LEDs cost around 35% more than flourescent lights but television studios don’t mind investing in them as they pay off in the long run
By Vinita Bhatia
If you ask some old hands who were a part of the television studio lighting team, they will recall how way before 1980s, tungsten lighting was the only choice that most media companies had. And boy, was it cumbersome!
These legacy incandescent heads and units were very heavy, with many of them providing 1000W, 2000W and so on. Many studios had over 100,000 watts of light on daily, and some of the bigger studios had even more on. The operating logic was that big lights brought bright pictures!
What transpired then was that studios had plenty of fixtures that needed plenty of electricity to power them, and plenty of air-conditioning to eliminate the heat that was generated. And this in turn meant that plenty of money was required to keep it operational.
Around 1985, fluorescent panels and halogen fresnels started to make their presence felt in the industry. However, like Peter Daffarn, MD of Photon Beard pointed out, fluorescent, whilst much more economical, had other problems such as small traces of mercury in the tubes, which could be a disposal issue at the end of the tubes’ life. Ajeet Khare, MD of Canare Lighting opined that the other drawbacks included that they had fixed colour temperature, required a separate dimmer and had high lamp replacement cost.
FLOORED BY FLOURESCENT
Nonetheless, some studios still prefer fluorescent lighting. The main reason for this is the cost. Daffarn said, “Many customers expect LED system to be cheap, but sadly that is not the case. A good quality LED light is likely to be quite a lot more expensive than its fluorescent equivalent. Add to that the fact that they are very similar in terms of low running costs and the case for LED cannot be made purely on a cost-saving basis.”
Pat Grosswendt, lighting director and co-founder of Litepanels added, “There was a day when the fluorescents were found to have as a wide, even beam of light and cast a softer light. The tubes also ran for a longer amount of time than a traditional incandescent bulb. So, to be able to bathe a set in soft light via florescent tubes instead of 2K or 5K with spun glass over the doors made sense to many.”
Highlighting their other benefits, Khare noted that flourescent lights do not emit as much heat as halogen lights do. “The power consumption is much lesser because of efficiency of the flourescent technology. These lights have inbuilt dimmers. Hence, separate dimmers not required,” he stated.
However, P Sivasankar, founder of Lotus Cine Equipments, which distributes Kinoflo lighting in India, said that now studios in the country prefer LED since it is a combination bi-colour light.
LED CAN LEAD THE WAY
When LED broke upon the scene, the industry had lot of expectations from this technology. Key amongst this was that it would require less power, would generate low heat and thereby generate less heat and need lesser cooling, have longer bulb life, etc. many of these promises were met, but there others remained, like the colour that was rendered as compared to the incandescent halogen light.
LED developers have worked hard over the past decade to improve on this, and other fronts. One of the most useful innovations was the discovery of remote phosphor LED system.
Talking about this innovation, Daffarn said, “LEDs produce light by creating a blue light at the junction and then in a traditional LED you embed phosphors around that to give you the quality of light you need. The problem with this solution is that you are working in a very small space and getting repeatability and accuracy can be a challenge. With remote phosphor, the blue light is placed around 20mm from a sheet of plastic or glass that has the phosphors embedded and now, because you are working on a much larger area, it is possible to get repeatable and accurate results for the quality of light emitted.”
Khare of Canare Lighting added, “During the last five years, LED lighting technology has improved in the following areas – consistent colour temperature, improved CRI (Colour Rendering Index) above 95, TLCI (Television Lighting Consistency Index) above 85, high wattage LED light source, better and efficient heat management system, lamp life of 50,000 hours and smooth dimming from 0 to 100%.”
CAPEX vs OPEX
There are two aspects to investing in studio lighting systems – CAPEX and OPEX. Often, while CAPEX could be lower, OPEX turned out to be higher in terms of power costs and air conditioning to remove the heat generated. Are studios finally paying attention to the latter while making purchase decisions?
According to Daffarn, many customers need to consider the wider picture. He feels the problem starts when each budget is under someone else’s control and naturally they each want the least impact on their budget. “The CAPEX holder doesn’t care if it costs more to run but is cheap to buy. The OPEX holder doesn’t care if it costs more to buy but is cheap to run. Sadly, for both, there is not a cheap to buy, cheap to run, good quality solution currently,” he argued.
Wesley Dodd, CEO of Celebro Television Studios in London said, “OPEX is becoming the more important of the two. It’s really easy for a studio to buy a certain lighting system just because the initial cost is low, but too often owners fail to think about how much extra cash needs to be spent to keep the lighting system running in the long-term. This was – and still is – the case with many traditional systems now: they’re cheaper to buy, but if you take the OPEX into account, you’ll end up spending a lot more than you first bargained for. However, I think LED lighting is helping to change purchase behaviour. Although studios looking to invest in an LED system might find that there’s an increase in CAPEX, many adopters are astounded at just how low the OPEX is compared to traditional systems, and that’s thanks to their electrical efficiency and lack of heat as well as their versatility.”
Litepanels has a process that can help studios realise how a relight can not only save them money in operating cost, but 90% of the time can help them find available utility funds to offset the cost of buying and installing the equipment. “If one stops and thinks about it, there is a 90% savings switching to Litepanels products from legacy, traditional tungsten-based lamps. And the fact that people have changed out their old cameras for new ones points to the benefit of redesigning the lights needed because the new camera sees a lot better with less intensity lights. So looking at your set and all the lights you used to have to use could be beneficial to saving even more monies,” Grosswendt stated.
Khare pointed out that all TV channels, while establishing new studios, are taking in to consideration lower OPEX with LED lighting system. Also, all under developed countries where power availability is an issue are fully moving studio lighting system to LED technology.
In the same vein, many studios often resist buying LED lights because they entail higher CAPEX investment, though they have lower OPEX as compared to traditional systems. Companies and channel partners have to spend a fair amount of time and effort educating them about its electrical efficiency and lack of heat as well as their versatility. But is it worth the effort? Maybe not for a manufacturer, since they stock all types of lighting and would like to show customers the advantages and disadvantages of all the various lighting choices – tungsten, fluorescent, LED and HMI – and let the client make a choice.
However, channel partners like Canare Lighting do take the effort. In Khare’s words, if it is a new TV studio, there is a reduction in air conditioning equipment size and reduction in electricity consumption of air conditioning equipment and lighting system sets for the additional CAPEX required for LED lighting fixtures. In case of existing studios, migrating to LED technology needs educating the customer regarding savings in electricity cost by 75%, saving in electricity cost of air conditioning equipment by roughly 50%, no consumable cost. “On top of it, there are no UV rays, which are a health hazard. LEDs provide a friendly working environment for presenters and other staff in the studio. The LED lighting system is green technology leading to lower carbon emission,” he added.
Sivasankar seconded this point of view. Besides the lower electricity consumption, LED lights do not need frequent servicing. “Flourescent lamps need to be changed almost every 10 days or a fortnight, while LED lights have a seven-year warranty. So, while the CAPEX might be 30% to 40% higher, the studios can save a great deal in OPEX in the long run,” he said. And he ought to know, having recently installed LED lighting for studios of Amazon, NDTV, TV18, etc.
MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE
While selecting a LED lighting supplier, Dodd advised that a studio head’s should chalk out some key attributes to tick out on his checklist so that they make the right choice. The most important thing to look out for is the quality of light and the colour accuracy. Although two LED lights might look the same from the outside, the quality of the LEDs inside can vary massively. One way to ensure they are getting the best light quality possible is by checking each model against the Television Lighting Consistency Index (TLCI), a new standard of measurement that’s been designed to focus specifically on the colour gamut of television cameras. It’s also worth checking the power consumption specifications of each light, as some LED fixtures can outperform their competitors by as much as 300% in terms of efficiency and battery life.
“Another thing to check is the quality of the manufacturing. A lot of studios are averse to LED lighting rigs because there are lots of products that are poorly made in places like China, but there are also some incredibly well-made systems out there. We chose Rotolight as our supplier because all of their systems are manufactured and shipped from their headquarters at Pinewood Studios in England, and that concept of an entirely British-made LED lighting system is something we were really excited about,” Dodd added.
There you have it. These are the attributes that studio clients when considering lighting channel partners and vendors. They are seeking the companies that can provide them with the right solutions at the right opportunites. They want answers, and speedy ones at that. They want troubleshooting, and pronto. They want someone who has the passion to understand their business needs. Any company that can educate them, provide them with the right solutions at the right price at the right time for the right project – that is what they seek. Are you listening?