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Q: Why should I use LEDs instead of neon or colored incandescent lights?
A: There are a number of reasons, but here are just a few...
Q: Can LEDs produce an even glow like neon tubes?
A: The short and simple answer is YES! However, achieving the same effect requires a combination of several factors:
Q: Are LEDs available in the same colors as neon?
A: The short and simple answer is NO! However, that's not to say you can't produce the same colors using LEDs, only that there are certain colors of neon that are not directly produced by a single LED die. The trick is to combine the color from more than one LED type (red, green, or blue) in the proper proportion to get the desired color. This can mean using several LED packages, each with a different color, or a single package containing one or more different color die (such as the tri-color packages used on most products by Hi-Tec Designs). While I was quite literal in answering the original question as a "no", the short and skinny of it is no neon color exists that can't be reproduced by a combination of LED colors.
Q: Are LEDs truly more rugged than neon tubes?
A: Maybe a more appropriate question should be "Are neon tubes really as fragile as some make them out to be?". The simple answer to the revised question is NO! Neon tubes can take a surprising amount of abuse, but they are nowhere near as rugged as LEDs. While it's true that neon tubes can survive some fairly bumpy roads, it only takes a good shock to any point along the tube to destroy it in its entirety (rock hit, running over a cement parking block or speed bump that bends the tube, etc.). An LED package itself would be able to handle a MUCH more powerful shock, and when combined with the flexible tubes of my designs, it's practically impervious.
Q: Do LEDs last longer than neon tubes?
A: This is a tricky question...if you consider the decrease in light output over time, there is no definitive answer. The light output of an LED is decreased by a deterioration of the semiconductors crystal lattice, whereas the light output of a neon tube is decreased by a deterioration of the fluorescent phosphours. Several factors contribute to the deterioration in both cases, including increased operating temperature, increased operating current, material contamination, etc. Both will deteriorate with time, so there really is very little point in trying to compare the lifetime of one over the other. Eventually an LED will completely fail (after an average of 12+ years when run 24 hours a day), but at the same time, a neon tube will have decreased its light output so much that it may not be worth turning it on to begin with.
Assuming the neon tube or LED is made with pure materials and both will be used in the same temperature environment, the main deciding factor to longevity will be the current rating of the tube/LED. In an attempt to shine (no pun intended) in a very competitive market, many companies will increase the brightness of their products by overdriving the neon tube or LED. While this does increase the brightness, it also stresses the materials and severely shortens their usable lifespan. All products by Hi-Tec Designs are underdriven to ensure the LEDs continue to display bright and vivid colors for many years of continuous use... even so, our products are usually significantly brighter than our competitors.
Q: Do LEDs require less power than neon tubes?
A: This depends on several factors, including LED type/color, LED spacing, etc. In a nutshell, LEDs are significantly more efficient at producing light than neon tubes. If enough LEDs are placed together to match the light output of a neon tube, the power required to match it with LEDs will often be quite a bit less.
I'm sure you're thinking, "Neon system 'X' uses 80mA, while LED system 'Y' uses 100mA, so the neon system uses less power." Actually, no! Power is current multiplied by voltage. A typical LED system runs on 12V, whereas a typical neon system runs on 400V or more. So, neon system 'X' actually uses 32 Watts, whereas LED system 'Y' only uses 1.2 Watts. Add in a large number of lights and the drain on the alternator is no longer insignificant. Not so equal, eh?
Q: Do LEDs produce heat like incandescent/neon bulbs?
A: Incandescent lights are basically electric space heaters that give off light as a byproduct. They are highly inefficient, transforming the majority of the power they consume as heat. Although LEDs are significantly more efficient in point-source lighting applications (i.e., not lighting up an entire room), they are still not even close to being 100% efficient. Therefore, although LEDs will also produce heat, it is at significantly reduced levels when compared to incandescent/neon systems.
At moderate current levels (30-50 mA), little to no heat will be felt from a few LEDs. At higher current levels (100+ mA), even the most efficient LED begins to warm slightly, and as the current increases further, heatsinking is required to prevent damage. Even at moderate current levels (30-50 mA), a large number of LEDs in close proximity will put out a surprising amount of heat... several hundred LEDs in a tight matrix (like what is seen for moving LED displays) can easily burn itself out if proper ventilation and/or heatsinking is not provided.
The efficiency of LEDs decreases when overdriven and increases when slightly underdriven (too low current levels, however, will severely decrease an LED's efficiency). All products by Hi-Tec Designs are underdriven to ensure the LEDs run as cool as possible.
Q: Why isn't everyone using LEDs?
A: Much of it is due to a lack of education. Neon manufacturers certainly have no interest in seeing their business fail, so the unscrupulous ones will attempt to scare customers into thinking LEDs are inferior. Of course, it doesn't help matters when LED product manufacturers use LEDs in a non-optimal manner, thereby adding fuel to the flames when a customer sees it. Then unscrupulous LED manufacturers fire back with unwarranted claims about neon. The main factor preventing many from transitioning to LEDs, as far as we've been able to discern, has been cost. While a number of LEDs are able to match the light output and even glow of a neon tube, the cost of those combined LEDs is currently significantly higher.
The material technology behind neon tubes and LEDs is constantly evolving and improving. Although neon has been around for a longer period of time, LEDs have quickly gained lost ground and in many areas have surpassed the capabilities of neon tubes. This trend will continue into the near future, pushing the capabilities of LEDs further, allowing for brighter, smaller, and more efficient LEDs to be produced.
Q: I see ads for 7-color, 1,000-color, and even
16.7million color LED kits... are more colors really better?
A: Yes, but only up to a point. As the available number of colors increases, the ability to smoothly fade from one color to another increases. For example, a 7-color kit could only show red, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple, and white. A 1,000-color kit, on the other hand, can show the same colors as well as over 100 shades of each, which allows the kit to make much smaller adjustments to the color.
So, a 16.7 million-color kit should be even better, right? Well, to list that many colors becomes more of a marketing gimmick than a true technological breakthrough. Although exact values can never be pinned down due to each person being different, studies have shown that humans are only capable of distinguishing between 800,000 to 2 million shades of color, a far cry from 16.7 million.
Those numbers are based upon the direct viewing of the light source (such as viewing a TV or computer monitor). When you take into consideration the fact that most of the light seen from LED kits are reflected off of various sources (such as asphalt, car interiors, etc.) rather than being directly viewed, the number of distinguishable colors drops even more. In short, while a 1,000-color kit may not offer enough range, even a 2.1 million-color kit is probably overkill in even the best of conditions.
Q: Why are products by Hi-Tec Designs better
than other systems on the market?
A: A complete answer would be quite lengthy, so I'll just touch on a few of the main points.
Q: Do your products require much power?
A: Power requirements will vary from product to product, but let's look at an example of why LEDs are beginning to replace lightbulbs.
A typical maplight uses 5 Watts at 12 Volts... this equates to almost 420 milliamps. Our Mini Light gives off significantly more light, but it uses less than 100 milliamps (the light also appears as more of a "pure" white, rather than the typical yellow of incandescents bulbs). If a color other than white is selected, current levels can drop as low as 35-40 milliamps.
So, even on white our Mini is at least 4 times as efficient, and up to 10 times as efficient for certain colors. This means you can run your lights significantly longer than before without the worry of draining your battery.