For a few years now there has been an ongoing, as well as growing, discussion about integrated LED fixtures versus “drop-in”, or LED lamps, that fit into a halogen or incandescent designed fixture. There are pluses and minuses to both sides so let’s dive in and identify what each has to offer.
The drop-in LED lamp (especially the MR-16) has gained in popularity with outdoor lighting due to the millions upon millions of fixtures already available and in the ground. Although more expensive than replacing with a halogen lamp, the LED version offers longer life and reduced operating cost, delivering immediate payback. The downside is they are not perfectly heat managed. When used in an enclosed fixture, heat is trapped inside and unable to escape. Recent upgrades to LED packages have made replacements more robust with higher operating temperature specifications and have lessened the threat of premature failure or color change due to overheating.
In comparison is the fully integrated LED fixture built around an LED package. This system is usually higher priced, but typically has a fully managed heat dissipation system. The focus on heat management takes away the threat of changing LED color over time, as well as overheating an LED package. Similar to drop-in LED solutions, the fully integrated LED fixture options, from most manufacturers, have decreased in price year over year.
So which do you choose? That completely depends on the goals of the user, project, and end result. If cost is the driving issue and a system is already installed, drop-in LED may be the answer. If the effect, longevity, and control are the most important factors, then integrated is more than likely the preferred option.
Control is the future of LED. With individual fixture tuning and changes in scene capability, the best option is an integrated system. On a high voltage project, color changing options and centralized control are best seen on a fully integrated system, which is offered by the main manufacturers. While secondary controls (like zone control and dimming) can be added to traditional systems that use drop-in LEDs, they do have their limitations as well as incremental cost adders.
Overall, there is no definite answer as to which is better. Ask yourself questions that pertain to cost, control, and overall quality in order to choose an option suited best for you and the end user. There are plenty of opportunities for either side and choosing which is best can be difficult. Consult a Lighting Specialist who can point you in the right direction at your distributor of choice. Remember, the most important part of any project is the user and the actual light rather than the fixture. When you focus on the end result, you will always end with a successful completion.