The Evolution of LED in Studio Lighting

SEATTLE—There was a time when you used the word “lots” a lot when talking about television studio lighting. You needed lots of fixtures, with lots of power to illuminate them, and lots of air-conditioning to remove all the heat generated. And all of that cost lots of money.

BB&S Area 48 Studio provides smooth dimming even in the last 5 percent.

Fluorescent tube and then LED technology changed that, although it took years from the debut of the earliest of each of those products before the major kinks got worked out, and refining is still going on.

The first generations of LED fixtures and many sold today coat the color-generating phosphor directly onto the LED bulbs, which subjects the phosphors to heat. It’s also difficult to evenly apply that phosphor coating to an object that small. Along came remote phosphor technology, where the phosphors are coated onto a panel in front of the LEDs, keeping the phosphors away from damaging heat and more easily coated on the larger surface.

According to Chuck Edwards, chief technology officer for Cineo Lighting in El Granada, Calif., his company was one of the first to bring remote phosphor technology to market, with its HS fixture. “Studios love it because you can set up a lighting system and know that, five years from now, in that rig the color is not going to budget, it doesn’t change brightness with age, it doesn’t change color with age, it stays right on the color you had on the first day.”

The HS led to other remote phosphor fixtures, like the company’s Maverick, a smaller studio light that can run off a battery and off AC. Maverick uses the exact same phosphor panel as the HS.

ARRI has recently completed its line of LED Fresnels with the L10 model, sporting a 10-inch lens and a 400W power draw that duplicates the light output of a 2K tungsten Fresnel. It joins ARRI’s smaller L7 and L5 LED Fresnels.

“The technology we’ve put into the L10 allows us to change color temperature from 2,800K to 10,000K, let it create green/magenta control and be able to select vivid colors,” said ARRI senior product manager for lighting Mike Wagner.

He pointed out that the same tunable light engine technology is built into their SkyPanel, a powerful soft light.

You normally think of a PARlensed light fixture as anything but a soft light source, but AAdynTech has found that by spreading the fixture’s beam to its widest—by using a 55 degree lens—on its LED PAR fixture and attaching a Chimera diffusor, they get a powerful soft light. “Because we don’t generate anywhere near that of an HMI PAR, Chimera is able to make a lighter product to mount on our lights,” said Walter Lefler, co-founder and partner of the Paramus, N.J.-based company.

Lefler noted an advantage about using PARs for softlights is that the next day, when you need a powerful, directional source, you can mount AAdynTech’s 30-, 15-or 5-degree lenses on the fixture and fill that bill.

Brightline has long made fluorescent tube fixtures for studio lighting. As LED lighting has become more popular, they’ve developed remote phosphor fixtures that duplicate the performance of the fluorescent fixtures, with remote phosphors advantages. “All the accessories from our fluorescent fixtures are interchangeable, such as the yoke, palm handles, intensifier screens,” said Kathy Katz, a partner in Brightline. “All they need to do is buy a new head, and they can keep and reuse all of the accessories.”

She said the Bridgeville, Pa.-based company has not obsoleted its line of fluorescent fixtures. “Some of our customers still prefer fluorescents, and are still purchasing them,” she said.

One advantage often touted by LED light makers is their smooth dimming. But in most cases they don’t actually dim smoothly through the past 5 percent to zero. That may not be a problem when the dimming to dark is not going to be done on-camera, “but many news studios have dark fade-ins and fade-outs, and those studios need dimming in that range to be very smooth,” said Peter Plesner, president of BBS Lighting.

That need led the Copenhagen-based company to develop a variant to its Area 48 soft light, the Area 48 L5 softlight, which performs smooth dimming all the way down to zero.

With more studios being built into spaces without the high ceilings of traditional purpose-built studios, BBS is also finding facilities deploying its Pipeline modular, 1-inch cylindrical form-factor remote phosphor fixtures, which can be deployed on roll-arounds or attached to the ceiling itself.

While it often seems like lighting makers go for more and more powerful fixtures, Litepanels noticed that some of its customers needed only half or even just a quarter of the maximum output of the company’s Astra fixtures. “Some studios are not actually using the full output of our Astras in their studios, so we’ve developed less bright versions of the Astra,” said Alan Ipakchian, product marketing manager for Litepanels in Chatsworth, Calif.

Though the new E series and EP series fixtures use the same number of the same LEDs as the full-fleged Astra, the lower heat generation allows them to leave an active cooling fan out of the design. Ipakchian said that allowed them to pass the savings on to the customer.


Sinclair Broadcasting recently installed Brightline LED SeriesONE and Micro-Ts at its American Sports Network studio. Elipsoidals are the accent generators of studio lighting, and present some challenges for LED technology because they require a point source of light, where a number of ganged LEDs are required to produce enough illumination for a studio setting. Fluotec utilizes its Nebula chamber, a dichroic reflective tube and diffusor, to combine the light from individual LEDs into the needed point source of light.

“Nebula also provides a much more even field of light, and it attenuates the common blue spike in the color spectrum that LEDs produce,” said Jerry Colmenero, in charge of business development at Fluotec. “The spectrum of light you get is much more akin to natural tungsten filament or whatever color temperature you’re after.”

Fluotec has also developed Halodim, a technology that allows DMX dimming to be done with a single channel of DMX. “We have an extra processor and software that ramps up the bit rate so you can utilize a single 8 bit channel,” said Colmenero.

Videssence is a pioneer in bringing fluorescent lighting fixtures into the TV studio and today offers both fluorescent and LED fixtures. A Fresnel fixture line features the VIDNEL Series VN080 adjustable beam Fresnel fixture, available in either daylight or tungsten color balance. The 80W light provides a manual slide bar to adjust the beam and lock it into place, and a touchpad on the side allows easy programming for DMX control and dimming.

Zylight re-imagined the Fresnel fixture form-factor with its F8 Fresnel fixtures, which accordian down to a small size for ease of use and transport in the field. But its small size also has advantages in the studio, where it takes up less space in the grid.

Additional arguments for deploying the F8 in the studio is its silent operation as well as wireless or DMX control.

Ryan Smith, president of K5600 in North Hollywood, Calif., said that while the company’s lighting fixtures are not often used in a traditional television studio, they are being adapted in hybrid still photography studios, where the crews are increasingly called on to add motion video to the traditional still model shots that are its stock-in-trade.

“They love using our fixtures in that studio setup because not only does it mimic the color temperature of flash that they’re accustomed to,” he said. “But they can also use a lot of the photographic accessories they’re used to, umbrellas, magnum reflectors, Mola dishes, and other accessories in their standard kit.”