Projector Reviews

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: 4000-6000 hours

This article about Projector Lamps was originally written in 2009, updated late 2013, and again in 2015

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 at this time.

There are also manufacturers claiming beyond 6000 hours.  I’ve seen 7000, 8000 and even one projector group claiming 10,000 hours, but beware, these days, it’s not always apples to apples.  I will explain below.

We are talking here, about 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 and far more expensive so used only in special circumstances.   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, when trying to explain what is “bright enough”

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 and 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 near 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 many if not most projector manufacturers referring to their low power setting as Eco-mode.

Bottom line, is whether a manufacturer calls it  low lamp, or low power, or eco-mode, pretty much are all the same thing.

For you home theater fans, be aware of this:

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 – a lower overall color temperature.  Not drastic differences but real ones if you want highly accurate color.  If you are looking for great color for home theater, you might want calibrations done for both brightness levels.

But who said there are only two.  I’m now seeing some projectors with three, and a rare fourth mode.  What gives?

In some cases there really are 3 different brightness modes, but more often than not, with a projector with three (or four) settings, at least one is simply a smarter mode.  More below…

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 brightness drop is not necessarily an indicator of how much the lamp life will increase. Some projectors claim a minimal increase of 25% or less in lamp life when switching to eco mode. So it’s more a dollar saving mode than a lamp life extender.

Some Projectors get tremendous Lamp Life in eco-mode with smart management

Despite the general trend of 4000 / 6000 hours in eco modes, there are some even longer. More projectors are adding hours to their lives by being smart.  Turning off projectors automatically under various circumstances, isn’t new, but what is new these days, is that some projectors  will kick into an idle mode while still on, saving electricity, and not hurting the lamp as much.  Typically those are modes claiming over 6000 hours, and most recently I’ve seen a 10,000 hour claims.

Thank these projectors for extending life by “observing” the type of  usage, and powering to low levels when the projector is essentially idle.  It might even kick in if there’s legitimate content up there, but if the content hasn’t changed for a period of time.

The thing is, to get those maximum hours, they aren’t talking about fully utilizing the projector for that many hours.  It might get you there, because you forgot to turn off the projector for hours at a time.  Most projectors do have some sort of timer or power down option if there is no active source. But powering down doesn’t buy you more hours of life because technically the projector is off.  But dropping down to a really dim image for 6 hours, counts those hours while you are not using the projector.

Let’s just say one needs to appreciate which number mean what…

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 home theater projector, that’s an extra $350+ a year, to keep me in lamps. In reality, though, it’s higher.  For home theater users, some will replace before the half life, because they need all available lumens, and don’t want it ever to drop down a full 50%.

Don’t take that price mention as a fixed price for lamps…

Projector Lamp Costs

Except for some entry level projectors, most lamps retail for $199 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 – $4000 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. I am not talking about Very Large Venue projectors with 20,000 lumens and up, I don’t get to play with those, and aren’t on top of their lamp life issues.

Prices seem to be significantly moving down on portable and projectors suitable for classrooms.

What’s the lowest cost for a good long life lamp?  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 for education pricing.

Overall, for projectors whether business or home usage, that sell for under about $3000 most lamps are $300 or less, but rarely under $130 (unless education pricing).

For you home theater people out there, and expensive lamp is never fun to need.  For those companies like JVC and Sony who’s lamps are typically over $300 (some times a lot more), just think you could get a new Blu-ray player and a dozen movies.  While lamp life and cost should not be a top selection criteria, you should know what your investment is over time, it may well influence your projector purchase.