No signs of dimished output after about 17,000 hours using my light meter, not my eyes. My cutoff point would probably be 70% of initial lumens since that seems to be about where fluoro tubes are at their end of life. The LED will probably keep shining literally forever, but after a point its light output will no longer be considered useful.
Yep, cheap isn't always better. And the problem isn't limited to fluoro ballasts by any means. Some (not all) of the cheap Chinese eBay 5mm white LEDs will dim noticeably after only a few hundred hours.
The manufacturers test them, and my own informal test is showing similar results. In fact, I should be seeing at least 10% dimming after 17,000 hours but I'm not seeing any.
I'm not necessarily biased towards LEDs so much as biased against other light sources which have serious drawbacks. LEDs aren't perfect, but at this relatively young stage in their evolution they're already better than anything else for small lighting needs, and poised to displace everything else in time. It may ultimately not be semiconductor LEDs, but OLEDs, or quantum dots. Regardless, some sort of solid-state light source, or several of them, will ultimately displace "gas and glass".
Look here. 245 lumens, 3.5W, 70 lumen/watt, volume production slated to start this year. Efficiency projected to increase to 90 lm/W by the end of the year. Don't know about cost, but given that Lumileds dropped their 3W prices to $3.45 this year this LED shouldn't be much more in quantity.
BTW, we'll never get 1klm/w LEDs. 100% efficient white light with perfect color rendering is about 200 lm/W. Decent white light (CRI in the low 90s) can be around 350 lm/W. My best guess is LEDs will top out at 80% of those figures eventually.
They'll become cheap long before 2020. Probably by 2010 you'll be able to pick up drop-in LED halogen replacement auto headlights for the same as current halogens cost.
LEDs have much less complex driving requirements than HID so that's one thing in their favor. As for the rest, time will tell. Maybe we can make a point source LED as intense as HID, maybe we can't. We'll certainly at least equal, probably surpass, HID efficiency soon. There will certainly be a period of time when LEDs and other light sources coexist. Incandescents are the only light source I expect to more or less disappear completely within a five years. One thing I thought particularly interesting was that Maglight will start making LED flashlights. How long until the ubiquitous home incandescent light disappears completely? I'm particularly looking forwards to LED replacements for those horridly inefficient, sickeningly yellow-orange small-base chandelier-type incandescents, hopefully within about 2 years. Sure, incandescents will still be made for niche markets, in much the same way there is still very limited production of old school tube amplifiers. However, I'd say the days of mass-produced incandescent lamps are drawing to close in the not too distant future.
Never mind the jet. I'll leave two weeks before you, take Amtrak cross-country, get the boat on the West Coast, and meet you in Asia. Getting there is half the fun anyway. Once there, we should be able to get around well enough via high-speed rail, especially in Japan. China will eventually probably have an even better HSR and maglev system.
OBL just mentioned the possibility of new terrorist attacks. If he hits a few dozen airliners I'd say none of us will be flying any more. It took a few years for the industry to bounce back from 9/11 with just 4 downed planes. A bigger attack would probably kill off passenger air completely.