Can I just put an LED lamp/driver in my traditional stage light, 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 important to think about the benefits of converting over to a complete LED fixture vs. just an LED driver. When you replace the entire lighting fixture you gain a lot of capability in the lighting fixture replacement. In a traditional lighting fixture, you have one color, which is an off-white (yellow-orange tint). The off-white can then be colored with a gel or filter to create one new color. However, the new LED based lighting fixtures use a color mixing system which can produce over a million colors from a single lighting fixture. This means that one LED lighting fixture can take the place of many traditional lighting fixtures, because the LED fixture can transition from one color to another color through a DMX control cable. This is just not possible from a traditional lighting fixture. This means that you should take into consideration the possibility that if you convert from traditional to LED lighting fixtures that you may be able to use fewer fixtures to achieve great color mixing possibilities. This should result in an energy savings due to the operation of fewer total units.
Some traditional stage lights have cavities that are too small to be compatible with LED drivers and therefore can't be converted over to LED. This is because of the large size of the LED drivers relative to the small size of the cavities of traditional stage lights. The biggest difference between traditional incandescent lamps and LED lamps is that LED lamps require a "driver". The driver is like a ballast for a fluorescent light and is used for converting voltage -- in this case from 120vac to 5vdc (or 12vdc or even 24vdc) -- for the output to the LED crystal. The LED driver is typically fairly large and just cannot fit into the relatively small cavities of a traditional stage lighting fixture.
Some traditional stage lights are not compatible with LED drivers because of heat sensitivity. The other issue with LED drivers is that they are sensitive to heat and will fail when "enclosed" in a cavity, such as a stage lighting fixture. There is no ventilation in a stage lighting fixture, because manufacturers did not want light leaks going over a dark stage. Hence, there is no cooling. A lack of cooling literally bakes the LED driver and causes it to fail. Remember, incandescent lamps wasted almost 90% of their energy in heat loss. Less than 10 percent actually created light. That is why traditional stage lighting fixtures would get so hot and you would have to wear gloves when handling the fixtures.
In some cases, there are LED based retrofit lamps/drivers that are available and will work with your existing dimming system. The following is a basic list of what currently does or does not have a retrofit LED based lamp available for stage and house lights. We have found that in many cases there are good LED replacement drivers available to convert your traditional stage lighting to LED lighting for borderlights, striplights, PAR 56 cans, PAR 64 cans, and house lighting fixtures. However, we would strongly recommend you consider replacing your traditional lighting fixtures with LED for for fresnels, ellipsoidals, and cycs. Furthermore, as discussed above, there are plenty of reasons to switch to full LED fixtures, including energy and labor cost savings, heat reduction, and added functionality like color-mixing and DMX control. These all make a strong argument for the conversion over to full LED fixtures.
Types of traditional fixtures for which we have found good LED drivers:
Borderlights or Striplights These are fixtures with long strips of lights that provide a broad coverage of light. Borderlights and striplights typically use a PAR38 lamp at 100 to 150 watt. We have found an LED based PAR38 lamp that will work well in these fixtures. These are typically around $25 per LED lamp. Some of these Par 38 LED lamps will last up to 50,000 hours as compared to around 2,000 to 3,000 hours for a typical incandescent lamp.
PAR 56 and PAR 64 Cans. Can lights are used for general down and front lighting and do not focus. Par 56/64 cans typically use a PAR 56 or PAR 64 lamp at 300 to 1000 watts. We have found an LED based PAR 56 and PAR 64 retrofit lamp that will work. These are typically between $300 to $600 per retrofit lamp. The cost is dependent upon the wattage replacement desired. The higher the output, the more costly LED driver.
House Lighting Fixtures. There are retrofits available for house lighting fixtures. The retrofits are typically around $400 to $800 per retrofit, but work in the existing house lighting fixtures. These are white only (however different color temperature is available from 2700K to 5600K) and will work with the existing dimmers. These retrofits allow you to keep your current housing which is important for facilities such as churches where the fixture housing may have an aesthetic or architectural impact.
Types of traditional fixtures for which we have NOT found good LED drivers:
Fresnel Lighting Fixtures. Fresnels are used for down, side, and back lighting. No Retrofit LED lamp currently available of which we know. We believe that the cost difference is just not worth it for the manufacturers as there are lots of new LED fresnel lighting fixture options available in the $300-$1000 range.
Ellipsoidal Lighting Fixtures. Ellipoisdals are used for front lighting, spots, and special effects. We have not found a good retrofit LED lamp for most ellipsoidals. The cost difference is just not worth it for the manufacturers. The manufacturers have to use different cooling fins and lenses with the LED models. The only real exception is the ETC Source 4 lighting fixtures. ETC came out with the Source 4 Forward, which is an LED Based Retrofit that can replace the incandescent lamp, but it costs around $600 for a white only LED. No color option is available.
Cyc Lighting Fixtures. Cycs are used for back lighting, curtain lighting, scenery lighting, and cyc lighting. We have not identified a good retrofit LED lamp for cyc fixtures. New LED cyc fixtures are priced inexpensively at around $300 to $1500 with the price depending upon the capability of the fixture.
Unfortunately, retrofit LED stage lamps are just not as common as traditional lighting fixture lamps, which use standard sized incandescent lamps. This biggest reason is the amount of light output that a stage lamp needs to produce in relationship to a traditional lighting fixture. The second big factor is the amount of demand for the retrofit LED lamps. If there were millions of people asking for retrofit LED based stage lamps, then more manufacturers would move to this product line, but they just are not there.
This may change, but I don't believe it will, because the cost of LED based stage lighting fixtures keeps reducing each year. The prices have gone down by at least 3/4 of their price in just the last five years. If you wanted an LED based ellipsoidal stage lighting fixture just a few years ago it would have cost $5,000 per fixture. Now, we are in the range of $1,500 per fixture for the LED ellipsoidal lighting fixtures. If this industry trend continues, then we will see the prices on LED stage lighting fixtures continuing to decrease.
Please contact Knight Sound & Lighting at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-866-457-5937 if you should have any questions about converting some of your traditional stage lighting fixtures over to LED stage lighting fixtures.