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The Technology Behind Color Tuning

January 14, 2019

Color tuning LED luminaires are gaining more traction across education, healthcare, commercial offices and retail applications.

Color tuning LED luminaires are gaining more traction across education, healthcare, commercial offices and retail applications. With so much talk of the benefits of these exciting lighting systems, we wanted to dive deeper into how the systems actually work. To do this, we spoke with Nishad Chikhliker, segment and commercialization marketing manager, and Matt Petti, connected lighting product manager, about the technology behind color tuning LED fixtures.

What are the benefits of being able to control the color temperature of light?

NC: When you control the temperature of light, you are able to really thrive in your environment. With the ability to adjust the color temperature to whatever levels you choose, you can create a space and environment that meets your needs. Whether it is increasing productivity, enhancing concentration and focus, improving health and well-being or even creating a soothing and relaxing environment, color tuning technologies can help you meet your desired goals and objectives through the lighting fixture.

What happens behind the scenes in a dim-to-warm solution?

NC: Dim-to-warm is all about bringing those warm colors of traditional incandescent and halogen light sources back into the space. It triggers the reminiscent feeling that only the warm glow of an incandescent could provide, until now.

MP: The general public is familiar with dimming incandescent lighting dimmers. When you dim them down, they naturally become warmer in color temperature. The comfort one experiences from the familiar feeling of dimming a light and feeling how the light changes in both light level and warmth is not replicated with the standard LED product. Because it doesn’t dim in the same way, it draws people’s attention instead of being a seamless transition.

A dim-to-warm product does its best to replicate the same type of warm dim you get from an incandescent source, which is also more conducive to intimate environments. It’s frequently used in the hospitality space, such as a hotel or restaurant. Picture a high-end Italian restaurant. The lights have been dimmed down and you’re on a fancy date, so you expect it to be the same color temperature as candlelight, whether there are candles on the table or not. An LED light source would not give you that effect without a dim-to-warm technology, such as VividTune.

What technology allows an LED to behave as a dim-to-warm light source?

MP: Dim-to-warm is not too dissimilar from tunable white technology. In most dim-to-warm light solutions, you have two LEDs that are fixed color temperatures, but only one is used when the luminaire is at full output.

Let’s say a dim-to-warm downlight might be 3000K at full output. As you dim it down, the driver and the LED board can sense that the voltage is dropping as you’re dimming it. So as it dims, it starts to shift the electrical output from the main LED over to the warmer color LED. For example, the other LED might be 1800K — which is significantly warmer — paired with the original 3000K LED. As you dim the light, it slowly shifts from one LED source to both LED sources at the same time. Then, eventually, all the way down to only the warm LED.

It’s not a linear pattern. There’s a special formula that allows the change to mimic the behavior of an incandescent source. It follows the curve your eye would expect, so that it’s not jarring or off-putting.

What is a tunable white solution?

NC: Tunable white solutions offer the ability to customize your experience by tuning the light to be warmer or cooler, brighter or dimmer, whichever you prefer, whenever you prefer it. Benefits include improving well-being, enhancing productivity, and creating an impactful ambience. Create your right light with tunable white.

Let’s discuss controls. What technology is involved with the control systems for tunable white and dim-to-warm products?

NC: This is where we see a big difference between dim-to-warm and tunable white products. In dim-to-warm solutions, there is no separation between the control of the light output intensity and the color temperature itself. If you dim down the output, it will automatically change the color temperature.

With a tunable white system, you have the independent intensity control separate from the color temperature control. You can keep a fixed color temperature and dim it up and down without one affecting the other.

What are the benefits and challenges of using systems that have separate controls for intensity and color temperature?

MP: The tunable white system gives you flexibility and the opportunity to be extremely precise in the type of light you want. The ability to change the color temperature of the space without changing the light output is a major benefit for many settings. If you still want to have usable light so people can see well in the space, but you just want to change the mood, you can do that with a tunable light system, such as VividTune Tunable White.

With a dim-to-warm system, the controls are much simpler. The dimmer is your single point of control and it works automatically, which is great, except if you want a warmer color temperature in a space, you’ll also get less light output, which means you’re going to have a harder time seeing. In an intimate environment, that may be fine, but if you’re trying to read a book and you simply want the room to be warmer and more relaxing, you still need enough light to be able to see the book.

NC: For tunable light solutions, there are actually many types of control systems to choose from. From a customer’s perspective, there is definitely more flexibility. The control systems range from simple to extremely complex with each providing its own benefits. The benefit of that is the ability to suit the light fixture and control system to the application. That’s the power of preference.