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Cree BR30 Floodlight LED (2019) review: This affordable LED floodlight is almost perfect - CNET

Let me start by running through some of the things I think you should look for in a good 65-watt replacement floodlight LED, as outlined in my rundown of the top picks in the category:

  • Brightness-wise, your bulb should put out at least 650 lumens
  • Your bulb shouldn't draw more than 10 watts of energy
  • Your bulb should be able to dim without flickering or buzzing
  • Your bulb should offer a warranty of at least five years
  • You shouldn't pay more than $8 per bulb (ideally, you shouldn't spend more than $5) 

Cree's newest floodlight LED checks all of these boxes. Available in a two-pack at Home Depot for $10, it's an affordable and well-rounded choice that boasts an industry-leading 10-year warranty and the best efficiency I've ever seen from a floodlight. It's brighter than advertised, it handled heat build-up better than any other floodlight LED I've tested, and it didn't flicker or buzz on any of the dimmer switches I tried it out on. 

All of that makes this bulb the first one I'd tell you to consider buying if you needed new floodlights. It's about as well-rounded as LED lights come, and a worthy Editors' Choice-winner.

Check the specs

Let's go through everything this bulb gets right -- which, as it turns out, is quite a bit! 

Brightness

Along with a traditional, yellowy color temperature of 2,700 K (I measured it at 2,646 K), Cree claims a light output of 680 lumens for the bulb, which is a very good number for a 65-watt replacement. As it turns out, Cree might have been playing it modest.

Shining inside of our lighting lab's reflective integrating sphere with a spectrometer peeking in to take readings, I measured Cree's floodlight LED at 732 lumens -- a slight but not insignificant difference of 52 lumens from the stated spec. That's far enough beyond our test setup's margin of error for me to comfortably say that the bulb is brighter than advertised. With floodlights like these, which might be shining from far above in homes with high ceilings, that extra little bit of brightness can make a big difference.

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Cree's new floodlight LED is about as efficient as they come.Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Efficiency

Cree gets you those 732 lumens from a power draw of 8.5 watts, which means that the bulb is putting out 86.1 lumens per watt. That's downright outstanding as far as efficiency is concerned. The only floodlight bulb I've tested that beats it is the Green Creative Cloud LED, a funky-looking light bulb I reviewed all the way back in 2015. That bulb managed to hit 89 lumens per watt thanks to a tricky design that "floated" the diodes up above the bulb's electrical hardware to help mitigate the effect of heat buildup. Cree's bulb is almost as crazy efficient as that without any design trickery at all, which is pretty darned impressive.

At 8.5 watts, each of Cree's floodlights will add about a buck to your energy bill each year (assuming an average of three hours of use per day of use and electricity rates of 11¢ per kWh). A 65-watt incandescent that the Cree bulb might replace would add about $8 to your yearly energy bill by the same metrics.

That means that, if you're upgrading from incandescents, each of these Cree floodlights will save you about $7 per year. In other words, the bulbs pay for themselves in about nine months -- and unlike incandescents, they'll continue to run for years and years (22.8 years according to Cree, complete with an industry-best 10-year warranty).

Heat management

Remember how I mentioned heat buildup affecting LED performance? We test for that by running each bulb for 90 minutes and measuring how much the initial brightness dips as the bulb's electronics get warm. Just like your laptop, your phone and most other electronic devices, LEDs don't perform as well when they get hot. Specifically, the brightness will fall a little bit in the first 30 minutes or so of use before stabilizing at a "steady state" once the bulb's heat sinks kick in. This steady state is where manufacturers and independent testers like me take our final lumen readings.

With Cree's floodlight, that 732-lumen steady state represented 93.7 percent of the bulb's initial brightness when I first powered it on. That ties a since-discontinued GE bulb for the best result I've ever seen from a 65-watt replacement floodlight LED. Any result over 90 percent in that test is good evidence of a bulb with a quality build, and one that might be an especially good pick for an enclosed fixture, where the heat from the bulb has nowhere to go.

Like I said, there's quite a bit to like about this bulb. The quick takeaway for anyone who's skim-reading: Brightness, efficiency, value, longevity, warranty and heat management are all valid reasons to pick this floodlight over just about any other bulb in the lighting aisle. 

And that brings us to another key consideration...

It's decent on dimmer switches

The prices for dimmable LED light bulbs have fallen far enough that it doesn't really make sense to get ones that don't dim, especially given how long LEDs last. Even if you don't use dimmer switches right now, maybe you will at some point in the next 22.8 years.

That's why I make sure to test each dimmable bulb I review on a variety of dimmer switches to make sure that it actually dims well. I look for bulbs that don't flicker or buzz when you use them with dimmer switches, as well as ones that can dim down nice and low -- preferably to a minimum that's below 5 percent.

Cree passes that first test easily. It didn't flicker or buzz at all on any of our three test switches -- two modern sliders designed for LEDs, and an old rotary dial leftover from the incandescent age. On each one, Cree's floodlight dimmed smoothly.

That said, it didn't dim down as low as I'd like on any of them. With each switch, the bulb seemed to bottom out at right around 10 percent brightness. That's plenty dim for most purposes, so yes, I'm quibbling here.

Still, most competitors are able to go lower. Some, like the very strong Philips BR30 Floodlight LED that I tested in 2017, are able to dim smoothly all the way down to total darkness. If you're a stickler for dimming performance, a bulb like that might be the better choice.

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Like most LEDs, the Cree bulb's yellowy light distorted the color of this purple wall. For noticeably more accurate color rendering, go with a GE Reveal bulb.Ry Crist/CNET

Not quite a color booster

One other spot where Cree's bulb falls a bit short: Color quality. It isn't bad, but it wasn't noticeably better than most of the other LED floodlights I've tested, either.

That's a surprise, since Cree pitches this bulb's color-rendering capabilities as a key selling point. And, to my eye, it does do just slightly better than the average LED at producing more vivid shades of red and cleaner, less yellowy shades of white. It's a very small difference though, and not nearly as noticeable as the improvement in color quality that you'll get from a GE Reveal bulb. If color quality is top of mind in your home, then I'd recommend bulbs like those, instead.

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2019-cree-br30-product-photos-1

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

I've tested an awful lot of LED light bulbs over the years, and it's rare to see one that's as well-rounded as this. For $5 per bulb, Cree is offering best-in-class efficiency, a best-in-class warranty, best-in-class heat management, flicker-free dimming and ample brightness. There just isn't much of anything not to like about this bulb.

I've got my eye on a couple of other interesting new floodlights this year, including a dimmable GE Basic LED that comes out to less than $3 per bulb, as well as a 7.5-watt Sylvania floodlight LED that'll actually be slightly more efficient than Cree's bulb if it's as bright as advertised. Both might be worthy alternatives, and you could also make a case for the strong dimming performance of the Philips floodlight LED or the color quality of the GE Reveal floodlight LED. You've got a lot of really good options!

Even so, Cree's bulb is so strong that I'm completely comfortable calling it an Editors' Choice winner right now. It's well-rounded enough to be a good fit for just about everyone who uses floodlights, and with no real weaknesses, it's a bulb you will be happy with for years.

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