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Philips Color Kinetics

ColorReach Powercore

Issue 49 Jun / Jul 2009

The Philips Color Kinetics ColorReach was one of the stars of the show at Lightfair according to David Morgan.

Color Kinetics has a rich history as one of the first companies to successfully exploit the use of colour changing LEDs for architectural lighting and has secured a number of somewhat controversial patents on the control of LEDs in colour-changing lighting systems. It was this market leadership that made it an attractive target for Philips when it absorbed Color Kinetics as part of its ever-expanding luminaire empire.

As part of the wider group Color Kinetics continues to push the boundaries of LED applications with the ColorReach Powercore.

The ColorReach Powercore is a high output exterior floodlight for use in a wide variety of architectural lighting applications. Designed for use on high-rise projects such as relighting the Empire State Building, it has a throw of more than 20 stories or 500 feet (150 metres). Designed by the Philips Color Kinetics design team in Boston, USA it is manufactured in Mexico.

I have seen it used to great effect on the exterior of the National Theatre in London and the throw and light output is very impressive. Other high-profile installations include County Hall on London’s South Bank, the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Florida when it hosted  the Super Bowl XLIII earlier this year and the Gateshead Millenium Bridge in Gateshead, UK.

The ColorReach Powercore incorporates 104 Cree LEDs, ironically not made by Phillips’ own Lumileds LED brand. Each LED runs at around 2.5 watts with a total power consumption of 270 watts while the lumen output is claimed at 5,200 lumens giving an efficiency of around 19 lumens per watt.  While this appears quite low compared to metal halide based floodlights, once dichroic colour changing filters are included the efficiency of metal halide could end up at fairly similar levels. The total efficiency of both LED and HID systems will depend on the particular colour output and optical system so direct comparisons are not straightforward. The projected long working life for LEDs and the high maintenance costs of relamping luminaires in hard-to-reach exterior mounting positions makes the higher initial cost of using LEDs good commercial sense for this type of application.

The initial version of the ColorReach Powercore shown at the Light and Building exhibition last year was only in an RGB version but at Lightfair  a white and amber version was introduced. The LEDs are grouped in two banks which can be controlled separately and luminaires can also be supplied with one RGB and one white / amber panel. Each panel can be fitted with a different optical controller panel.  So from a single luminaire a wide wash light can light the lower stories of a building in one colour while a narrow beam is used to reach the higher floors in a different colour.

The slim profile housing is made from die cast aluminium in a well-detailed and elegant design with deep heat sink ribs on the rear surface, giving it the appearance of an industrial strength video monitor.

The central mechanical angular locking mechanism seems very robust and the mounting stirrup allows easy mounting. I was impressed by the fact that the luminaire kept remarkably cool during the demonstrations that I attended which is an indication of good thermal management of the LEDs to achieve the 50,000 hour rating to 70% initial lumens. There is also an internal thermal control system to ensure correct operation in high ambient environments.

The ColorReach incorporates CK Powercore technology that means that the single four-core supply cable provides both power and data for control. An internal driver, RGB controller and power supply means that only mains power and data need to be supplied to the luminaire making installations easy to cable and to set up. The ColorReach can be controlled by Philips controllers and also by industry standard DMX controllers.

The optical control of each single colour LED is well-executed combining lens and mirror optics to give a standard 5° distribution. A series of gasketed optical film spread lenses can be added, on site, to the ColorReach giving a range from 8° to 63° and including an asymmetric 5 x 17°. This aspect of the luminaire design seems to be the most questionable that I noted. While it is a great advantage to be able to add the spread lenses on site without having to open up the luminaire the optical films are made of polycarbonate and are likely to be exposed directly to sunlight, organic solvents and other chemicals that may be in the atmosphere and get deposited on the lenses. When the luminaire is pointed upwards water may tend to pool to some extent on the lenses. 

This combination of dirt and UV from sunlight may well degrade the lenses making them yellow and thus reduce luminaire light output long before the LEDs start to loose their efficiency due to aging.

So far there are few direct LED based competitors to the ColorReach, these include the Spectacolour LED floodlight from Articulight which is based on a red, green, blue and amber combination of LEDs. This approach is meant to allow more subtle colour control and greater number of colour options but the total power is only 65% of the ColourReach and it has a less sophisticated optical system.

Overall the perceived build quality and performance of the ColorReach is impressive and there are few competitors offering a similar colour-changing light output from LED sources. With that in mind, my prediction is that this is one market niche that Philips CK will dominate for a while.


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