HID VS. LED HEADLIGHT BULBS - WHICH IS BETTER?
People ask us all the time when considering which type of lighting upgrades to do to their headlights, what's better, HID or LED? In this video, we will talk about the four main things to consider with each technology, color, components, brightness, and beam pattern.
DISCLAIMER: In the United States, lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment are regulated by the US Department of Transportation (DOT). Even though these types of LED lights can be used in place of an original halogen light bulb, it is not legal to use on vehicles registered for on-street use. This type of modification can only be done when used in a fog lamp application, dedicated off-road application, or in jurisdiction outside the USA where this is allowed. For more information on how to determine if this type of product is safe to use, and legal to use on public roadways in the USA, Click Here for a more detailed breakdown of compliance.
Color is an essential component of your lighting choice because different colors react differently in different driving environments. Sometimes if you're in inclement weather like snow, rain, or dust, a more warm color like 4,000K or 3000K makes more sense. But if it's a clear night, some of the higher Kelvin color temperatures are better. When you use a 5,000K, 6,000K, or 8,000K you get a bright, crisp white color that most people prefer when driving.
The way color is created in an HID bulb is pretty interesting. You've got this glass tube, and inside the glass tube is a glass capsule. Inside the glass capsules are electrodes and a mixture of salts, metal, and gas.
Watch our video on HID colors, explaining in depth how that process works by checking out our other videos. For now, you'll just have to take my word for it.
When you turn on your headlight switch, electricity powers up the ballast, goes up the wiring to the bulb, and creates an electric arc inside that glass capsule which turns the gases and the mixture of chemicals into a plasma that emits light in a certain color. And they can adjust the color by changing the chemical composition inside that tube. It's a pretty volatile situation.
What happens is with an HID, you get different colors out of the box. You can do a 3000K yellow, 4,000K, 5,000K, 6,000K, 8,000K, 10,000K, 12,000K; you can even do red and pink and green. They can make pretty much any color you want based on what's inside that glass tube.
The problem is you get a lot of variations from one manufacturer to the other, from one batch to the other. One time you might get a 6,000K bulb that has a hint of green. Another time you might get a 6,000K bulb that has a hint of blue. The more reputable the brand of light, the more reliable the color will be, but it's always a variable that you might run into.
Now with LED, creating color happens in a completely different way. Instead of having a volatile chemical reaction of gases and electricity, it's essentially a circuit board. When the power goes from your headlight switch into the bulb, it goes right here. This is a solid-state set of light-emitting diodes.
Essentially what happens is on the molecular level, when you give the bulb power, there's something called a PN junction, and when atoms and electrons are moving back and forth, they release energy that creates light. On a white LED, that light is blue. The reason your LED chips are yellow is there's a filter. If you put a yellow phosphor filter over blue LED light, you get different shades of white.
Depending on how much phosphor you put over the LED chips as a filter, you get different colors. More yellow phosphor gives it more of a warm color, like 4,000K or 5,000K.
Less yellow phosphor gives it a cooler color, like 6,000K or 8,000K (shown below).
That's why when a lot of people say, I have a 6,000K LED headlight bulb, or 6,500K LED headlight bulb, they might be trying to make it, but depending on how much yellow phosphor they put on the bulb, it's going to have different shades of white.
Most LED headlight bulbs call their color 6,000K. It's the easiest to create. It's cheap, and that's what most people want. That's why you don't see a whole lot of options out there for different colors.
The problem is one 6,000K from one brand will look different in the real world than a 6,000K from another brand.
You're also seeing other headlight bulbs coming out in a 3000K or yellow color. This bulb is ideal for inclement weather like fog, specifically fog lights.
That color is either created by having a yellow or amber chip with a filter or a white chip with amber or yellow filters in front. It all depends on how the manufacturer decides to make the chip. Some methods are cheaper; some methods are more efficient, so it all depends on if you're getting a high-end product or a value brand.
With all that, when we tested all the different HID colors, we found that 5,000K and 6,000K, right in the middle of the color spectrum, the purest white possible gave us the best lighting performance. So if you just want to get the brightest thing, go with one of those colors.
The short story is there's a lot more going on with an HID conversion kit. You've got two or three parts, depending on what you're working with.
You've got a ballast, you've got your bulb, and depending on your application, you might also need some kind of a relay harness.
Let's start with the ballast.
The ballast is the thing that takes the electricity from the vehicle and converts it to a 23,000 AC, high voltage electric spark to fire up that Xenon gas light bulb. Depending on the brand you get, they're going to be manufactured a little bit differently, but I assure you they've all got the same components.
On the ballast body, you've got a power input and a power output.
That's going to be the same thing as something like this Morimoto (shown below), even though it's modular. You've got the ballast body, power input, and power output. So even though they look a little bit differently, all HID ballast pretty much work the same and do the same thing.
The biggest difference between one ballast to another is how quickly they start, how reliable they are and how solid the power is. Some ballast, you'll get some fluctuation in color and brightness if the internal components aren't up to snuff, but for the most part, they all operate the same way.
Single Beam And Dual Beam
When it comes to an HID bulb, you've got two different types, a single beam and a dual-beam. Many vehicles come with one specific light bulb for low beam and another just for high beam. So your one headlight might have two separate headlight bulbs. Another vehicle that uses a dual-beam bulb has one light bulb that does both high and low beams.
So, let's start with a single beam. The single beam is probably the most common type of HID bulb you're going to find, and it's one glass capsule that does either your low beam or your high beam.
You've got the bulb with wiring coming off of it, a grommet (because normally an HID kit needs to pass through the headlight housing), and your wiring to connect everything up.
The idea is your ballast is too big to fit inside your headlight housing. So we have to pass the wiring through, which is why it's fairly complicated. You've got a power input on the headlight interior, the grommet to pass your wiring through the headlight housing, and everything that connects to your ballast.
It doesn't matter what brand you use; they're all going to operate the same way essentially. You've got your bulb, your internal wiring, your grommet, and your external wiring.
Now when you go to connect everything, it also connects the same way. All these HID kits pretty much connect one way. You've got your power that goes in there (shown below).
You've got two smaller wires that connect on the outside, and there is your finished configuration.
If your vehicle came with a dual-beam bulb, like 9,004 the H13 or H4 that does both high and low beam in one bulb, you need a couple of extra pieces of equipment. The bulbs are totally different.
Instead of having one bulb that does one beam, this one actually has an electromagnetic solenoid on the bottom that, when energized, moves the bulb inside the housing. When it's up, it's further away from the reflector base, which gives you your low beam.
When you turn your high beam on, the bulb gets sucked down, and the light source grows closer to the reflection base giving you your high beam.
Now, how do you control all of this? It still plugs into your HID ballast the same way as before, but there's an extra step.
If you have a dual-beam bulb, you also need a dual beam relay harness.
This harness connects directly to your factory wiring. It has all the wiring for your battery, the bulb, and the ballast.This thing stretches across your vehicle: from your battery to each headlight housing, and each ballast and each bulb.
(Above: This kind of harness is required if you have one light bulb that does both high and low beams.)
It's a fairly complicated process with a little bit more install time, but it's tried and true, it works, and it works well.
When talking about the LED light bulbs, it's a much more simple, refined, and concise situation. For a single beam bulb, we've got one bulb that does just your low beam or just your high beam. This is it.
You take out your old bulb; you put in the LED, plug in the wiring for your original housing, and everything fits inside the headlight housing. It's a pretty simple install. You've got one set of LEDs because this is just making one beam pattern.
If you have a dual-beam bulb (shown above) where one light bulb does both beams like high and low together, it's pretty similar. You just need this. Again, it's one LED that fits in your headlight, plugs into your wiring, and everything fits nicely inside the housing. There are no relay harnesses to mount; it's all very plug and play.
You can see the big difference on this one is instead of having one array of LEDs. You have two. One does your low beam, and one does your high beam.
There are no moving parts. There are no extra relay harnesses. In general, an LED headlight bulb is a much more simple install.
Other types of LEDs are a little bit different. You've got some like this where there is no driver. It's a very short cable. Everything is built inside the LED.
What happens with this type is they're usually not as bright, and they're more prone to failure because the driver is built inside.
Then you have some that are more like an HID kit with a connection in the middle, the driver is external, and you have a grommet to pass the wiring through.
Sometimes this type can be really handy depending on your application, but in my experience, I found that most of them can be installed without the need for all these extra parts.
One of the most important topics when considering which way to go is brightness. It's been a well-known fact for years, maybe even decades, that an HID conversion kit is the brightest option for your headlights. But we see a lot of LED technology get into the same realm in certain applications as the brightest HID kits.
We just finished a video comparing the brightness between 35 watt HID, 55 watt HID halogen, and four different LED headlight bulbs. Go check out that video, so you see the conclusive results showing you which LED headlight bulbs are the brightest.
We even found some of them brighter than 35 watt HID and as bright as a 55 watt HID. A year ago, we couldn't have talked to you about that. So it's a pretty exciting change in lighting technology.
Generally speaking, your original halogen light bulb comes in at about 900 to 1000 lumens of light. Lumens are just the measurement of brightness, the measurement of light created by the light source. In this case, it's a little filament that glows when you give it power. A 35 watt HID kit comes in at about 3,500 lumens.
A ballast plus that bulb creates light about three and a half times brighter than your stock halogen bulbs. If you were to replace your ballast with a 55 watt ballast, you'd be getting about 5,000 lumens of light. That's a significant increase in light output from your stock bulb.
Now when we talk about LED headlight bulbs, there are a ton of options on the market.
HID is tried and true. The technology has been perfected. There's not a lot of advances happening with HID. But every single year, we see more and more products that are better and better in the world of LED headlight bulbs.
Today, the GTR lighting ultra-2 (pictured above) surpassed a 35 watt HID in our test in the other video, and we proved that it's as bright as a 55 watt HID. That is truly amazing. There's no way we could have said that even six months ago, let alone today.
Now, not all LED headlight bulbs are created equal. If you go check out our other videos where we do a shootout between many different LED headlight bulbs, you'll see that even though they use similar technology, similar designs, some of them even look the same.
They all come in at different brightness levels, and that's due to the construction. What type of LEDs, how are they built? What type of heat sinks, how much power do they draw? And so we talk about that in different videos.
Today we're just talking about the differences between LED and HID.
The biggest thing you're going to see with brightness, with HID, as soon as you turn on your headlights, they get super dim, probably less bright than your original halogen headlight bulb. But in eight to 15 seconds, they warm up, and they glow a massive amount of light.
With LED, it's instant because there are no moving parts. There's no chemical reaction. There's no charging up or warming up that needs to happen.
It's a solid-state light-emitting diode. You give it energy, and it turns on.
If you're considering an HID headlight upgrade or an LED headlight upgrade, that probably means that you originally had a halogen light bulb. Now you might have a halogen light bulb in a reflector headlight where it's all wide open with these big chrome mirrors, or you might have a halogen light bulb in a projector headlight where there's a chrome bowl behind a glass lens, which focuses the beam.
In the past, we would tell you HID is the only way to go for projector headlights, and that's because the light source, it's omnidirectional.
You've got lights shining around it, and with LED headlight bulbs, the LED chips are very unidirectional, which means whichever way you've got to LED pointed is the only way the light's going to shine.
So if they made the LED bulb incorrectly and you put it inside a projector, it's not going to make a good beam pattern. We've done a ton of testing with different LED headlight bulbs in projectors. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. We see more and more how some of the best of the best-LED headlight bulbs do work well in projector headlights, and we've proven it many times.
So you can't just buy some random LED headlight bulb, throw it in a projector headlight and think it's going to work.
Your hope for the best strategy isn't a strategy.
When we talk about reflector headlights, the technologies are a lot more forgiving. There's a lot more wiggle room in this kind of a headlight in what's going to work. Pretty much all LED headlight bulbs will work in a reflector headlight, to some degree. Pretty much all HIDs will work in a reflector headlight, to some degree.
We've found that even the best HID has a little bit more scatter in the beam pattern and glare to oncoming drivers, but with the right LED bulbs, we see more precise optical alignment that makes the best beam pattern, but it goes both ways.
If you get the wrong LED bulbs that you haven't tested that you haven't seen reviews on, that we haven't tested, you might get more scatter than with an HID. So you just got to know your stuff.You've got to do your research and make sure that you're putting something in your headlights that will work.
Here's the goal. Mimic the original beam pattern.
If you put an LED bulb in that takes your slim wide beam and blows it out of proportion, you're doing it wrong. Having a tight control beam pattern not only helps you as a driver see better, but it also prevents dangerous glare to oncoming drivers.
(Above: Features the low beam from the GTR Lighting Ultra 2)
Beam pattern is so much more than just glare and looks. The better the beam pattern, the brighter your headlights are and safer.
So are you going to go with HID or LED?
HID is a tried and true technology. It works in pretty much everything, and it's a perfected type of product. You're not going to see many changes in the market on an HID conversion kit, whereas LED bulbs are an emerging new technology that is changing all the time. The newest stuff and the best of the best are pretty exciting and worth considering.
You probably guessed by now that I'm going with LED, we test for the best of the best, and when they're good, they are good. We do a ton of testing, so if you want to see our other videos, go check those out and subscribe, so you don't miss what we come out with next.