What can you expect in terms of projector lamp life?
11-7-2007 - Art Feierman
Almost all business projectors and home theater projectors use mercury vapor lamps. Most typically you will see them called UHP (Ultra High Pressure - and we'll use UHP throughout this article, to keep things short), UHM, NSH, or one of a half dozen other monikers, but basically they are all mercury vapor lamps (as are most street lamps).
In the world of projectors, today's lamps typically are rated (by the projector companies) as having a lamp life of 2000 hours under normal operation, with the projector set to run the lamp at full power. And, almost all projectors offer a full power (or "bright") mode, as well as a low power, (or "eco-mode").
That's not to say that all projectors have 2000 hour lamps. The low number these days for a UHP lamp rating is 1500 hours, and the highest I think I have seen (for projectors) is 3000 hours.
Most typically setting your projector for its low power mode drops the brightness by about 20%. We concur, however in our reviews we find that the range can vary from as little as a 10% drop (barely detectable) to 30%, depending on the projector.
There are two major benefits of using your projector's low power mode. First, the lamp will last longer. The typical projector claiming 2000 hours in full power, claims 3000 hours in low power mode.
That can vary tremendously, however. There are models out there that claim no increase of life in low power, and in some rare cases - a few Mitsubishi projectors, for example, claim 5000 hours in low power mode.
Will I really get the typical 2000 hours?
That's a really big MAYBE! Truth is, that in a typical projector that claims 2000 hour lamp life, a very, very small percentage may not even get 500 hours. (That's why most lamp warranties are 90 days or 500 hours, although a few offer 1000 hours). A still small, but much larger group will not make it to 1000 hours, and probably 20+% of the people out there won't make it to 1500 hours. (My best guess from being in the industry since projectors came to market.)
And, since the "average" is 2000 hours, you have to figure that half of the lamps won't make it to 2000 hours.
Note, one problem with lamps that are used way beyond their rated life, is that the bulbs can explode. Manufacturers design the mounts to limit damage, but you'll need to get the projector serviced if your lamp does explode.
Because of that, manufacturers, playing it safe, mostly limit how long they will let you use the lamp once it passes it's rating. Some projectors may not even turn on, others will put a warning on the screen for the first 2 minutes telling you to change your lamp, and so on. It's rare that a lamp rated 2000 hours will be allowed to run past 2500 hours.
Since today's projectors have two brightness modes, many now track low and full power separately and adjust their warnings per your usage.
The bottom line here is, don't count on getting 2000 hours, on a projector claiming 2000 hour lamp, if you run in full power the whole time. In reality, you probably have about a 50/50 chance of getting to that magic 2000 hours.
But the large majority will get 1500 hours or more off their projector lamp.
And, many who won't, have only themselves to blame.
Care and Feeding of Your Projector, For Longer Lamp Life.
In short, you can do a lot to get the maximum out of your lamp, but you probably won't.
Here is what you need to do. Whether you do some or all, or not, you've been warned.
1. Never, ever, unplug your projector before your projector gives you the OK. Almost certainly, the number one way to cause early lamp failure is to unplug a projector right after you turn it off. Normally a projector will run its fan for one to two minutes to cool down the lamp.
There are exceptions, some projectors claim no cooldown period needed (I'm very skeptical of those). And some portable projectors, including models from Panasonic, Epson and others, will continue to run their fans after you have unplugged the projector. This done with a capacitor (essentially a battery) inside the projector, that will continue to power the fan for a minute or two. If you buy one of those projectors, don't ever stuff it into your carry case, until the fan stops. If you do, you lose the air circulation, and have the same risk as pulling the plug on a projector without such a feature.
2. Most projectors - be they business or home theater projectors, have filters to clean or change. I'll concede that a significant number (maybe a third) of DLP projectors do not have filters, but all LCD and LCos projectors do. Most projectors with filters recommend cleaning the filters every one hundred hours of use. You can take it to the bank that few people follow those instructions. Some may say as long as 1000 hours between cleaning or a new filter.
The important point here, is that if you don't keep the filters properly clean, air circulation slows, and the projector starts running warmer and warmer. Virtually every projector has a high temperature warning light, and will shut down if it gets too hot, but long before that happens, the projector is running warmer.
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3. Overheating due to placement: The hottest spot in any room is up against the ceiling. If you are mounting a projector, it's better if you can have the projector hang down at least six inches. It's a tad cooler there, and there's some overhead space for air circulation. Stuffing the projector on a shelf on a rear wall, can cause overheating. While many home theater projectors are designed for shelf mounting, and vent hot air out the front or sides, that's not the case for many business projectors. Many projector manuals demand 12 to 18 inches of space behind the projector, if on a shelf, and almost all, even those designed for shelf mounting, will ask for six inches clear.
4. Run your projector in low power mode, if possible. The difference in brightness isn't great, and you'll normally get the added benefit of a quieter projector as the fan doesn't have to run as fast. I would think projector designers would wisely have better cooling in low power mode, even with the lower fan speed. With home theater projectors, this may not be as true, as low fan noise is a huge appeal of low power mode. As such, manufacturers may be more interested in a lower noise spec, than running a bit cooler than normal.
You'll remember from my comments above, that most projectors claim their lamps will get 50% more life from low power mode.
Some people shopping for business projectors may even choose to spend a couple hundred dollars more than a base model for a brlghter version (which is not uncommon). Quite often you can find a projector with, say, 2000 lumens, and a second version, for $200 more, that is 25 or 30% brighter. The brighter one, will still be at least as bright as the lower cost one, when you run the brighter one in low power. It's quite likely that the more expensive projector will cost you less in the long run.
Projector Lamp Warranties
As mentioned, most warranties provided by manufacturers, are 90 days or 500 hours. In the couple of years, however several companies that offer third party extended warranties on projectors have been offering lamp warranties as well. Don't quote me on price, but, I believe they typically are about $75, for a two year extension (that would give you 2 and a quarter year's coverage).
If you expect to be using your projector more than most, you might want to consider one of these. It should be noted, that those warranties normally have a prohibition against 24/7 type operation.