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Important Items to Consider when Upgrading to LED Stage Lighting

Important Items to Consider when Upgrading to LED Stage Lighting

Posted by Ed Gurski, Heather Ahearn on 7th Nov 2018


Many of our customers are considering switching from traditional stage lighting fixtures over to more energy efficient LED stage lighting fixtures. These customers are typically running stage lighting that is located in school and university auditoriums or Performing Arts Centers, church sanctuaries, or traditional theaters.  The questions that we most frequently discuss have to do with the benefits and cost savings of moving over to LED stage lighting fixtures as well as what equipment and firms are best for this type of project.


1.  What are the benefits of moving to LED stage lighting?
2.  What is the cost savings with LED stage lighting?
3.  Can we just put an LED lamp/driver into our existing traditional stage fixture?
4.  Will our existing lighting console work with new LED stage lighting fixtures?
5.  Will our existing architectural control system work with new LED stage lighting fixtures?
6.  What LED stage lighting fixtures would you recommend?
7.  What information is needed to receive an LED stage lighting estimate?
8.  How do I choose the right firm to work with on an LED lighting project?

What are the benefits of replacing traditional tungsten stage lighting fixtures with LED based stage lighting fixtures? Per industry expert, Electronic Theatre Controls, here are some of the major reasons to replace*:

LED stage lighting fixtures do not have a lamp. (Instead of a lamp, they use an LED driver). Consequently, there is no need to purchase lamps, change lamps, rent lifts or scaffolding to change the lamps, or move pews or auditorium seats to access the fixtures to change the lamps. There is cost savings in never having to re-lamp an LED stage fixture. This also means that you will never experience a lamp that is out or needs to be changed.

LED stage lighting fixtures produce much less heat than traditional tungsten fixtures. Since much less heat is generated, LED fixtures reduce the cost of cooling the facility space and also reduce the risk of burns to individuals operating the units,

It can be difficult to figure out the total energy savings when converting from tungsten (traditional) to LED fixtures. Most data indicates that there is an energy savings on per fixture usage. However, total energy savings largely depends on energy management of the entire lighting system. If the facility does a good job with total energy management, then there could be an energy savings.

LED fixtures are more expensive to purchase than tungsten fixtures but you do receive some extra benefits in the functionality of the LED fixtures.  One of the benefits of LED stage lighting fixtures is that colored LED stage fixtures have color mixing capabilities which can provide thousands of color options. However, tungsten light fixtures use gels to color light. This means you get an expanded set of color options with LED fixtures and don't have to pay for gel filters to change the color of the light.

There can be a time cost in learning new LED fixtures that are significantly different than the current fixtures in use. If you select LED fixtures that are similar in operation to your existing traditional fixtures, then the learning curve should not be significant.

*Source: Electronic Theatre Controls, White Papers, “DOING MORE WITH LESS How technology growth in entertainment lighting is requiring less of your budget.”

What are the cost savings in switching from traditional to LED stage lighting fixtures?

LED lighting fixtures are more expensive to purchase then traditional lighting fixtures. This means that the up-front investment in LED fixtures is more expensive, relatively speaking.

LED fixtures do not need lamps and consequently there will be savings achieved in the following: no lamps to purchase, no related labor or equipment costs to re-lamp the lights.  

There is also a clear cost-savings when operating an LED stage lighting fixture vs a traditional lighting fixture. In 2012 ETC gathered data from 5,000 small theatres around the United States and came to the conclusion that entertainment lighting fixtures are on for an average of 2 hours a day or 730 hours annually. Using current cost/kwh data, when on at full, an LED fixture costs $.03 per day to operate while the average tungsten fixture costs $0.13 per day. For a system with 90 fixtures, we get an annual electricity cost of $985.50 for LED and $4,270 for tungsten. Simply put, exchanging a 575W tungsten fixture with a 150W LED fixture is a 74% increase in energy savings. This translates into a savings of 34,164 lbs of CO2 saved each year.”*

In the same study by ETC, they mention that the real savings achieved depends on energy management of the entire system. “Looking at the cost of a system installation that includes dimmers, relays, conduit, control, and 90 fixtures, we come up with a much more complicated equation. A tungsten system of this size costs nearly 5x more to operate each day and 4x as much to install as an LED system of the same size. Purchasing all LED fixtures however will cost nearly double. With up-front costs of LED fixtures substantially higher, and infrastructure substantially lower, the entire situation once again becomes very gray. What is clear is that we cannot base our decisions solely on the lower operating costs of LEDs.”

*Source: Electronic Theatre Controls, White Papers, “DOING MORE WITH LESS How technology growth in entertainment lighting is requiring less of your budget.”

Can I just put an LED lamp/driver in my traditional stage lighting fixture, instead of purchasing a brand new LED stage light?

Yes, for some types of traditional stage lights you can convert to LED with LED drivers. The short answer is in some cases there are replacement lamps/drivers available, and in other cases the entire fixture must be replaced.  It is most important to think about the added functionality gains from a full conversion over to an LED stage lighting fixture vs. just replacing the lamp in a traditional fixture.

We have found good LED drivers for traditional fixtures for the following types of stage lighting fixtures: Borderlights, striplights, Par 56, and Par 64.  It is also possible to change many types of traditional house lighting over to LED with an LED lamp replacement.  We have not identified good LED drivers for traditional lighting fixtures for fresnel, ellipsoidal, and cyc fixtures.  For more information regarding the replacement of lamps in traditional stage lighting fixtures, with LED lamps, please see our blog specific to this topic or visit our LED Conversion section of the website.

Can I use my existing lighting console with new LED stage lighting fixtures?

Most of the time you can use the same lighting console with new LED stage lights, but it depends on the lighting console that you have currently. If you are able to retrofit most of the existing stage lighting fixtures with an LED replacement lamp/driver, then you will not need a new lighting console, and the operation of the console will stay the same. 

However, if you move to new LED stage lights, then the operation of the actual fixture changes. The LED fixtures use a set of DMX addresses which control all the features that they have to offer.  For Example- DMX 1- Intensity, DMX 2- Red, DMX 3- Green, DMX 4- Blue, DMX 5- Amber, and DMX 6- Strobe. Please note that each LED fixture will vary on the amount of DMX channels they use, but the most common LEDs will use at least four DMX values.  With conventional fixtures you would send one DMX command to the system and the light would turn on. With LEDs you send multiple DMX commands to turn on the fixture and change colors. This requires a lighting console that is equipped to handle these features and depending on the console that you have currently, you may have to replace the lighting console.

We commonly recommend that facilities that are converting over to LED stage lighting consider the use of the ETC Element 2 lighting console or the ETC Ion lighting console.

Can I use my existing architectural control system with new LED stage lighting fixtures?

This answer will depend on the existing architectural control system installed on-site. We have successfully used old architectural control systems and were able to control new LED stage lighting fixtures. Each lighting control system has a specific way of controlling the lights and sometimes a DMX converter or some type of integration component will be required in order for the system to control all the DMX values that the LEDs need in order to operate correctly.

What LED Stage lighting fixtures would you recommend?

We recommend the following products at high frequency to schools, universities, churches, and small theatres. We believe that these items are made by high-quality manufacturers and that they are available at good price points. ETC and Chauvet also offer good factory warranties on their products and have capable technical support teams.

What information is needed to receive an LED stage lighting estimate?

In order for use to provide an LED stage lighting estimate, we would need to know the following:

  • Make and model of the currently installed lighting controls system
  • Number of controlled circuits
  • Current lighting console
  • A complete inventory of all currently existing stage lighting, including the make (ETC, Leviton, Colortran, Chauvet, etc.) and model type (5/50, Source 4, Ovation, etc.) and fixture category (pars, ellipsoidal, spot, cyc, etc.) and quantity of each.
  • “Pictures are worth a thousand words.” If you are not technical, then taking pictures will allow us to use our technical knowledge and experience to figure out what you currently have installed at your facility.
  • Are you looking to do anything new or different in the conversion to LED stage lighting?
  • Do you have preferred lighting fixture or lighting console manufacturers?
  • What is your project budget?
  • Depending on the size of the facility and/or the complexity of the new LED stage lighting system being proposed, it can helpful to schedule a visit to the site to review the current system, understand the desired functionality needed in the new system, and generate an estimate that will meet all criteria.
  • Please note that traditional house lighting can also be converted over to LED house lighting. Are you also interested in an LED house lighting estimate?

How do I choose the right firm to work with on an LED lighting project?

LED lighting is a hot field right now. There are many well respected firms who are quite capable of comprehensive LED lighting projects. It’s important to look for some of these factors when choosing a reputable firm:

  • Are they factory certified field service agents for the manufacturer line that you have selected? For instance, if you are installing Electronic Theatre Controls equipment, then are they factory certified as a dealer and/or a service agency for Electronic Theatre Controls? (Dealers are authorized to sell the equipment. Service Agency are authorized to work on the equipment).
  • Have they recently received factory training? You can ask to see their factory authorization credentials.
  • Is the firm that is selling you the lighting system also going to install the lighting system? Or are they using other parties for the installation? What is the quality of the installing agency(s)?
  • Will they be able to integrate the new LED lighting with your existing control system?
  • Will they be able to integrate the new LED lighting with your existing dimming system?
  • What LED lighting system projects have they completed recently? Get a referral list and check to see how satisfied their other customer have been.
  • Do they provide a comprehensive training session on how to use and operate all equipment properly?
  • Can they be relied on to service the equipment and/or provide additional technical knowledge/training to troubleshoot any issues that may be encountered?
  • How many years has the firm been in business?
  • Have you worked with the firm before on other projects? How did those projects turn out?
  • What is the quality of the lighting equipment that has been proposed? There can be a great degree of differential in the quality of the lighting equipment. You can ask knowledgeable lighting agencies to compare the actual quality of the lighting equipment on different proposals. It is certainly easier to get a lower price on the total bid if you use lower quality equipment. You want to make sure that the equipment is the proper quality and functionality for the project.

In summary, we receive a lot of questions around switching from traditional to LED stage lighting. There are many things that you will want to consider as you decide if LED stage lighting is the right answer for your facility. Knight Sound & Lighting would be happy to answer any questions that you may have about this topic. You can reach us at or 1-866-457-5937.