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Video projectors recreate images at a larger scale than would be possible with even the largest TV monitor, using a lamp, laser, or other light sources to project visuals onto a wall, screen, or another flat surface. Projector performance relies on what type of light source any given model uses—and there are benefits and drawbacks to each type. This article outlines the differences between common model types such as lamp-based, laser, and LED projectors…and explores which situations are best to use each.
OLD-SCHOOL LAMP PROJECTORS
This traditional type of projector creates images via high-pressure mercury arc lamps that backlight a color filter. Over the decades, lamp projector design has improved in lifespan and brightness; however, it remains more maintenance-intensive and lacks many of the features enjoyed by other projector types.
Brightness: <2,000 lumens
Lifespan: approximately 2,000 hours
- The initial investment may be more cost-effective for a low-use application
- Good color and image quality
- Lightweight and portable
- Easy to operate
- If a lamp breaks you can replace the broken component rather than the entire unit
- Replacement parts have become more affordable in recent years
- Relatively short lifespan
- Picture color/brightness decrease over time
- Not capable of as much brightness as other projector types
- Maintenance requirements cause ongoing expenses for replacement parts and labor
- Lamp replacement adds to costs (and complications if a specific part is discontinued)
- Inefficient power consumption
- Extended warm-up time for the projector to begin functioning after turning it on
- A cool-off period is required when turning the projector off
- Continuous use causes overheating
- Can be noisier due to internal fans
- Internal filters are susceptible to dust and need to be regularly cleaned and/or replaced
- Lamps contain mercury and other hazardous materials that must be handled and disposed of properly
To meet the demand for more brightness, some lamp projectors feature a dual-lamp design. While this succeeds in making them brighter, it increases maintenance requirements and costs.
Lamp projectors may be the best choice if you can’t afford a big initial payout but will be able to afford possible ongoing costs down the line. They may also be more cost-effective if you’ll be using the projector infrequently, so its shorter lifespan won’t be used up quickly. Because they tend to have lower brightness, lamp projectors are better for displaying straightforward information for presentations or other visuals that don’t need enhanced color or video capabilities. If you opt for this type of lamp, be sure you can set it up in a place that will be easy and safe to reach for routine maintenance and repairs.
A NEW ERA: LASER PROJECTORS
Boasting myriad pros and very few cons, laser video projectors use an engine composed of laser diodes or other laser technology as a light source. The laser passes through a color wheel and bounces off mirrors inside the device to reproduce an image.
Brightness: <3,500 lumens
Lifespan: 20,000 hours
- Little to no maintenance cost
- Better overall picture quality and brightness that remains consistent over time
- Boasts a wide color spectrum, sharp hue contrast, deep blacks, and bright whites
- Instant startup at the push of a button
- Cool operation means they don't need ventilation, fans, or dust filters
- Energy efficient
- If one of the projector engine's laser diodes fails, the projector will still operate
- No mercury is healthier, safer, and more environmentally-friendly
- Possible built-in features such as speakers and smart technology
- Some models boast 360-degree installation that allows them to be mounted anywhere
- Higher cost of purchase
- The large, heavy size makes them less portable
- You may have to replace an entire unit if it breaks, as you can't simply buy new components
- Can suffer "rainbow effect" due to delayed adjustment of the spinning color wheel
Top Picks from SoundPro
- Epson PowerLite L630U Full HD WUXGA Long-throw Laser Projector
- Sony VPL-PHZ61 6400 Lumens WUXGA Laser Projector
If your budget allows, a laser projector is almost always the superior choice no matter what application you’ll be using it for. It’s particularly ideal for applications with more ambient light (such as outdoors or spaces with unshaded windows); all-day, heavy usage; professional installations; and high-quality video displays or movie showings.
LCD, LED, AND MORE
A comparison of projector types wouldn’t be complete without exploring some of the other categories you’ll find when exploring the selection available on the market today. These types are differentiated by the technology they use, either as a light source or to create color.
DLP is popular for home theater and gaming due to its excellent video quality, lower maintenance, and lower price point, whereas LCD is a common choice for home and business use and LED is ideal for small spaces that need great performance and cool operation.
Digital Light Processing (DLP)
DLP technology uses one to three digital micromirror devices (DMDs), which are chips comprised of microscopic mirrors. DMD chips reproduce individual pixels in each frame of an image, alternating between primary colors so quickly that the human brain combines them into the desired visual. DLP projectors direct light sources (from lasers, LEDs, or traditional lamps) through a spinning color wheel.
Lifespan: Dependent on the light source
Brightness: approximately 2,000-5,000 lumens
Contrast Ratio: 500:1 to 100,000:1
- Outstanding value and image quality
- Consistent color performance
- More pixels for sharper images
- Smooth, clear, jitter-free video
- A sealed chipset prevents dust spots
- Typically small, lightweight build
- Filter-free design for virtually no maintenance that saves time and reduces costs
- May suffer from “color breaking” where a slight misalignment of primary colors at the edge of the image causes the additional color to be noticeable at close range
- Some DLP with less than 3 DMDs suffer from a perceivable “rainbow” effect
- Produce lower color light output than 3LCD options
- Operational noise may be caused by the spinning color wheel
- (Models that use lamps share their pros and cons.)
Top Picks from SoundPro
- Panasonic PT-FRZ55U 5000 Lumen 1-Chip DLP Laser Projector
- Panasonic PT-FRZ60U 6000 Lumen 1-Chip DLP Laser Projector
- Panasonic PT-RCQ80U 8000 Lumen 1-Chip DLP Laser Projector
- Panasonic PT-RZ890U 8500 Lumen 1-Chip DLP Laser Projector
- Panasonic PT-RZ690U 6000 Lumen 1-Chip DLP Laser Projector
Light-Emitting Diode (LED)
LED technology has become increasingly popular in a variety of lighting situations, and video projection is no exception. This projector design uses an array of LEDs as its light source, which negates many of the drawbacks encountered with traditional lamp projectors.
Brightness: 2,000 lumens
Lifespan: about 20,000 hours
- Low cost and maintenance requirements
- Longer lifespan compared to most DLP models
- Low heat generation
- Can be mounted at non-standard angles
- Some models have filters that may require routine cleaning
Top Picks from SoundPro
Liquid Crystal Display (LCD/3LCD)
This projector design creates a combined image using three transparent LCD panels to reproduce red, green, and blue colors, respectively, which are then combined when the light source projects through the lens. This creates the image at one time, rather than using a color wheel to create three separate stages per frame (as some DLP projectors do).
Lifespan: up to 20,000 hours
Brightness: 3,000-13,000 lumens
- Enhanced color accuracy/black levels
- Better color accuracy
- Resistant to color breaking
- No spinning color wheel means less noise during operation
- Simple to use
- Bright, true-to-life images
- High color brightness and high white brightness
- Images may suffer from noticeable pixelation
- Requires constant airflow to keep components cool during operation
- Requires frequent maintenance due to dust susceptibility
- LCD panels can deteriorate if exposed to heat and UV rays, leading to image deterioration
Top Picks from SoundPro
- Epson PowerLite U50 WUXGA 3LCD Wireless Projector
- Panasonic PT-VZ585NU 5000 Lumen 3 LCD Portable Projector
SETTING PROJECTOR PRIORITIES
When deciding what type of projector to purchase, you’ll need to sort out your priorities:
- Can you invest a lot of money now, or are you willing to spend more money on repairs later?
- How will the projector be used, and how often? Do you anticipate your application’s needs changing in the future?
- Who’s going to use it, and who will be responsible for maintenance?
- Where is it going to be stored, installed, or operated? What screen type and size will you need?
- What lifespan and maintenance do you expect from it?
- What specifications (brightness, etc.) do you need for your application?
Taking the time to figure out these details will help you find the perfect projector for your unique situation. And when you find that perfect projector, you’ll be equipped to experience wonderfully rich, finely detailed images that bring your presentations, films, and other imagery to life.
Need more information to decide what projector is right for you? Reach out to the experts at SoundPro at email@example.com or 800.203.5611.
Laura has been a part of the SoundPro team since the summer of 2021. In her downtime, she enjoys hiking, quilting, and watching shark documentaries with her cat (though not all three at once).