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Cree BR30 LED review: Cree's affordable floodlight is an LED value

This $10 bulb is one of the most affordable of its kind. Can it keep up with our Editors' Choice winner?

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 and wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
8 min read

"Don't buy in unless Cree catches up." That's what I wrote last August when I reviewed the North Carolina lighting manufacturer's original LED floodlight. As BR30-shaped bulbs go, it was bright and efficient, but it was also a poor value compared to stronger alternatives like the Philips SlimStyle BR30 LED , the Green Creative BR30 Cloud LED , and the Editors' Choice-winning GE Reveal BR30 LED . At $20 apiece, the Cree BR30 LED cost more than all of them.


Cree BR30 LED

The Good

At $10, Cree's new LED floodlight is one of the most affordable big-name options available. It scores well in both brightness and efficiency, and offers better dimming performance than its predecessor.

The Bad

Cree's new bulb still can't match the color quality or dimming performance of the GE Reveal BR30 LED, and offers a shorter warranty, too. It also finished last in our heat-management test.

The Bottom Line

Cree's BR30 LED offers strong performance at a clear value. For most lighting setups, it's an excellent choice.

Now, less than a year later, Cree's closing the gap with a new-and-improved second-gen model that sells for a much more reasonable $10 per bulb -- less than any of those other competitors. It still lags somewhat in terms of color quality, dimming performance, and heat management, but offers satisfying performance for general household lighting needs. If you've been waiting to upgrade a whole home's worth of floodlights, it's your most affordable big-name option, and a good choice, overall.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Meet the new bulb, same* as the old bulb

The Cree floodlight isn't anything radical as far as second-gen bulbs go. Though you'll spot a few tweaks to the design, it's still a glass bulb with a white plastic body, and a far cry from the redesign we saw with the Cree's all-plastic second-gen 60W replacement bulb, the 4Flow LED .

The specs match up with last year's model, too. Both claim to put out 650 lumens' worth of brightness from a power draw of less than 10 watts: 9.5 watts for the original, and a slightly more efficient 9 watts for version two. Both will add a little over a dollar per year to your energy bill if used for three hours a day (for comparison, a 65-watt, 650-lumen incandescent BR30 bulb will add almost 8 bucks to your yearly power bill.)

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Still, this isn't just the same bulb with a slightly different design. Crack them both open and peek under the hood, and you'll discover two entirely different approaches to distributing light. The original model sports a small metallic tower in the center, with ten light-emitting diodes circling the top like windows around the top floor of a skyscraper. The new model scraps this tower altogether, with the diodes peering up from the bottom of the bulb's interior.

You'll also notice that there's only two of them, each a bit bigger than the ten tiny ones in the original BR30 LED. They're more powerful and efficient, too. With a fifth of the diodes, the new bulb puts out more light from less power than last year's model. It adds up to incremental improvement in the end, but still, it's impressive engineering, and indicative of how Cree managed to get the cost down.

Cree's BR30 LED: Then and now

Cree BR30 LED (first-gen)Cree BR30 LED (second-gen)
Lumens (measured / stated) 622 / 650699 / 650
Watts 9.59
Efficiency (lumens per watt) 6578
Yearly energy cost (3 hr. per day @ .11 kWh) $1.14 $1.08
Color temperature (measured / stated) 2,690 K / 2,700 K2,676 K / 2,700 K
Color rendering index 8180
Dimmable range 8 - 100%1 - 100%
Dimmer switch flicker LightVery Light
Lifespan 25,000 hours25,000 hours
Weight 6.4 oz.4.45 oz.
Energy Star Certification YesYes
Warranty 10 years5 years
Price $20 $10

Both the original and the new version shine at a yellowy 2,700 K, with hotter, whiter "Daylight" versions that shine at 5,000 K available for an extra buck. Both promise to last 25,000 hours. Both are dimmable, both are Energy Star compliant, and both offer entry level color rendering scores right around the LED average of 80.

The only significant difference with this year's bulb -- aside from the price cut -- is that its warrant is not as strong as the original one. Like most of Cree's initial LED offerings, the original BR30 LED offered ten years of protection, but version two follows the company's recent trend away from that benchmark by offering five years of coverage.

Half the warranty at half the upfront cost seems like a fair trade to me, but customers who'd rather pay a little more for additional protection might be disappointed. Cree tells me that it won't be manufacturing last year's model any longer, and that once existing stock is sold off, it'll be gone for good.

That's a different approach than the company took with its original, 10-year-warrantied 60W Replacement LED , which continues to sell alongside the shorter-warrantied 4Flow LED that followed it, offering you a choice between upfront savings and a longer warranty. You won't get that choice at the BR30 level.

Cree vs. the competition

Cree BR30 LED (second-gen)GE Reveal BR30 LEDGreen Creative BR30 Cloud LEDPhilips SlimStyle BR30 LED
Lumens (measured / stated) 699 / 650656 / 630734 / 650627 / 650
Watts 91289.5
Efficiency (lumens per watt) 78 559266
Yearly energy cost (3 hr. per day @ .11 kWh) $1.08 $1.44 $0.96 $1.14
Color temperature (measured / stated) 2,676 K / 2,700 K2,752 K / 2,850 K2,680 K / 2,700 K2,730 K / 2,700 K
Color rendering index 80897980
Dimmable range 1 - 100%5 - 100%7 - 100%0 - 100%
Dimmer switch flicker Very LightNoneLightModerate
Lifespan 25,000 hours25,000 hours25,000 hours25,000 hours
Weight 4.45 oz.7.6 oz.3.25 oz.3.5 oz.
Energy Star Certification YesNoYesYes
Warranty 5-year10-year3-year3-year
Price $10 $17 $13 $13

Cree's new BR30 LED stacks up pretty well against its closest competitors. Testing each bulb out in our integrating sphere, Cree's floodlight came in at 699 lumens -- a slight bump in brightness from the stated 650 lumens, and brighter than what you'll get from the Philips SlimStyle BR30 LED or the GE Reveal BR30 LED . It's slightly more efficient than those two, as well.

However, the Green Creative BR30 Cloud LED put up the best baseline numbers of all, scoring 734 lumens from a power draw of just 8 watts. It costs a few dollars more than Cree, but might be worth a look if you want the most efficient brightness for your buck (or if you're a fan of its odd, hollowed-out design).

The GE Reveal BR30 LED is also worthy of consideration due to its near flawless dimming capabilities, 10-year warranty, and impressive color rendering score, which helps it make colors look truer and more vivid. I liked it enough to award it our Editors' Choice, and still think it's the BR30 bulb I'd buy if I were upgrading, but now that the Cree floodlight only costs $10, I'd definitely have to think twice about it.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Dimming performance

Like last year's bulb, the second-gen Cree BR30 LED promises to work with dimmer switches. Like all of the dimmable bulbs we review, I tested it out on a variety of dimmer switches, including newer models from Leviton and Lutron designed especially for LEDs, as well as an older knob-style Triac dimmer built for incandescents only.

The Cree LED did pretty well with all three, dimming as promised each time I tried dialing it down. Along with getting 100 percent brightness at the maximum setting, I was able to get the light the lowest on the rotary knob, clocking the minimum setting at just 7 lumens -- roughly 1 percent of the bulb's total light output. The range was a little tighter on the newer Leviton and Lutron models: roughly 95 percent brightness at the maximum settings and about 5 percent brightness when dialed all the way down. Your mileage definitely varies at least a little based on what hardware you're using.

You might detect a small amount of flicker when the light is dimmed down low. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The other big dimming concerns are flicker and buzz. Most dimmer switches cycle the power on and off at very fast rates in order to create the illusion of dialed-down light. This can create electromagnetic interference in the bulb, which can in turn cause tiny components to vibrate and buzz, and the light to flicker.

In the case of Cree's new floodlight, I didn't detect any buzz without my ear pressed against the bulb, and I barely noticed any flicker, either, except for some light wavering at low settings on the rotary dial. It's an altogether good result, and better than what we saw with the original Cree BR30 LED, but it's still not as impressive as the GE Reveal BR30 LED. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the GE bulb to flicker one bit.

A more affordable LED floodlight from Cree (pictures)

See all photos

Heat management

Something else to think about when you're upgrading your light bulbs is whether or not you'll be using them in enclosed fixtures. Like most electronic devices, LEDs are vulnerable to excessive heat, which is why their designs typically place such an emphasis on heat sinks or convection vents. In an enclosed fixture, heat has nowhere else to go, so you'll want to be sure to pick a bulb that's especially good at keeping its cool.

The test results from our integrating sphere can help you do exactly that. All LEDs will see their brightness dip in the first thirty minutes or so of use as the heat builds up, then flatline at what manufacturers call a "steady state" once the bulb's heat sink or convection vents start kicking in. By the way, this steady state is where bulbs get rated for things like brightness and color temperature, so don't worry, you aren't getting short-changed on the specs.

Like all LEDs, the Cree bulb's brightness dips a bit after you first turn it on, then levels off. Ry Crist/CNET

With each bulb in the middle of our sphere, we can get accurate readings of how bright it is at any given moment. By graphing the bulb's brightness over an hour or so of use, we can take a look at where the steady state clocks in. As you can see in the graph above, the new Cree floodlight (the blue line) clocks in at 699 lumens, reaching its steady state in about 30 minutes.

That seems like a decent result -- and it is -- but it doesn't tell you the whole story about heat management. The important thing to look at is how not how bright each bulb is in this test, but how much brightness each bulb is losing. To do that, we need another graph, one that recalculates each lumen reading for each bulb as a percentage of how bright the bulb is at the start of the test.

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In this graph, we're recalculating the test data as a percentage of each bulb's initial brightness. You can see that the Cree bulb loses more than 10% of its initial glow due to heat buildup. One of the bulbs above it would be a better pick for enclosed fixtures, where heat is more of a problem. Ry Crist/CNET

Voila. Now, each bulb starts off at the same spot: 100 percent brightness. Five minutes in, four out of the five are down below 95 percent brightness, while one, the GE Reveal BR30 LED, is still up around 98 percent. At the end of the test, when the bulbs have all hit their steady states, only two are still above 90 percent: the GE Reveal bulb, and the Green Creative BR30 Cloud LED. If I needed a BR30 for an enclosed fixture, I'd be sure to go with one of those, because heat doesn't seem to affect them quite as much as the competition.

What's interesting here is that the two Cree bulbs mirrored each other so closely. Despite the new design and the new diode configuration, this is still largely the same bulb in terms of how well it manages heat. For basic usage, 87 percent is a perfectly fine result, and a subtle enough dip in brightness that you wouldn't notice it with your naked eye. For enclosed fixtures, though, I think you're better off sticking with LEDs that finish above 90 percent.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

Cree's new floodlight is a tempting upgrade at just $10 per bulb, and I think it gets enough right to merit strong consideration. It offers more than enough brightness, strong efficiency numbers, and a satisfyingly warm quality of light. If you prefer something hotter and less yellowy, the Daylight version is probably worth the extra buck.

Still, the competition is strong enough to justify spending more in certain circumstances, and that keeps me from calling Cree's bulb a clear best buy. If you use dimmer switches or enclosed fixtures in your home, for instance, then the GE Reveal BR30 LED is almost certainly worth the extra cash. With top scores in brightness and efficiency, the Green Creative BR30 Cloud LED merits a look, too. But if you're just looking for a floodlighting upgrade that won't break the bank, Cree's new bulb offers the best value.


Cree BR30 LED

Score Breakdown

Design 7Value 9Performance 8