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.