Is LED better than Metal Halide for sports applications?

Even now in 2022 the majority of sports clubs use Metal Halide rather than LED lighting.  This is due to the high cost of replacement and with LED lights being heavier, retrofitting may not be an option.  This means the only way forward is to replace the poles as well as the lights which is a major financial undertaking.

Metal halides still stand up against LED for initial performance, however, components for metal halide lamps are becoming increasingly difficult to source and many manufacturers now don’t even make replacement globes.

So, with LED having been available in the broader industry now for over 10 years, how’s it looking as   a cure-all for lighting problems, particularly in sport?

Problem 1 – Metal Halide bulbs need regular replacing

This is correct and the MH bulbs start deteriorating after 200 hours.  This means that after 300-400 hours, your MH lamps have lost 25% of their light output.  LED has to a high degree fixed this issue as most products are rated to 50,000 hours.  However, the down side is that if an LED fails there is not really anything that can be done to repair it and often the whole lamp will need to be replaced.

Problem 2 – Metal Halides need a warm-up time

Most MH lamps need a warm-up time of around 30 minutes.  To combat this issue a quick-start ballast was introduced by some manufacturers, but this relieved the problem rather than removing it.  By contrast LED is instant on/off and can be restarted any amount of times.

Problem 3 – LED’s produce a better light

This is a matter of opinion and not necessarily true.  Many earlier generation LEDs used 5700-6700K colour temperature as this was seen the new ‘LED look’.  The result was a visual impact of lots of light, but with a total lack of resolution and colour rendering (CRI).  By contrast, MH produces a really good light with a strong CRI.  This has been remedied by the better LED manufacturers by using higher CRI LEDs and lower colour temperatures, like 4000-5000K.

Problem 4 – Metal Halides cannot be used for lighting effects

This is certainly true due to the long warm-up times.  Flashing lights like is now common for LED simply cannot be done with MH.  This gives a lighting designer much more leeway in what to do with the lighting for special effects for celebrations, concerts etc and doesn’t have to be restricted to the limitations of MH.

Problem 5 – Spare parts for MH are very difficult to get

This is really a result on the success of LED in the other areas.  As LED has improved over the years, manufacturers of MH systems have invested less and less in innovation and then manufacture as the writing was certainly on the wall.


The overall conclusion has to be that LED is now superior to MH in most ways.  Longer, stable life, good quality light output, high CRI and digital control combine to make MH extinct in the not-too-distant future.  The only restriction currently is the cost, but as spares become harder to find, this will soon speed up the change.

Metal Halide has done an excellent job for decades, and even held off LED for a much longer time than most industries but the clock is now ticking for the final count-down.

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