Projector Lamp Life and Brightness

Let’s start off by saying the most common Lamp life specs out there for both business and home theater projectors are:

At full power: 3000-4000 hours
In low, or “eco” power: 4000-5000 hours

This article originally written in 2009, updated late 2013

There are exceptions, some projectors trying to pack maximum punch will drive the lamps harder – shorter lives.  There are still a number of 2000 hours at full power projector still on the market as 2014 approaches.

This assumes the traditional high pressure mercury lamps used in the vast majority of projectors. There are also very expensive Xenon lamps, used in some high end projectors, and those typically have an even shorter life.  Since they are the rare exception in business or home, we’ll not focus on the Xenon lamps here.

Most manufacturers rate their lamp life, not to failure, but to the point where the lamp is half as bright as it was when new.

With that in mind, remember that your projector will be noticeably, but not drastically dimmer as it approaches the end of its rated life. In our reviews, we try to take that into consideration.

How much loss in brightness is 50%? That’s easy, consider any room. Imagine two 100 watt lights each with its own wall switch.

Start with both lights on. Now turn one off. Bingo, there’s your 50% drop. I’ll bet you can imagine that!  What that tells you, also, is that if you have some ambient light, if you can half the ambient light by the time your projector lamp is old, you can maintain the same relative brightness between image an room ambient.

It’s not a bad idea is to buy a projector and screen for your room, that when new, you can enjoy watching (brightness wise), with the projector on the low power setting. On most projectors that is 25-35% less bright than full power.

If you do that, as your lamp gets dimmer, kick the projector into full power and while that won’t offset the full 50% drop to end of life, it will make the loss in brightness rather minimal to the eye.

Full power vs. Eco (or low) power mode

I’m not sure who coined “eco-mode” but it has become popular, or perhaps I should say “trendy” with a number of manufacturers referring to their low power setting as Eco-mode.

Bottom line, is that low lamp, or low power, or eco-mode, pretty much are all the same thing. There is normally some color shifting between full and eco modes. The same calibration settings won’t deliver really close to identical results.  One might have visibly more red.  Not drastic differences but real ones if you need highly accurate color.

Be sure your projector will be bright enough

With business projectors this really isn’t an issue, as most can spend a few dollars more for a projector with more than enough brightness.  3500 lumen projectors start for less than $1000, and that’s bright!

In the Home Theater Projector space, however, purchase decsions are more often made primarily around picture quality, and placement flexibility, and many people will choose a less bright projector, if they feel it does a better picture. As a result, projector brightness is something people grudgingly accept. “I bought projector X because of its great picture, but really wanted a projector 25% – 35% brighter, like projector Y, but Y just doesn’t have the picture quality.”

In terms of lamp life ratings, the amount of drop is not necessarily an indicator of how much the lamp life will increase. In some cases, such as the JVC RS1, a drop of almost 20% gets no improvement in lamp life, according to JVC’s specs. Sony’s 1/3 drop off on some models, only gets the standard 2000 – 3000 hour improvement, despite the large shift in brightness.

Some Projectors get tremendous Lamp Life in eco-mode

Despite the general trend of 4000 / 5000 hours, there are some even longer. More projectors are adding hours to their lives by being smart.  Turning off projectors automatically under various circumstances, but new these days, is that they will kick into an idle mode while still on, saving electricity, and not hurting the lamp as much.  6500 and 7000 lumens have been seen on some projectors in these “smart” eco-modes.

If operational costs are an issue for you, and you are a heavy users – say 1500 hours a year or more, then lamp life and replacement lamp costs can be a significant issue. Consider – myself, I run my own projector roughly 2000 hours a year, so for my JVC, that’s an extra $350+ a year, to keep me in lamps. In reality, though, it’s higher. With about 1400 hours on my lamp, I now believe I will probably replace the lamp in the next month or so, because, the overall brightness on my 128″ screen, is definitely getting marginal.

Projector Lamp Costs

Except for some entry level projectors, most lamps retail for $249 to $449 range.  It’s the bigger more powerful business projectors on one hand (think 8000 lumens and up), and some of the mid-high end projectors – $5000 and up, where $400 or $500 is not uncommon.   On some high end names, for the home, such as Runco, SIM2, etc., lamp costs can run double.

Prices seem to be significantly moving down on portable and projectors suitable for classrooms.  Epson, it should be noted, offers lamps for most of their projectors that fit that description, for $79 to $99 for school purchase.  $99 to $199 is becoming the sweet spot.

News And Comments

  • AKA_GodinGal

    My projector has 900 hours on the original lamp and it is 10 years old. I am noticing that unless I power it on at least an hour before I want to watch a movie, it is very dark and almost devoid of colour. Time for a) new lamp or b) new projector
    I have a viewsonic PJ510

    • ProjectorReviews.com

      Greetihgs AKA!

      Sorry, I just don’t know. I doubt it is the lamp, but I’ve heard of stranger things. Of course with 900 hours on a 2000 hour lamp, your lamp is probalby already down about 25-35% in brightness, but lamps just don’t take 30 minutes to stablize, unless there’s a power supply issue, or something else on the projector’s end.

      A call to Viewsonic couldn’t hurt, but, all considered, if it’s the projector, it’s probably time for a much better projector than that one, for a small fraction of what you paid for it. And you’ll have a fresh warranty, lamp, etc, higher res, and a far better picture. Start counting your money… -art

      • AKA_GodinGal

        Well, thank you for your response. Much appreciated. I decided that something else was wrong, so I replaced my component cables with new ones and voila, new life into an old projector. Feels like almost new again. The red component cable had failed. I replaced the three of them, as they were the same age. Thanks again for your reviews and advice. Now, I can take my time to research a new one. Thinking about the Epson pro8200

  • http://massageforwife.blogspot.com/ Nida batool

    Well, My projector runs almost 1800 hours with one lamp. I use Osram lamps

  • Kathryn Soraiz

    We’ve used our BenQ MX615 (old, I know) in Theater setting since
    2011. We’ve gotten messages to replace the bulb (based on hours usage) for a
    while. On Jan. 2, 2014 we got the message that we’d exceeded the timer’s 5000
    hour max count time, to replace the lamp, and reset the counter.

    We hadn’t noticed diminished brightness and have, by our estimates used the same lamp over 1100-1200 additional hours since then. Today it showed the first signs of failing so I’m researching to see if we want to upgrade or purchase a new
    lamp.

    We’ve bought three projectors in 10 years. All three projectors are by different
    manufacturers – Toshiba, Epson, BenQ. All three have given us thousands of
    hours of use.

    We run them our machines pretty hard. The first was a Toshiba and we retired it when we were unable to find a lamp for it. We probably could have had it longer had a newbie not turned the projector off after hours of use, quickly turned it back on, turned it off and then on, again, in rapid succession — yes, he was confused about the instructions being given.

    Long lamp lives could be
    luck or it could be technique. We do try to keep dust out the projector and — here’s what I think is key — we set a small 4″-5″ diameter fan directly next to
    each projector to blow air into the fan side of the unit and help keep the
    machine cool. The fan connects via usb or wall plug to an outlet and cost
    about $6 at Walgreens.

    Hope the suggestion helps someone…$6+ a projector is a whole lot cheaper than a new lamp.

  • amar saeed

    i have infocus in35w it has 1955 hours and displays lamp indicator. i want to just reset the counter if i will ? what happens?

    • ProjectorReviews.com

      I believe the IN35W claims 2500 lumens at full power and more in eco mode. Some projectors give you lots of warning, although I’m suprised that it would be working you before 2000 hours, with a 2500 minimum. Is the warning message going away shortly after power up, or staying on?

      What happens if you just reset the projector’s lamp counter is projector model specific. Some lamps are smart enough that the projector “sees” the wear on the lamp, and might ignore your reset, from the practical standpoint.

      Some projectors will simply shut down when you hit the stated usage (2500 hours). Assuming the projector can’t tell that you haven’t replaced the lamp (some use electronics in the lamp itself to monitor, then a reset would give you zero hours, and the lamp will keep running until it fails. However, sometimes when you run lamps beyond their claimed life, they don’t just die, they explode in the projector. That makes a mess – remember there’s mercury in the lamp.

      I would really suggest you contact InFocus and find out from them what will happen. But you do want to avoid the lamp exploding. The msrp on the lamp is $299, so not cheap. -art

  • avbug

    I have a BenQ W600+ that warned me at 3500 of 4000 hours to order a new lamp. It has been running well for 3 and a half years. It is now at 3900 hours and still provides a decent picture without noticeable brightness loss. It has been run on a ceiling mount and with a battery backup. Just got the new replacement lamp for $230. I will swap it out when I hit the 4000 hour mark and see if there is a change in the brightness.