Can light bulbs ever be a fashion statement?

This could become one of the more important questions for the industry in 2011 and 2012. LEDs last far longer and consume less power than conventional bulbs. Over a decade-plus of life, the bulbs will save consumers money.

Unfortunately, they also cost far more than conventional bulbs. The 40-watt equivalent EcoSmart from Lighting Sciences sells for $18, far more than a whole carton of compact incandescents. Different proposals -- selling the bulbs under leasing contracts, having utilities subsidize the cost -- have been put forward to lessen the sticker shock.

Qnuru and LEDnovation are seemingly trying a different tack. Both companies have begun to market LED bulbs that begin to blur the line between the light bulb as utilitarian household item and consumer electronics. Look at the Qnuru in the video. The heat sink is painted orange. It’s sort of wacky looking. And it puts out a tremendous amount of light. Although it will sit in the ceiling, you will remember its name.

And then there’s the fully dimmable EnhanceLite from LEDnovation. Yes, it costs $94. But it’s definitely more than a bulb. It’s silent (unlike some buzzing LED bulbs). It has more light than household spotlights, and it only consumes 6 watts. Strange as it sounds, it’s intriguing in the way a novel can opener can be.

The two companies share another characteristic. While they design their bulbs, they buy their LEDs from third parties: Qnuru works with Cree and LEDnovation works with Osram.

Last year, we tested three bulbs -- the Philips EnduraLED, the Pharox from Lemnis Lighting, and the EcoSmart. The EcoSmart performed the best and cost the least. Both of these outdo last year’s bulbs, but definitely cost more.

Are they worth it? Prices will continue to come down and performance will go up. But the earlier you buy them, the more your LED bulbs will seem worthwhile.