North Carolina-based industrial lighting manufacturer Cree has only been selling residential LED light bulbs for a year and a half, but that hasn't stopped it from establishing itself as a brand to be reckoned with. The 40W and 60W replacement LEDs that served as the company's debut bulbs quickly became bestsellers in the lighting aisle, thanks to aggressive pricing and a generous 10-year warranty.
Cree took a similar approach with the next bulb they released, a BR30 floodlight LED. At a time when LEDs were still essentially priced as luxuries, the Cree BR30 came in right under $20 -- still far pricier than incandescents, halogens, and CFLs, but reasonable enough to spur sales all the same.
Now, over a year later, the lighting landscape has changed, with new competitors filling the shelves and prices falling to their most affordable levels yet. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is Cree's BR30 -- and neither has its $20 price tag. With intriguing LED alternatives like the Philips SlimStyle BR30 and even superior ones like the GE Reveal BR30 available for less, Cree might be behind the market here, an unusual position for the LED upstart. Until they catch up, buying the company's flagship floodlight just doesn't make much sense.
Aside from its shape, the Cree BR30 LED doesn't differ much from the design of the original Cree LEDs. Take a cursory look at the bulb, and you'll find the same white body with the Cree logo, those same, fin-like heat sinks around the bulb's collar, and the same rubbery coating over the glass.
Designed to replace 65W incandescent floodlights of the same shape, the Cree BR30 LED puts out 650 lumens worth of light, with anything over 600 lumens being sufficient. That light shines out at the same, golden-hued 2,700 K as the original Cree LEDs using a stated power draw of 9.5 watts.
On paper, these are all perfectly good specs for this sort of bulb. That 9.5-watt power draw gives it an efficiency rating of 68 lumens per watt, same as the Philips SlimStyle BR30 and slightly less than the Philips WarmGlow BR30, which puts out 77 lumens per watt.
Another nice spec is that 10-year warranty, which Cree wisely extended across its entire portfolio of consumer LED offerings. For a time, that 10-year figure was unmatched in the industry, and managed to provide some reassurance to LED longevity skeptics. Now, however, we're starting to see other major manufacturers like GE taking Cree's cue, with decade-long warranties of their own.
|Cree BR30 LED||GE Reveal BR30 LED||Philips SlimStyle BR30 LED||Philips WarmGlow BR30 LED|
|Efficiency (lumens / watt)||68||53||68||77|
|Color temperature (claimed)||2,690 K (2,700 K)||2,752 K (2,850 K)||2,696 K (2,700 K)||2,730 K (2,700 K)|
|Color rendering score||81||90||80||81|
|Lifespan||25,000 hours||25,000 hours||25,000 hours||25,000 hours|
|Weight||6.4 oz.||7.6 oz.||3.5 oz.||4.8 oz.|
|Energy Star Certified||Yes||Yes||Submitted||No|
|Warranty||10 years||10 years||3 years||5 years|
In front of our spectrometer, the Cree BR30 LED performed very well. That 650-lumen figure looks to be more or less right on the money, as we were able to rate it right around 655. The color temperature was also quite accurate, falling just ten degrees shy of that 2,700 K target.
In terms of color rendering, the Cree doesn't promise anything higher than average LED performance, with a CRI score of 81. This score, an average of several scores that represent how accurately the bulb illuminates specific shades, includes the same low score on reds that we've seen with other Cree bulbs, something that holds it back a bit when it comes to color accuracy.
To test this out, we set out a colorful photo shoot, lighting each setup with each of the LED floodlights we tested. With its boosted color rendering score, the GE Reveal was the clear winner, with the Philips WarmGlow, the Philips SlimStyle, and the Cree BR30 finishing more or less tied for a distant second. To judge the results for yourself be sure and check out our full gallery of color rendering comparison shots.
Color rendering can be a pretty subtle thing, and in fairness, many people prefer a more golden glow, even if it tends to yellow things out somewhat. Still, the GE Reveal can claim to be noticeably better with colors -- and it costs less than Cree's floodlight, too.
Dimmability and flicker
Dimmability is another big factor worth considering when you're upgrading your light bulbs. Many of today's bulbs, if not most of them, claim to be dimmable -- but some are better at it than others.
In Cree's case, that dimming performance left a bit to be desired. While Cree's floodlight proved dimmable with every switch in our tests, it also failed to dim down quite as low as the other bulbs we tested, cutting out to black at right around 8 percent of its maximum brightness. Another subtle difference, to be sure, but still one worth noting if you're picky about dimmable light.
We also detected a fair amount of flicker as we dialed the light up and down, especially at around half brightness, where fluctuations caused by the dimmer switch rapidly cycling the power on and off tend to cause the most interference. On the bright side, the Cree BR30 didn't buzz noticeably on any of the dimmers.
In fairness, the GIF above exaggerates the flicker problem to a certain extent (there's really no good way to accurately show you what flicker looks like in a picture or video). Still, compared to the GE Reveal, which aced our flicker tests (and produced one of the more boring GIFs we've ever put together), the Cree seems like the lesser option.
One last performance-based point of consideration is how well the bulb's manage heat. Like most electronics, LEDs will produce a small amount of heat, and just like a laptop or a phone, they'll see their performance suffer if they don't do a good job managing it.
This separates LEDs from other kinds of light bulbs, and is the reason why they're typically designed with heat sinks, like the ones around the neck of the Cree BR30. When the bulb first gets turned on, it will see a slight, barely noticeable dip in brightness as things heat up, but then, thanks to those heat sinks, things will plateau out into what manufacturers call the "steady state," which is where the bulbs get rated for things like lumen output and efficiency.
With the Cree BR30 LED, that steady state sits at about 88 percent of the initial brightness, which isn't a bad number in and of itself. However, every other floodlight we tested did better, especially the GE Reveal, which flatlined at closer to 95 percent. If I was choosing a bulb to use in an enclosed fixture, where heat buildup is a greater concern, I'd be inclined to go with a light like that as opposed to the Cree BR30.
A question of value
In the end, the Cree BR30 LED certainly isn't a bad bulb. It boasts good efficiency specs, an appealing warranty, and suitable performance for everyday household use. It does a perfectly acceptable job -- but so do other LED floodlights, like the Philips SlimStyle BR30 , which costs just $13. The Editors' Choice GE Reveal BR30 LED does an undeniably better job than Cree -- and even that bulb costs a little bit less.
Cree remains a very solid brand with many appealing LEDs. I have no doubt that they'll continue to produce very decent light bulbs, and perhaps even some exceptional ones. But in the case of Cree's BR30 floodlight, the market has caught up, and the value just isn't there.