According to the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, white tunable lighting is “the ability to control a light source’s color temperature output.” Manufacturers have achieved this innovation by combining LEDs of different color temperatures into single bulbs or strips. By controlling the LEDs inside the bulb or on the strip, you can then shift (or “tune”) the color temperature within a fixture. This may sound like a simple feature on its surface, but it is in reality a game-changer for many industries and environments – and, as we will see, perhaps even for all people everywhere.
Tunable white LED lighting is a groundbreaking type of lighting that technically combines multiple lighting sources. Without these multiple sources, the shifting or tuning that we are describing would be impossible. It is only through specific changes, turning off one LED and turning on another, that we can achieve the incredible effects for which this type of lighting has become known. A marvel of both engineering and human psychology, tunable white LED lighting promises to change the world in a significant way – to a degree that no other type of lighting has since the first incandescent lightbulbs appeared on the market in the 19th century.
Unlike any other type of lighting, tunable white LED lighting connects directly to our minds, not physically but conceptually. Because we can shift the color temperature in a tunable white LED lighting fixture, we can optimize it according to the environment or even according to the time of day. That way, we can align the light with our circadian rhythm to better match the gradual dimming effect that humans experienced for eons living in the wild, underneath the sun during the day and underneath the moon at night. Gone are the days of glaring, overwhelming lightbulbs, their insistence on shining the same bright beams down on people regardless of appropriateness, impossible to control.
We can think of tunable white LED lighting as “custom temperature lighting.” This is not custom in the sense that we need to personalize it in the factory, though. This is custom in the sense that we can personalize it on the fly, making changes as we need to make them, lowering or raising the color temperature according to our moods, whims, and desires. We need no better reason than “I want the light to be different” to reach for our tunable white LED lighting controller and then press a button or turn a knob, however our system happens to receive our input. This is lighting that is ushering in a new and unprecedented level of convenience and control.
To measure the white light produced via tunable white LED lighting, we use color correlated temperature (CCT). CCT figures correspond to our real-world experiences of lighting, and we measure them in degrees Kelvin. To give you an idea of what CCT means, consider the measurements 1,800 Kelvin and 7,000 Kelvin: the former corresponds to candlelight and the latter corresponds to daylight. When you see a tunable white LED lighting system that features a range within two CCTs, it means that the lighting can run between those two CCTs – and perhaps along them as well, hitting infinite possible CCTs. One key point to remember is that the higher the CCT in Kelvin, the “cooler” white it will yield, emitting a bluish white (the “coolest” white) at the highest CCT in Kelvin.
As researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute put it, CCT is “simpler to communicate than chromaticity or SPD, leading the lighting industry to accept CCT as a shorthand means of reporting the color appearance of ‘white’ light emitted from electric light sources.” This is just a straightforward way for us to talk about what we are perceiving when we look at a source of white light.
Mark Halper at LEDs Magazine refers to tunable white LED lighting as “human-centric lighting,” and in recent years, this term has caught on throughout the industry. We will examine in greater detail the reasons this term fits what we can also call tunable white LED lighting. You already know, however, that tunable white LED lighting can match the human circadian rhythm, and this is an elucidating point. You can learn more about circadian rhythm in this article, which discusses how inextricable it is for overall health and wellness. Once we understand how tunable white LED lighting meshes with what we naturally expect and desire from our lighting sources, the rest of its benefits starts to make much more sense.
In addition to tunable white LED lighting and human-centric lighting, this type of lighting goes by a variety of names. Another is “dim to warm lighting.” This term states in the least-assuming way possible what the lighting type is accomplishing, moving from a dim color temperature upward to a higher one, its color temperature not fixed, a major step away from every other type of lighting that the market had seen previously.
Yet another term for tunable white LED lighting is “full-color tuning,” which refers to the capacity of the lighting type to emit light that captures the breadth of color temperature. Even more complimentary than “dim to warm lighting,” this term expresses the choice that has made it so captivating for people who are tired of purchasing lighting fixtures only to become dissatisfied with their color temperatures a short while later (and find themselves stuck with it, totally lacking control).
Whatever we call tunable white LED lighting, the most critical idea for us to realize is how drastically it differs from all other lighting types. Everything it accomplishes, it is the first lighting type to do so. Next, we are going to review how tunable white LED lighting accomplishes what it does – through the blending process.
The Blending Process
There is no way to understand tunable white LED lighting without first understanding how blending works. The process, in this case, is inseparable from the technology. To fulfill its purpose, tunable white LED lighting must combine the outputs of multiple LEDs. By following algorithms to shift from one CCT to another, the highest-quality tunable white LED lighting systems will mix multiple white light outputs – merging channels that are all producing white light at different color temperatures, from the very warm all the way to the very cool.
In their overview of tunable white LED lighting, the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy called controls “a critical element in white-tuning systems.” This, however, is an understatement. Tunable white LED lighting is inseparable from its controls: without its controls, the “tunable” part of the name would cease to apply.
Using the right controls – which may function via wireless Zigbee, Wifi, Bluetooth, or other signals – we direct the blending process to achieve the CCT that we intend. While more primitive systems struggled to maintain consistency in color temperature, modern tunable white LED lighting has adopted real-time feedback systems that combat the color shifting that takes away from the overall output quality.
To comprehend what differentiates one tunable white lighting system from another, we can look at the concept of linear tuning, which is the most common. This type of tuning is a detriment to CCT, its linearity pushing CCT away from the curve of the blackbody, which is something that absorbs all the light around it. Doing so, it leads to inaccurate CCT that is not along the curve of the blackbody – marring the light with a pink hue error. It was only recently that technology for non-linear tuning became feasible, its multi-color LEDs remaining outside most budgets.
At LEDynamics, we believe the most elegant non-linear white tuning solution involves an algorithm that combines pointed and precise amounts of green light, causing CCT to shift along the curve of the blackbody in a nonlinear movement, eliminating the hue error inherent to linear tuning. More on this later.
Where Tunable White LED Lighting Fits
Tunable white LED lighting is, of course, much more than a trend or a novelty. This is lighting that can make life better for people. We have discussed how tunable white LED lighting can adhere to the human circadian rhythm to a degree that no other lighting can. This may sound intriguing in theory, but what does it mean in the real world? When we say that tunable white LED lighting is “human-centric lighting,” what are we talking about? It is undeniably interesting that we can change the color temperature of a light. We may even find ourselves thinking Wow, how far science and engineering have come. Now, let’s look more closely at what these advances mean for the world.
To understand why tunable white LED lighting has shown such immense promise, we only need to consider its potential effects. This lighting can adapt to people’s moods, responding to the shifts that people need to experience to feel comfortable in any environment, raising or lowering the color temperature in such a way that people’s mental health will benefit. It can also adapt to interior styles, expressing ideas and emotions in an environment, immersing people in these ideas and emotions and heightening the impact that the space has on people.
One study out of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory reported that within an elementary-school classroom in Fulsom, California, students performed better when they were doing their schoolwork under tunable white LED lighting. The Department of Energy had funded the study to analyze the cost savings they could expect by installing such lighting on a large scale. As striking as their findings about the savings were – amounting to costs that were somewhere between 48% and 69% lower – their findings about academic success were even more inspiring, conjuring up images of students nationwide studying and thriving under tunable white LED lighting in the school years ahead.
Another study exhibited the usefulness of tunable white LED lighting in retail, where the lighting boosted sales. Time and again, researchers have concluded that tunable white LED lighting is simply preferable. This is lighting that people appreciate and that they feel comfortable around. Because diamonds appear most attractive under cooler color temperatures but other metals and colored stones appear more attractive under warmer color temperatures, jewelers can optimize their sales processes through tunable white lighting – or even apply white light to white surfaces for even more stunningly minimalist appearance.
Because tunable white LED lighting can improve people’s moods, it fits anywhere that people’s moods come into play. Retail environments, schools, and healthcare settings are the most obvious places where tunable white LED lighting would serve clear and immediate purposes, but in offices too, tunable white LED lighting is making a difference – not only helping people to feel happier and more comfortable but also enhancing productivity levels across teams, motivating people to work harder and to think more creatively.
This incredible lighting type also seems capable of shifting people’s perceptions of actual temperature. Conceivably, businesses in Minnesota could install tunable white LED lighting and change the color temperature in January to instill a perception of warmth. Businesses in Florida, meanwhile, could install tunable white LED lighting and change the color temperature to instill a perception of relief from the overbearing hot outside.
The entire atmosphere within any environment is malleable, all thanks to tunable white LED lighting. You can decide what you want people in an environment – or just yourself – to feel or think, implementing tunable white LED lighting as a tool to push perceptions in the right direction. Tunable white lighting can prevent post lighting installation issues that may arise, when customers decide that the project feels too cool or too warm. Thanks to tunable white lighting, the color temperature is no longer permanent once the fixtures are installed. Planning and execution often falling into disconnect between one another, this level of control allows people to change their minds – say switching from a black granite table (which would look best under a cool color temperature) to a dark wood table (which would look best under a warm color temperature).
In the near future, it seems likely that tunable white LED lighting will become the lighting type of choice, for those who recognize its value at least. It only makes sense that hospitals, offices, schools, and other sensitive environments will install tunable white LED lighting en masse once the word is out. For many professionals and experts in the lighting field, this remains something of an open secret, the inventiveness and the undeniable value of tunable white LED lighting constantly on display for all to see but still remaining just out of conscious view for people who have not heard of it or who have not gone looking for it on their own.
Think of it as a club, and now you are a part of it.
A Clear Choice
Never before has a lighting innovation coalesced so well with what people need out of their lights. Long before we knew it, traditional lighting was disrupting our circadian rhythm, and for many urban dwellers, a good night’s sleep remains ever-elusive because of the bright incandescent lights that pour through their windows at all hours. Think about the popular image of the insomniac unable to escape the ever-present glow of the brightly-lit billboard outside her window. This is an extreme example, of course, but it illustrates the effect that lighting can have on our lives. We crave lighting that aligns with our moods and desires.
Other types of lighting feature two modes – on and off. Through the most advanced tunable white LED lighting systems, there are infinite modes, all of the degrees of color temperature within the color temperature range of which each system is capable. Whatever you want out of your space, however you want your lighting to make you feel, it is possible. Wake up to the softest trickle of light, like the gently rising sun. Do your work beneath something a little bit cooler and a little brighter.
Tunable white LED lighting is poised to fundamentally alter our relationship with lighting. We are looking beyond the “on/off” switch and thinking about everything we have ever wanted lighting to be. If you have dreamed about a lighting system that accounted for your vision within your home, office, restaurant, classroom, hotel, or retail location, tunable white LED lighting is for you. The future of lighting is unfolding before your eyes – gradually, of course, and ever so gently – and you are welcome to take it in and then take control of it at your leisure.
This is the lighting type that we have all been waiting for. For everyone who has ever thought that something better must be possible, we want to tell you – it is. We want to state in no uncertain terms that tunable white LED lighting is different.
This is the cutting edge of lighting, and our team at LEDdynamics is working on the cutting edge of that – the cutting edge of the cutting edge. We are the first lighting manufacturer to create a non-linear tunable white lighting solution that uses green correction, and we want to show you what a difference it can make. This is a thrilling innovation. We have invested in it heavily, and we remain focused on it, confident that this is the next great frontier in lighting. Changing spaces worldwide, we are proud to stand up as pioneers in human-centric lighting.