Next Big Thing in Lighting: 4 New Low-Voltage, PoE Lighting Co.‘s at CEDIA Expo 2015
Lighting veteran Wayne Ortner takes a look at new low-voltage/PoE lighting vendors at CEDIA Expo 2015, including Innovative Lighting, Rimikon, Illumadrive and Coastal Source.
October 14, 2015
Lighting control continues to be a thriving category for home systems integrators, with new technologies emerging for smart bulbs, smart switches, centralized hardwired solutions and home automation integration.
All of those product areas will be showcased at CEDIA Expo 2015, but there’s an important new category that represents the future of lighting: PoE lighting and other low-voltage systems.
CE Pro asked Wayne Ortner, an experienced lighting-control guy previously with Energy Squad – a provider of all manner of high-quality, high-efficiency lighting fixtures -- to take a look at some of the new class of lighting systems at CEDIA. Below are his thoughts and questions about four CEDIA exhibitors. - CE Pro
My knee-jerk reaction from their Website is that it’s all commercial. It will be interesting to see if they introduce residential lights at CEDIA.
As for the PoE idea, it's been tried before (and I think it has some merit), but the Achilles heel has always been the fixtures/bulbs. Since they need to be powered over Ethernet, they have a specific design, and are supplied by the vendors building the system.
The fixtures/bulbs that hang at the end of the PoE string usually end up to be somewhat shabby looking and/or have poor light, and there is no way to use the PoE system with conventional fixtures and bulbs.
The other problem is getting the builders to install these instead of the usual $5 cans that they normally use. After all, nice LED bulbs will work in $5 cans.
- Power input on the Intellidrive “node” is through an RK45 connector. Those get their power from the Network Power Switch. So the system is ultimately limited by the switch?
- White light = 30w per channel. Is it one channel per each 30 output? How would you power switch legs that are over 30 watts?
- RGB output, but how would you do RGBW, which is more popular than RGB?
- Looks like the video is showing a 6-inch recessed fixture suited for residential use. Are there other sizes and types of fixtures?
- The Light Harvesting & Circadian Rhythm options are cool ideas.
- Intelligent Network Power switches – IEEE rated, brand agnostic, but is there a speed requirement?
- So you can daisy-chain up to six fixtures per IntelliDrive. So you can power no more than six fixtures on a switch-leg without a second IntelliDrive to power them?
- How much is each IntelliDrive?
- Energy Savings to extend the LED lifespan is interesting.
Rimikon offers low-voltage wiring systems but not PoE. The company makes an IP controller that integrates with Control4, Crestron, RTI and URC. There are also options for integrating low-voltage lighting with DMX-standard controllers, as well as Lutron Radio Ra and Grafik Eye.
Naturally, integration is a big plus for Rimikon, but the full product offering seems meager. Rimikon lists these on its Website.
- 7.5w Potlight
- 11.5w Potlight
- 2.5w Cabinet light
- 1.5w/ft indoor strip light
- 1.5w/ft outdoor strip light
- 24 Volt DC Power supply
- 12 Volt DC (3 amp)Power supply
- 12 Volt DC (5 amp)Power supply
- 12/24 DC 3 way switch
- 12/24 Volt DC dimmer
VIDEO: Rimikon set-up
- Only one size which uses a proprietary size cut-out and no can. Lack of a can might not conform with some codes even though they are not 120v.
- Only one light output choice (600 lumens)
- Color temperature ranges are not good for lighting design – needs a specific spec, not a range. 2800K and 3000K will look different next to each other and homeowners will want them to match.
- The Warm White (2800K – 3000K) really needs to be 2700K
- The “White” (3100K – 3300K) is weird
- A limit of 6 lights per driver?
- Maximum total length of wire listed at 150 feet
- Is that for each fixture, or amongst all fixtures?
- Seems to indicate the need to use their own 14/2 wire. If that’s the case, it could be a turn-off for some dealers (no pun intended).
- Power supply plugs into a 120v outlet and does the 120-to-24 volt conversion.
- Diagram shows use of Rimikon’s own dimmer?
- Trim colors are a stretch: White is okay; black is okay (for things like theaters); but brown?
- 90-100 lumens each is kind of low.
- Color temperature “range” (as above) is not good. Needs to be a specific color temperature. In this case, 2700K (warm) is visually very different from 3500K.
- Recessed accessory is a good idea
- Lumen output is really low at about 110 lumens per foot.
- Can be cut to length in the field – that’s good.
- Color temperature choices are limited and there’s that “range” thing again.
- 5500K – 6500K is a fluorescent range of color
- 2800K – 3200K is almost warm enough
- The gap between these two is unacceptable.
- There doesn’t appear to be any channeling or lenses to finish off the installation and protect the strip.
Illumadrive is the newcomer of the bunch, with a solutions like Rimikon’s that works off a centralized power supply.
The lighting products and controls run on DC power, and when the AC or grid power goes out the lights stay on, thanks to battery back-up and solar integration.
The company has its own control system built into the iLLUMA-4 integrated 4-channel DC driver. The iLLUMA-4 is packed with intelligence for lighting control, dimming and advanced power management.
Complementing the driver/controller is a range of in-wall capacitive touch displays.
Illumadrive also notes on its Website that it "utilizes open protocols to facilitate integration with a variety of third party control hardware," and shows the logos of Vantage, Lutron, Leviton, Control4, Crestron and Nicolaudie.
Here are the key points from the Illumadrive Website:
- Centralized power supply, like Rimikon
- Appears to be “transformer”-based rather than PoE.
- Battery back-up is a great idea.
- They don’t make fixtures/bulbs, but claim to be partners with fixture manufacturers who will make compatible fixtures – not necessarily a healthy situation since consistent supply and specification of the fixtures is out of their control.
Coastal Source has made quite a splash in the custom integration market in the few years they’ve been around. The company makes low-voltage outdoor lighting and audio products, but I suggest skipping on the audio.
Coastal’s claim to fame is a patented low-voltage cable called Coastal Connector that “provides the most reliable way to make connections,” according to the company, which notes that “connections are the #1 cause of failure in lighting systems.” Probably so.
The connectors lock two cables into each other, creating a connection that is “totally weatherproof, saving labor costs and allowing more of the system cost for the best quality materials and components,” Coastal says. “When using Coastal Source fixtures and our patented Coastal Connector system you can rest assured that you have air- and water-tight connections that will keep your landscape lighting free from corrosion and failure.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is that dealers hate proprietary wiring.
The design and assortment of the fixtures – bullet lights, path lights, stairway lights and more -- is pretty nice, and I can tell you that fixtures like this with a high-quality construction are costly. Talking to A/V dealers, I’m not sure they really get the high cost of the brass construction.
It’s funny, I kept looking for in-depth information on Coastal’s fixtures, but there are no specs on the Website because, well, their fixtures don’t come with an LED element built in. They use LED bulbs and in some cases halogen.
There is a 150-watt limit to each output of the transformer, but these are fixtures that can use either a 12-volt LED bulb or a 12-volt halogen bulb.
Here’s the rub: Let’s say a switch leg has 140 watts worth of fixtures on a transformer output and an LED bulb burns out. What if the homeowner replaces that LED bulb with a halogen bulb? It would exceed the output limit of the transformer.
I think their lighting fixtures would have been more appealing if they had the LED light engine built into them rather than relying on third-party bulbs. Click for low-voltage lighting images.
There is good logic for dealers who are engaged in lighting control and/or home theater design to be involved in lighting. With the variability of performance of different LED lighting products, dealers suddenly have a need to know that the “stuff” that hangs at the end of the lighting control chain, will actually work properly with the lighting control chain.
When the client goes to Home Depot and brings home brand “X”, which in turn causes his Crestron system to flicker, the client will always call the dealer with a request to fix the lighting control system. Many times, the problem could have been avoided with better performing bulbs.
There is additional (and probably larger) profit opportunity however in spec-ing in things like strip lighting systems and LED fixtures.
I wrote numerous quotes for strip lighting to illuminate (1) space behind acoustic panels in theaters, (2) ceiling cove lighting, (3) space behind large flat-panel installations and (4) RGB or RGBW systems for decorative lighting applications. As for recessed fixtures, cosmetic upgrades of existing fixtures vis-a-vis retrofit-capable products is something consumers have no perspective on and they will thank dealers for presenting those options if exposed to them. The design on some of these things is flat-out beautiful.
As with every new category, dealers are non-attentive, or skeptical about getting involved. It’s the “Woodcutter” story: A man happens upon a woodcutter in the forest who is having a terrible time sawing a tree into pieces because his saw isn’t sharp. He approaches the woodcutter and says, “STOP! If you would just sharpen your saw, you could finish this job in half the time.”
The woodcutter replies, “I can’t take the time to sharpen my saw - I’m too busy!” , … I can’t tell you how many dealers (some HIGHLY regarded) told me, “I’m too busy to add another category”. The (cynical) translation in my mind was, “I already make enough money - I don’t want to make anymore.”
Nevertheless, the category is like everything else in that there is good stuff and cheap stuff out there, and yes, it’s hard to convince dealers (and for them to convince their customers) that “better” bulbs really do exist.
The difference in the lighting business compared to the A/V business is that a distribution model is necessary since the correct product selection for any given type of bulb or fixture, will likely come from a variety of vendors. (There isn’t any one vendor that “does it all”). Finding a just-in-time supply of product is difficult due to the myriad of SKU’s in the category that simply can’t all be stocked, and there are even vendors who sometimes build product to order.
This means, an awareness on the dealers’ part of who has what, for quick delivery becomes a more important concern than the best price.
Finally, regarding pricing, the lighting business is the Wild West. It’s the only category I’ve ever sold in which a vendor (or even a rep!) can fluctuate the price for increased income. That requires that dealers do a little homework to be sure their suppliers are treating them nicely!
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