Looking back at or review of the Philips CoralCare Gen1 fixture almost 3 years ago (issue 66) we were immediately struck by how quickly this time has passed. As then, we continue to see manufacturers going to great lengths to refine and hone their fixtures primarily to improve light distribution and blending, thus emulating the blanket of light produced by T5 technology, but without the heat and running costs. Just look at the review of the new EcoTech Radion G5 in the last issue for confirmation. While there doesn’t seem to have been any paradigm shift in the general direction of reef LED lighting, the CoralCare Gen2 fixture is a very different animal to even the V2 version of the Gen1 fixture that we’ve been running over the test tank.
First of all, let’s look at the Gen2 on paper and then we’ll examine its evolution in a little more detail, and relay our initial thoughts.
So, this fixture is available in black or white and measures in at 46x51x5.7cm. The weight is 7kg and the fixture is IP65 rated. It draws around 170watts of power and this is output through 68 state-of-the-art LEDs specifically, 12x 470nm, 22x 450nm, 4x Amber, 4x Cyan (490nm), 6x UV 415nm, and 20x 6500k. The LEDs are grouped over two distinct user-controlled channels (colour temperature and intensity) which offers control over a wide range of colour points from a warmish natural white to a deep, saturated royal blue. This is of course aimed at attaining natural colour rendering in daylight settings and maximising the fluorescence of the corals in evening settings – a scheme which the vast majority of reef-keepers desire. The light from the different colour LEDs is homogenously blended by a glass plate diffuser which also now features small clear windows to allow beams of slightly more contrasted light through to create a subtle shimmer effect. In terms of control, for automated dimming operation, up to 4 units can be wired into a single, separate controller box (sold separately). This box can then be attached to a PC to input specific lighting schedules, or can be linked wirelessly or via Bluetooth and schedules (and more) set through an app. Besides that, it also includes 0-10V input for third party controllers. Finally, the box includes a wire hanging kit to allow the unit to be suspended from a ceiling. So that’s the vital statistics covered… now onto our observations, installation and operation comments and conclusions.
As said, having been users of the earlier generation models since their release, we can’t help but compare the Gen1 and Gen2 although we’ll keep it fairly brief here as obviously this will only be of real interest to those considering an upgrade or similar. There are several major changes though, the first and most obvious being the massively slimmed-down design which we’ll now go far as to say looks quite attractive. The still somewhat industrial design is understandable though when one considers that the fixture houses the ballast, which of course means that you only have a cable with a plug coming out of the unit, with no power bricks to worry about (that said, a slightly slimmer second cable extends from each unit, which attaches to the controller). The large size of the panel means that the heatsink is correspondingly large and this means that cooling is completely passive; there is no fan needed for cooling so the units are almost dead silent (although they do ‘tick’ occasionally as they warm up or cool down). The heavy-duty construction of this fixture is IP65 rated so if the unit were to get splashed or even immersed, damage should be mitigated. On the underside, the ‘frosted’ cover of the original units has been replaced with a new and improved panel which now incorporates small circular windows of clear glass, as alluded to above, to allow for a dynamic shimmer effect (we’ll comment on this more later). In terms of LEDs, these new fixtures only have 68 compared to the 104 of the older units, but the individual LEDs are the latest generation Lumileds. While one may think that the reduction in number of LEDs and power will result in less useable output, the higher efficiency LEDs are more closely tuned to the optimal spectral output required by corals, and this counterbalances any reductions. Specifically, the new LEDs are now driven at 750mA rather than the 600mA of the Gen1 and thus the overall performance of this fixture is comparable to the previous generations (but for a 170w rather than 190w). The final major difference comes in the form of the new controller which again is utilitarian in appearance but which offers the crucial upgrade to wireless and Bluetooth app control which was sorely lacking in the original fixture. Overall, it’s a very different animal to the Gen1 fixture and we applaud Philips for continuing to innovate. While other manufacturers are still concentrating on light blending, Philips have already moved on and are clearly striving to emulate nature and make for a realistic display!
Out of the box, the fixture immediately feels well-made and while not as heavy as the original (now 7kg rather than 10kg) the new unit is no lightweight. You will definitely need to give careful thought on how to install it given the high stakes involved. The cables that come with it are slightly lighter gauge than the original but given the fixture is lighter we can’t see this being an issue. That said, if you are upgrading, you’ll want to consider this. Our Gen 1 cables are secured in quite an inaccessible location so we kept them rather than swapping to the new ones, given they are rated for a heavier fixture. The fixing points are compatible anyway. Once in place, wiring up to the controller is pretty simple. You’ll need a small screwdriver but there’s no stripping wires etc. As already said, having just straight wires coming from the fixtures without power bricks is great, as is the lack of fans. With our 2 fixtures securely suspended over the 5x2x2 test tank, the next stage is programming the units and after a quick download of the CoralCare app onto our Android phone, we connected via Bluetooth and set our schedule. It really was extremely simple and while the app doesn’t offer the bells and whistles of some others, it does cover the key bases. There are a number of preset schedules in the basic scheduler menu – shallow reef, natural reef, deep reef, overcast reef, and custom setting. For those that like to dabble, there is a schedule editor and all schedules can be viewed in demo mode where the program cycles through quickly. There is also an acclimatisation mode which we used for a week to transition our heavily stocked SPS test tank from the Gen1 to Gen2 fixtures.
After a week in acclimatisation mode and several weeks of normal operation we are happy to report no negative issues, indeed the transition has been remarkably seamless almost to the point of it being a little underwhelming! This is our only slight negative actually… in terms of the light output we’ve been hard pressed to spot any real difference from the Gen1 fixtures, even the shimmer which looks almost identical to the Gen1. That said, if Philips went too far with this shimmer effect, we’d be back into the realms of too much contrast and the associated issues. We do perhaps wonder if being able to control or boost the LEDs associated with these shimmer windows would have been useful. From both our own observations and that of other sources, we’d suggest that running the lights at a height of 9” from the water surface is optimal in terms of light spread, with 1 fixture being ideal for a 2×2’ footprint, and 2 fixtures spaced apart slightly being ideal for 4×2’ (although, we’ve got 2 on our 5x2x2 and have still been able to maintain SPS the full length of the tank). The PAR output is more than adequate for even the most light-demanding SPS tanks although we’d suggest that those who prefer strong blue lighting beyond dusk/dawn ramping should consider placing SPS corals in the upper reaches of an aquarium if maximum exposure is desired.
In conclusion, the CoralCare Gen2 is a worthy successor now offering an attractive slimline design, a proven spectral output for both coral viewing and health, and simple yet flexible smart control. Going beyond the simple blending that Philips pioneered in the Gen1, the fixture also represents the very latest in innovation available to the hobbyist with the design refined on numerous fronts. Our only minor comment was the shimmer but that is only in that it doesn’t look much different to our eyes from the Gen1 fixture…. it’s still pleasing though. It will be interesting to see the direction that Philips take if they further refine this fixture in the same way they did with the Gen1 fixture by releasing a Gen2 V2 in the future.
The Philips CoralCare Gen2 fixture is available now in the UK for around £600 RRP.