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

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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.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Value 9
  • Performance 8

"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.

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.

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.)

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 / 650 699 / 650
Watts 9.5 9
Efficiency (lumens per watt) 65 78
Yearly energy cost (3 hr. per day @ .11 kWh) $1.14 $1.08
Color temperature (measured / stated) 2,690 K / 2,700 K 2,676 K / 2,700 K
Color rendering index 81 80
Dimmable range 8 - 100% 1 - 100%
Dimmer switch flicker Light Very Light
Lifespan 25,000 hours 25,000 hours
Weight 6.4 oz. 4.45 oz.
Energy Star Certification Yes Yes
Warranty 10 years 5 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 LED Green Creative BR30 Cloud LED Philips SlimStyle BR30 LED
Lumens (measured / stated) 699 / 650 656 / 630 734 / 650 627 / 650
Watts 9 12 8 9.5
Efficiency (lumens per watt) 78 55 92 66
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 K 2,752 K / 2,850 K 2,680 K / 2,700 K 2,730 K / 2,700 K
Color rendering index 80 89 79 80
Dimmable range 1 - 100% 5 - 100% 7 - 100% 0 - 100%
Dimmer switch flicker Very Light None Light Moderate
Lifespan 25,000 hours 25,000 hours 25,000 hours 25,000 hours
Weight 4.45 oz. 7.6 oz. 3.25 oz. 3.5 oz.
Energy Star Certification Yes No Yes Yes
Warranty 5-year 10-year 3-year 3-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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