from a smartphone.