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DLP Overview

By Art Feierman

About DLP

All DLP projectors use a Digital Micro-mirror Device (DMD) manufactured by Texas Instruments.  The DMD is sometimes referred at the “DLP chip”.  The DMD is a semiconductor chip that on one side incorporates an array of micro-mirrors.  Texas Instruments describes the DMD operation as:  “The bit-streamed image code entering the semiconductor directs each mirror to switch on and off up to ten thousand times per second. When a mirror is switched on more frequently than off, it reflects a light gray pixel; a mirror that's switched off more frequently reflects a darker gray pixel.”  By switching a mirror on or off the mirror physically tilts to either direct the reflected light toward or away from the projector’s lens.  Full color images can be created with DLP projectors by either using (a) three DMD chips with these generating the red, blue and green (i.e., primary colors) sub-images respectively, or (b) a single DMD chip that generates the primary color sub-images in a rapid sequence.

The single chip DLP projectors make up the vast majority of DLP projectors sold today for business, education and home theater applications.  However, 3-chip DLP projector are available for high-end home theater and commercial applications, including digital cinema projectors (i.e., as you might find at our local multiplex theater).  The cost and capabilities of projectors using DLP technology span the full gamut from miniature portable projectors using a LED light source and a single DMD chip, such as the Optoma PK320 (pictured below) with a MSRP of under $400, up to commercial 3-chip digital cinema projectors, costing well over $100,000.  Single chip DLP projectors have remained popular over the past decade and they generally offer good performance for a competitive price.

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With a single chip DLP, you start with a light source, bounce light off of the DLP chip, and ultimately, out the lens, to the screen.  Single chip DLP projectors can easily be the smallest projectors as they are the only single chip technology.  LCoS and 3LCD (like three chip DLP's) require a bigger and heavier enclosure to house the more complex optical configuration.  That is why virtually all of the small, pico class, portable projectors use single chip DLP technology.

Low cost DLP

For home theater class DLP projectors, low cost models are available from a number of manufacturers such as Acer, Optoma and BenQ.  While just a few years ago sub-$1,000 models were limited to entry-level 720p models, there are now a number of 1080p models selling with street prices in the $1,000 and under price range.  These include the models such as the BenQ W1070 (pictured  – street price near $1,000) and the Acer H6510BD (street price near $800).

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Mid-price DLP

Mid-price DLP projectors generally offer more features such wider range zoom lenses, lens shift adjustments, and creative frame insertion.  Such models also will generally project a better image with better a contrast ratio and lower black levels.  Projectors within this class include models such as the Sharp XV-Z30000 (pictured with a street price near $2,500).

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Premium DLP

Moving up to premium single chip DLP projector provides higher build quality for the projector combined with better optics and a higher end version of the DMD chip being used.  There are a few manufacturers of such premium DLP projectors and these models generally carry a price of $10,000 to $25,000.  This includes models from SIM2, such as the Nero series (pictured – starting at $19,900 MSRP).

Finally at the top of the performance and price scale for DLP projectors are those premium models that use three DMD chips.  Generally such 3 chip DLP projectors offer relatively high light output and are suitable for use with larger screens than would appropriate with most single chip home theater class projectors.  SIM2 offers several series of such 3-chip DLP projectors within their well regarded Lumis C3x series with the Lumis 3D - Solo model (pictured below) being the least expensive model at near $39,000.

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Companies including Christie and Barco have been major suppliers of commercial 3-chip DLP projectors, in both 2K and 4K resolutions, to the digital cinema industry.

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