Case Study: Retrofitting a News Studio with Efficient LEDs at NBC Cleveland

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LED lighting technology has reshaped our society in recent years. From screens of all sizes, to parking lot lights, to animated accent lighting in buildings around the world, the LED has replaced all other methods of creating light. Its versatility, efficiency and longevity have made it a staple of the 21st century.

LEDs generate little heat, consume much less electricity and have a significantly longer lifespan. Power is a major expense in a television studio, both to run the lights and to remove the heat they create. It is not uncommon to see the power draw in a TV news studio in the upper five figures.

Conventional light fixtures require bulb changes and other maintenance on an annual basis. Professional LED fixtures are good for a minimum of 50,000 hours of operation. This represents approximately 10 years of intensive studio use.

What does it take to convert a studio with conventional lighting to LED-based lighting? An example is a recent project done at the Tegna-owned NBC affiliate, WKYC in Cleveland.

Vincent Lighting Systems was contracted to provide a turnkey solution for WKYC’s main news studio.

This included removal of existing old lighting, supply and installation of new LED fixtures, design and commissioning of a custom control system and coordination of installation labor . I was appointed lighting director to design and specify the lighting system and define the on-screen appearance.

Lighting at the WKYC studio. Photos courtesy of Nicholas Hutak.

As LED fixtures have developed over the past few years, certain types and brands of fixtures have risen to the top. Although they last much longer than traditional light sources, most LEDs degrade over time because the phosphor that creates the color is mounted directly on the LED itself. Remote Phosphor fixtures protect against this waste by separating the phosphor that creates the color from the LED. This extends the color consistency of the unit well beyond the average LED life of 50,000 hours.

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Although LED fixtures generate little heat, they are heat sensitive, so cooling is essential. This can be done using fans or with passive cooling done with no moving parts. My choice in a heavy use situation is the passive cooled remote phosphor fixtures.

For this project, I chose BB&S Lighting luminaires as the main light source. Their Pipeline Reflect fixtures with three-foot and four-foot distant phosphor and four benches provide base and accent light. The Area 48, a smaller, remote phosphor fixture, provides “soft key” light for each position. What I like the most about these remote phosphor panel fixtures is how they render skin tones. They also pack more punch, i.e. more apparent light output than traditional LEDs of the same wattage.

The 1′ Pipeline Reflect fits perfectly into the office providing the most prominent and flattering facial lighting. The size and mounting options of this small, highly efficient fixture made it possible for the VLS team to fit into an existing office. A new addition to the BB&S line, the Compact Beam Light is designed for excellent long-range backlighting at a distance of 25 feet.

Chroma Key zones and video walls are always tricky. I was able to use BB&S Pipeline 6′ single bank units just above the screens and off camera to provide backlighting on presenters 3 feet from the wall. The same long, narrow fixtures work extremely well in the Chroma Key area.

As with many established studios, WKYC had several ETC Source-4 ellipsoidal fixtures in its existing inventory. I was able to replace the “light engine” of these old tungsten units with their LED retrofit, the Source 4WRD, a saving compared to a brand new fixture.

In addition, there is the DeSisti Picoletto. This very small and versatile Fresnel spotlight provides excellent backlighting in tight spaces around the edges of the studio. All luminaires were at 5600°K. I find that monitors and video walls adapt more easily to this color temperature.

The use of daylight balance was also suggested as the studio has views to the outside in some areas. Unlike conventional fixtures that require filters to create color, color changing LED fixtures can create millions of colors with instant precision control. Several were used to refresh some of the set lighting.

All this technology must be mastered. Once operational, each presenter is moved to their position and a custom light for that individual is set and stored. The VLS CoPilot Broadcast system can then recall this setting either through studio automation or by dragging a presenter’s image to their seated position on a studio map. This is an invaluable feature in the world of shrinking studio staff. This whole package has been designed for future expansion as the lighting control system itself has the capability to control far more than what is currently in use and can be programmed and maintained remotely by VLS technicians at as the needs of the studio grow.

The complete installation took 5 days. One concerned the demolition and preparation of infrastructure. It took three to hook up, focus, and do the basic programming. The last day was devoted to the visit and the development. Work began several months in advance with a site visit and meetings with the Senior Manager and Close Support VLS team in Cleveland. Before the LED retrofit, the studio consumed 40,000 watts. It now consumes 7000 Watts.

This new ultra-efficient studio consumes significantly less energy, eliminates labor hours for lamp changes, and will maintain stable color characteristics of lighting for the next decade.

Nicholas Hutak is a two-time Emmy Award-winning lighting designer with 132 broadcast news studios on 4 continents under his belt. He can be reached at [email protected] or online here.

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