REVIEWED LED panels

If your workspace is still lit using 4 x 18W recessed fluorescent units, you really ought to change them. There is a huge range of more efficient LED ceiling panels available. We have tested 10 panels from the cheapest and most cheerful to quality engineered units with sophisticated optics. We could easily have tested 10 more. We have tested both the thin flat panel (edge-lit) types and the deeper troffer types, which are backlit.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a race to the bottom in price. This, coupled with a lack of basic photometric data from some suppliers, has led to quite a few poor lighting installations. I speak to a lot of people who complain about glare, uneven light distribution, dark ceilings and areas in the office that don’t receive much light because the luminaires are arranged inefficiently.

 

Bright, white and gloomy

Obviously, a flush, recessed luminaire cannot project any light on to the ceiling – the ceiling won’t receive any direct light. So the workspace can look dark and gloomy even if the ceiling is white.

Incidentally, unless the floor and worktops are quite pale, your installation may not meet the minimum requirements of BS EN 12464-1. It is also unlikely to meet the British Council of Offices guidance, the SLL’s LG7 or the Code for Lighting. And frankly, dark ceilings are best avoided whether or not they comply.

Related to this, glare from the panels, seen against a dark ceiling, is exacerbated by the high lumen output (and hence, luminance) of some of these units. Many LED panels emit 50 per cent more light than the 4 x 18W fluorescent units they replace. More light doesn’t necessarily mean better lighting. One solution may be to dim the panels to save more energy. An alternative is to increase the light on the ceiling using extra uplighters.

To reduce the risk of glare, you need to ask the supplier for the maximum luminance (cd/m2) of the panel. We often assume that the workspace will have positive polarity screens. Common examples are word processing or spreadsheets where black lettering is seen against a white background. Here, the limit is 3,000cd/m2. However, a lot of CAD and photo-manipulation software displays lines or text against a black or dark grey background and the maximum panel luminance for these areas is 1,500cd/m2. Again, there are various solutions including dimming or using luminaires with good optical control. The guidance documents mentioned above give the luminance limits for various scenarios.

The manufacturers of all the luminaires we tested said the panels produce installations with a unified glare rating of less than 19. If you have any doubts, ask your supplier for the data to support their claim. 

Finally, we seem wedded (in the UK at least) to fixing luminaires at 2.4 or 3m centres. How do you know that the panel you choose will not create dark areas across the workspace? It is difficult to tell from the sales and technical literature because, in most cases, the data isn’t provided. Technical information costs money to produce and that’s not the name of the game for many panel suppliers.

 

Proprietary software

The solution is to calculate the values across the whole space using proprietary software. But who is going to take time to do that if the only topic under discussion is price?

In our tests, we didn’t see much of a correlation between build quality, performance and price. Choose the panel that meets your lighting needs and those of your staff, and then look at the price.

The price ranges given are based on approximate end user prices for a quantity of 50 non-dimmable versions without emergency or PIR sensor options. The ranges are: £ <£80, ££ £80-160, £££ £160-240, ££££ >£240.

This market is viciously competitive but remember that energy cost savings from dimming the panel or a more efficient optic/light engine may well override any differences in the initial purchase price.

The data we give here is based on results from the LIA Laboratories for the samples submitted by the manufacturers. The tests were conducted once the luminaires had stabilised. Thank you to LIA Labs for their help!
www.lialab.org.uk

 

Aurora Versitile

This is one of the most efficient panels we tested. It is side-lit with a remote driver. The rigid white aluminium frame has a satin powder coat finish. The frame appears seamless rather than the bevelled ‘picture frame’ effect seen on other products. The polycarbonate diffuser has a slight texture and the lit appearance is uniform at all viewing angles. It appears quite simple, but a lot of thought has gone into its design. As a result, it performs much better than similar products. This product was well packaged, with most of the technical data and sales features clearly indicated, the panel well protected and the carton less than half the depth of some.

  • CCT 3919K
  • CRI (Ra14) 82
  • Output 4,009 lm
  • Power 37W
  • Efficacy 110 lm/Wcct
  • Power factor 0.98
  • Price £
  • Great value

Contact Aurora >>>

Cree LR22

The last time we reviewed ceiling panels, we gave the Cree CR22 five stars. This LR22 is slightly different but still great quality. It is a shallow troffer with a 400mm square central luminous panel.

Cree uses its own LEDs (CRI >90) and driver, so there is no question about the high efficacy, quality or longevity. Its TrueWhite technology ensures colour consistency of the LEDs through life. Unlike many others, this panel comes with a full technical specification in the box.

  • CCT 3951K
  • CRI (Ra14) 93
  • Output 3,466 lm
  • Power 33W
  • Efficacy 104 lm/Wcct
  • Power factor 0.97
  • Price ££
  • Quality performance

Contact Cree >>> 

iGuzzini iPlan N266

This edge-lit panel is part of the iPlan family. It is constructed of aluminium and steel and the brushed anodised trim is to a high standard. The panel is less than 40mm deep, including the built-in gear. There are a large number of product varieties under the iPlan umbrella, some of which are considerably more efficient than others. Unfortunately, the only sample we could obtain in time for testing was one of the lower rated ones. The microprism panel has a diffusing film behind it so the unit maintains a UGR less than 19. A minor niggle is that the LEDs are maybe a bit too close to the diffuser around the edge. You can just see a thin line of light (you could call it a halo) next to the aluminium trim, but this may be a counsel of perfection.

  • CCT 2935K
  • CRI (Ra14) 81
  • Output 3,840 lm
  • Power 47W
  • Efficacy 82 lm/Wcct
  • Power factor 0.97
  • Price £££
  • Beautifully made

Contact iGuzzini >>> 

 

Integral LED

Integral recently celebrated 25 years in business. Earlier this year, science minister Greg Clark MP opened its lighting laboratory and test house. The LIA Labs tests show that this panel emitted over 5,100 lm. In delivered lumens per watt, it is a third more efficient than many of its competitors. The backlit panel is solidly constructed of white, powder-coated lightweight steel and has a polycarbonate diffuser. The panel has clear installation instructions and technical data. There’s even a cone diagram showing the illumination level at various mounting heights. It may be a bit plain Jane in its appearance but it’s a simple, no-nonsense unit with huge light output at a competitive price.

  • CCT 3963K
  • CRI (Ra14) 83
  • Output 5,121 lm
  • Power 40W
  • Efficacy 128 lm/Wcct
  • Power factor 0.96
  • Price £
  • Low cost, high output and integrity

Contact Integral >>>

Kosnic Kurve 2

This is a rock solid steel troffer, backlit-type unit with the driver inside the body. The matt white top reflector is a gull wing shape and there are two perforated blades. From certain angles you can see a line of LEDs through the blades which creates an attractive sparkle. To me, the central prismatic panel appears a little bright, but this is a matter of personal taste – the unit has a rated UGR of <19 for just about all configurations. The output and efficacy were the lowest of the panels we tested.

  • CCT 4102K
  • CRI (Ra14) 84
  • Output 3,254 lm
  • Power 44W
  • Efficacy 74 lm/Wcct
  • Power factor 0.99
  • Price ££££
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Contact Kosnic >>> 

Opple Grille

Opple is the largest global lighting company you haven’t heard of. It sells in 50 countries and its LED panels are sold through various UK wholesalers. It has four LED panels. Some look like a traditional fluorescent luminaire. The Grille, that we tested, has 16 deep tetrahedral cells with a bright 50mm square, diffused light engine in each. The body is made of powder-coated steel. The deep cells mean there is a 55-degree cut-off so you can achieve a UGR of <16 in most applications. Less attractive, you can see a bright patch of LEDs behind the 50mm diffusing panels.

  • CCT 3965K
  • CRI (Ra14) 84
  • Output 4,405 lm
  • Power 38W
  • Efficacy 114 lm/Wcct
  • Power factor 0.97
  • Price ££
  • A wide choice of styles

Contact Opple >>>

 

Ridi Arktik-ME LED

Not all UGR 19 fittings look the same. This one has a dropped PMMA diffuser that spreads light on the ceiling so there is less contrast between the panel and the background. There is a rather funky prismed central strip that sparkles and changes appearance when viewed from different angles. The literature shows that in a typical 2.7m-high office, 3m spacings are possible with >80 per cent uniformity. It has a rigid steel body with back-lit LEDs and built-in driver. We tested the 45W version, but there is now a 37W version with the same output.

  • CCT 4079K
  • CRI (Ra14) 84
  • Output 4,293 lm
  • Power 41W
  • Efficacy 106 lm/Wcct
  • Power factor 0.97
  • Price ££
  • A solid, professional unit

Contact Ridi >>> 

Trilux Belviso C1

It is the optical panel that sets this apart from the rest. The main body of the panel is constructed of microprisms. Also, there is a 6mm wide frosted strip around the edge of the panel. This catches the light and gives a soft glow to the perimeter. The effect of having two borders is to make the fitting less ‘slab-like’ than its competitors. The body is white powder-coated steel with LEDs on the top surface to backlight the prismatic panel. We measured the efficacy as 118 lm/W, even higher than Trilux’s claim of 110lm/W.

  • CCT 4031K
  • CRI (Ra14) 83
  • Output 4,216 lm
  • Power 36W
  • Efficacy 118lm/Wcct
  • Power factor 0.95
  • Price £££
  • The appearance sets it apart

Contact Trilux >>>

Qvis Boreal

Qvis is known principally for its tracking devices – anything from a lost pet to a smartphone, lone worker monitoring to military applications. Its lighting division is fairly new and Boreal is the premium product in a range of flat panels. It is slim, less than 10mm thick, with a quality brand driver on the back. There is a polycarbonate diffuser with a white powder-coated aluminium frame. Visually, the lit panel is uniformly bright from all viewing angles.

  • CCT 4022K
  • CRI (Ra14) 85
  • Output 4,046 lm
  • Power 40W
  • Efficacy 101 lm/Wcct
  • Power factor 0.99
  • Price £
  • Slim, uniform and inexpensive

Contact Qvis >>>

Verbatim

This aluminium panel is less than 14mm thick but has the rigidity of many steel troffer units. Most slim panels have a frosted diffuser giving a rather ‘flat’ appearance when switched on. This unit has small crystal-clear pyramidal prisms to spread the light giving it a much sharper, almost 3D, appearance. Behind the prisms is a Mitsubishi light guide (Verbatim is a Mitsubishi brand). Other panel manufacturers use the guide, so it could be seen as a nod to the real thing. Verbatim says its panel is flicker-free, and that this is a differentiator from competitors’ products – unfortunately we didn’t measure flicker so we can’t compare to the other products we reviewed.

  • CCT 3886K
  • CRI (Ra14) 82
  • Output 4,078 lm
  • Power 46W
  • Efficacy 89 lm/Wcct
  • Power factor 0.96
  • Price £
  • Sparkling appearance

Contact Verbatim >>>

Check out Gareth John's in-depth review of Noviled's 600x600 panel here