Finding a light bulb that casts a crisp, flattering glow can be complicated these days. The most advanced bulbs on the market—known as LED models—are kind of like the Tesla Roadster of the lighting world: eco-friendly, high-performance and loaded with dizzying options.
While the light from early-gen LED bulbs could be pallid, the latest models from major manufacturers—like Cree, CREE +1.94% GE, Lighting Science (often sold under Home Depot’s EcoSmart brand), Philips and Sylvania—are indistinguishable from a standard incandescent. They’ve also gotten brighter: You can now find models comparable to 100-watt incandescent bulbs
Prices have plummeted, too. Although at roughly $10 to $20 each, the average LED bulb is more expensive than an incandescent, you can get superlative light for that premium. The only problem is, you can rarely tell what kind of light a bulb will emit just by looking at the box. “We’re still in the wild West,” said Mark Rea, director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “You almost need to be a lighting nerd to know what to buy.” The only sure way to assess a bulb’s performance is to test it at home. Dr. Rea recommends buying from a retailer with a good return policy.