Posted by Doug Root on 23rd Feb 2021

Ballast and Voltage to 2 Prong Light Bulbs: Common and Not-so-Common Lighting Terms Explained

Here at Atlanta Light Bulbs, we recognize that there are a lot of technical terms that may appear on our website, some of which are less than self-explanatory. We’ve rounded up a number of these and featured them here in this article that covers everything from 2 prong light bulbs to color rendering index (CRI).

Check here first if you see a term that you don’t recognize, and if you want to learn more just give a member of our team a call!

-2 Prong Light Bulbs: Just about all light bulbs have a base and even those that don’t have features that function like a base, such as the small, automotive lights that have exposed wiring and can be placed directly into the socket. Many other forms of lighting have bases that require the user to screw them in; for example, these are common in most forms of household lighting.

However, some forms of lighting have “pronged” bases that need to be pushed or snapped into the socket. Among these are 2 prong light bulbs (also known as bi-pin connectors) and 4 prong light bulbs, along with some other variants. Common forms of lighting with prongs for bases include certain fluorescent lights such as CFLs.

-ANSI Code: The ANSI, or American National Standards Institute, developed a system for coding certain types of lamps, which code determines certain features of the lamp such as base type and wattage. If you become familiar with the ANSI code, you can identify certain technical information associated with the lamp, without needing additional external sources.

-Ballast: Certain types of lighting, such as fluorescent lights and HID lamps, require an additional component in the circuit to regulate the current and voltage to ensure that the lamps operate. In the case of these types of lamps, they need a component known as a ballast without which the lamp would quickly burn out. However, ballasts don’t just prevent the light in question from burning out. They also enable the lamp to burn at its intended brightness and light output and help to preserve lamp life.

-Electronic vs. Magnetic: Magnetic ballasts are, at this point, aging technology. The classic problems of flickering and buzzing associated with fluorescent lights in the past were mostly due to magnetic ballasts. Today, most fluorescent lights use one of three types of fluorescent ballasts, either a rapid start, an instant start, or a programmed start ballast.

-HID Ballasts: Probe Start vs. Programmed Start: HID lamps, like fluorescent lamps, also require a ballast to regulate their voltage and current in order to operate properly. The two main types of HID ballasts are probe start ballasts, which have a longer warm-up period, and pulse start ballasts, which use a high-voltage pulse to start the lamp and help to protect lamp life.

-Driver: Another form of lighting, known as an LED, or light-emitting diode, requires a similar piece of infrastructure to a ballast in order to operate properly. This device is known as an LED driver and it converts high voltage alternating current into the lower voltage direct current that LEDs need to operate. Drivers also ensure proper luminosity and better LED lifespan.

-Capacitor: A capacitor is a component of an electrical circuit that stores energy between two terminals, selectively allowing the circuit to be kept open or to be closed, depending on how far apart the terminals are. Capacitors are widely used in electronics as well as in lighting.

-Color Temperature: Have you ever looked at two different lights and noticed that one looked “whiter” or “bluer” than another, which appeared more “yellow” or “red”? This phenomenon is known as color temperature, and it is a metric for assessing the comparative, perceived warmth of light output. On one end of the spectrum, you have color temperature that is known as cool, which consists of bluish, whitish output, and on the other end of the spectrum, you have warmer color temperatures that appear red, yellow, or orange. This is often a big concern for accent lighting and it’s important for buyers invested in the apparent light output of lighting.

-Color Rendering Index: Color rendering index, or CRI, is a measurement of how a given light source affects the way we perceive colors affected by it. On a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being the worst and 100 being the best, CRI measures how closely a light source makes a given object appear with respect to its actual color. For example, a very warm red light would make everything under it appear red; this is a low color rendering index, whereas daylight allows colors to more closely represent themselves, which is a higher CRI.

-Current: Current, given in amps, is a measure of how much electricity flows along a given circuit. Current, when multiplied by the resistance of a circuit, gives the voltage of the setting; therefore, current is instrumental in determining if a light bulb can or cannot be safely used in a given scenario. However, this is normally measured by voltage, which is electrical potential (see below).

-AC and DC: Alternating current, also known as AC, is a system wherein the flow of electrons is “alternated,” which is more efficient in transporting electrical power over long distances. This is contrasted with DC, or direct current, in which the electricity only flows in one direction around a circuit.


-Fluorescent lamps: Fluorescent lamps, which are typically linear, u-shaped, or circular, are a unique form of lighting that uses the concept of fluorescence to produce visible light. Fluorescent lights have an inner tube that produces UV light; the outer bulb is coated with phosphor powder, which glows with visible light when exposed to UV. Despite the fact that fluorescent lights contain mercury and must be carefully disposed of, they produce excellent quality light, are energy-efficient, and long-lived.

-Full Spectrum: Full-spectrum is another term commonly encountered in lighting applications, and it refers to the type of light emitted by a given bulb. A full spectrum bulb emits all of the light of the visible spectrum - hence, full spectrum - which is the same as the visible light that reaches the Earth from the Sun. Because of this, full-spectrum has been likened to “daylight” and is often used to provide the feeling of natural lighting.

-Incandescent Lighting: The incandescent light bulb is the quintessential light bulb and was one of the first widely available forms of lighting. An incandescent light bulb consists of a glass bulb full of inert gas, often argo, along with a filament that is typically made of tungsten. When electricity flows through the bulb, along the filament within, the filament releases some of the energy that flows along it in the form of light. This is known as electroluminescence and is the process by which all incandescent bulbs operate.

-Halogens: Halogen bulbs are a specific form of incandescent bulb that is made from a fused quartz bulb contained within a larger glass bulb. Within the smaller bulb, there is a tungsten filament along with Halogen, which is a gas composed of iodine and bromine. The principle of electroluminescence is the same here, with the exception that the Halogen gas enables the “Halogen cycle” whereby the particles that burn off of the filament are re-deposited back on it, extending the lamp life.

-HID Lighting (and types): HID. or high-intensity discharge lighting, is another form of lighting, this one being popular for lighting up large areas, particularly outdoor areas at night. For this reason, HID lights are very popular as high bay lighting, security area lighting, parking lot and street lighting, and lighting other outdoor areas like stadiums. Among the many types of HID lighting are mercury vapor (MV) lamps, high and low-pressure sodium bulbs, and metal halide (MH) lamps, among others. These types of lamps, like fluorescents, need ballasts to operate; in addition, HID lamps can only be operated in certain fixtures in certain positions. That is to say, some lamps must be burned in a “base up” (BU) position or a vertical position, among others.

-LED: LEDs, also known as light-emitting diodes, are very popular forms of lighting that have been up-and-coming for many years. Made of a semiconductor material that glows when electrons flow across it, LEDs are enormously energy efficient and last far longer than the next most efficient forms of lighting, which, generally speaking, are fluorescents. In addition, LEDs draw little power and produce little heat, which makes them desirable for businesses and homes looking to cut energy consumption and cooling costs.

-Lumen: A lumen is a rating of the light output of a given light source, related to the human eye’s ability to perceive it. Often contracted to lm or LM, the light output rating of a given light source in lumens is required in many places.

-Male and female: Male and female are methods of categorizing fittings and connections with respect to whether or not they are intended to be inserted into a fixture or to receive a connection. Male connectors are intended to be plugged into other receptacles whereas female connections are intended to receive connections. For example, the prongs of a 2 prong light bulb are a male connection, and the fitting for which they are intended is a female connection.

-Photocell Sensors: A photocell sensor is a special device that is sensitive to the ambient light of a given environment. These types of sensors can be hooked up to lights to regulate the lights remotely based on whether it is light or dark out. For example, photocell sensors are commonly used with street lights so that the lights go on when it’s dark out and shut off when it’s light. This is more helpful than timers, as the number of hours of ambient light changes throughout the year and sometimes during the day, it becomes dark enough to merit lighting, such as during a rainstorm. Other practical uses for photocell sensors are for security systems and stadium lighting.

-Reflector: A reflector is a device, often contained within a lighting fixture, to improve the focus of light output without the need for a lens. Reflectors, which often look like shiny, dimpled, metallic “backdrops” for light fixtures, focus and concentrate the light in the direction it is intended to be used.

-Tombstone: Fluorescent lights fit into specialized sockets that are sometimes known as tombstones because of their apparent shape, which does appear somewhat like a tombstone. If you see this word on our website, that’s what we’re referring to.

-UV: UV is short for ultraviolet light, which constitutes a class of wavelengths that are right on the outside of the visible spectrum of light. There are three forms of UV light that have practical applications in light: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA (and sometimes UVB) lights are commonly known as blacklights; these are the lights used in clubs for effect, though they also have some other applications such as in bug zappers. UVC lights, on the other hand, are used for germicidal and virucidal applications, sterilizing wastewater, treating food preparation surfaces, general sanitation, and more. These types of UV lights should be handled with care and exposure to them should be avoided.

-Voltage: Voltage is a measure of the resistance of a circuit, given in volts, which are a function of current and resistance. It measures the electrical potential of a circuit and will determine what devices can be safely used in it. For this reason, all lamps are specified for use at a certain level of voltage.

Hopefully, you found some interesting morsels of information in this article, perhaps even finding some answers to long-standing questions you may have had. However, if you’re still in need of assistance or come up with additional questions, we’re never more than a call away!

You can get in touch with us at 1-888-988-2852 or even via a live chat right here on our website if you want to learn more. We love hearing from our customers and would be happy to shed some light on the answers to your questions, so reach out to us today!