Not All Projector Bulbs Are the Same: Here’s What You Must Know


projector bulbs and lamps information and buyers guide

The world of projectors can become confusing to navigate, especially when it comes time to change the bulb in your projector. Which bulb should you get for your projector? Does it even really matter? How do you change it? 

Are all projector bulbs the same? Not all projector bulbs are the same. Some bulbs are made for specific types of projectors. Bulbs are also manufactured and sold in different quality grades. The consumer must know which bulb is best suited for their projector.

How can you find out which bulb will work for your projector? Is it something that can be done at home? Deciding which bulb might work best for you can be as easy as you make it, and after reading on, you should be armed with enough knowledge to be able to make a confident decision for yourself.

Understanding the Projector

Before you go about replacing a lamp in your projector, it is important to understand the components of your projector for optimal use. Knowledge is power, and having this information will help you in the long run by making better-informed decisions that can affect your budget and convenience, especially when it comes to maintaining a projector.

What’s the Difference Between a Bulb and a Lamp?

If you go about researching projectors, you might become quickly confused when you discover that the terms ‘bulb’ and ‘lamp’ are often used interchangeably. It is important to note that a bulb is the source that emits the light signal. The lamp is the assembly that houses the bulb.

While you can buy a replacement bulb for the lamp itself, most manufacturers discourage this in favor of replacing the whole lamp assembly entirely.

For the purposes of this article, the terms bulb and lamp will be used somewhat interchangeably unless noted by the context that the subject is the actual bulb and the actual lamp assembly.

Are All Projectors the Same?

Benq projector

Whether you know it or not, all projectors are not the same, as there are models that utilize different technological designs. 

Like many things available in the market, the projector industry has seen an evolution as technological advancements have allowed for improvements and breakthroughs in previous designs.

21st-century projectors come in five different styles:

  • DLP
  • Liquid Crystal on Silicon
  • LCD
  • LED
  • Laser

DLP Lamps

DLP stands for Digital Light Processing. These lamps use 1-3 small mirrors, tilted at an angle, in conjunction with a circuit board, some optics, and a color filter, to produce a sharp, digital image. No filter is needed with a DLP lamp. 

With DLP projectors, it can be a little hard to discern darker colors amongst other darker colors, as the darker hues can be a little unclear. You will be able to tell when the DLP lamp needs to be replaced when a colored band (not native to the actual image being projected) appears and persists on the image. 

Liquid-Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) Lamps

Liquid-Crystal on Silicon (or LCoS) projectors work by using three panels to reflect the light from the source. The technology was first pioneered by GE in the later 1970s, with companies adopting the technology around the later 1990s.

Essentially, the panels have a silicon backing, with liquid crystal on top, reflecting a miniaturized version of the image. Because of this, LCoS finds a better use case with smaller screen sizes, preferably no larger than 130 inches wide to preserve a pristine image. Compared to most projector designs, LCoS tend to have the best contrast ratio. 

LCD Lamps

LCD, as a technology, had, at one point, become the industry standard, with use case applications ranging from computer monitors, TV displays, clocks, mobile phones, cameras, and more. 

LCD (or Liquid Crystal Display) projectors use a set of blue and red dichroic mirrors, as well as regular mirrors to reflect the display into the liquid crystal display, which then is projected onto the screen surface. 

These projectors do require some maintenance as they have a filter that sometimes needs to be replaced. As far as the picture goes, images can have better contrast than DLP projectors, but the darker hues may lack a bit in definition.  

LED 

LED (or Light-Emitting Diode) projectors use light from LED lights, which have historically been noted for their extreme efficiency in regards to both energy and economics. These projectors are also highly portable, often featuring lightweight and thermal-efficient designs.

The LED projector is starting to become somewhat of the new industry standard, as the efficiency of the LEDs, the brightness, life, portability, and an affordable cost set a high bar for any competing technologies. 

Outside of projectors, LED lights have seen wide adoption amongst every facet of life, finding uses in stadium lights, house lighting, grow lights, some car headlights, flashlights, and more. LED lighting has seriously changed the game of lighting as a whole, giving consumers a highly efficient and cost-effective lighting solution that also touts the benefit of having a long life expectancy. 

Some owners of other models of projectors have successfully modified their projectors, updating them from their original lamp display to LED display; this is generally not advised as it will certainly void the warranty but could be a good option for the “broken” projector that is well past its warranty time period.  

Laser

Having first hit the market in 2008, laser projectors are still relatively new to the projector scene. Like most new technologies, laser projection models tend to run with a very high price tag, though the prices have been coming down since its introduction.

Lasers work by emitting photon light from excited electrons, which is then transmitted through mirrors and chips until it is broadcasted through the lens. 

Laser projectors seem to hold the promise of long-lasting life and low maintenance, though the whole unit will need to be completely replaced once the light signals that there may be issues, as laser projectors do not use lamps. For this reason, the rest of this article will not focus on Laser projectors, as no lamp is needed/can be replaced in the projector unit. 

Light Source Life Expectancy

Because LED, LCD, DLP, and LCoS projectors use lamps, you can expect that, much like a standard light bulb in your house, they may need to be replaced at some point after a certain point of use. 

As projector technology has progressed over the years, the life expectancy of the light source of each technology has exponentially increased in tandem. If you are curious about the life expectancy of a projector lamp, you can use this as a rough guideline:

  • DLP – 2000 to 4000 Hours
  • LCoS – 2000 to 4000 Hours
  • LCD – 2000 to 4000 Hours
  • LED – Up to 20,000 Hours

Are All Projector Bulbs the Same?

projector lamp bulb

No, not all projector bulbs are the same. Just as each projector utilizes different technology to achieve the projection of an image, each projector also uses different bulbs depending on the type of electrical circuit it uses.

Types of Projector Bulbs

Modern-day optical bulb projectors utilize many different types of bulbs in lamps, but for the most part, are generally found to be mainly: 

  • Metal Halide
  • UHP Mercury
  • Xenon 

Metal Halide 

Metal Halide bulbs are bulbs that emit light by the reaction of electricity reacting with Mercury gas and metal halides. The technology has seen many uses from: 

  • Car Headlights
  • Security Lighting
  • Stage Lighting
  • Sports Arena Lighting 
  • Factory Lighting

Typically, Metal Halide bulbs require a few minutes to warm up to project at its highest output. Metal Halide lights have also seen wide adoption in the grow light industry, as the color spectrum emitted from the bulbs facilitate indoor growth success. 

UHP Mercury

UHP stands for Ultra High Performance (originally Pressure) and relates to the amount of pressure within the bulb. UHP Mercury lamps use only mercury in their projection system.

Compared to other lamps, the UHP Mercury lamp is considered to be very efficient. The technology for UHP Mercury came about through the company Phillips, in the mid-1990s. For the most part, the UHP Mercury bulbs are probably the most common bulb used today.

Xenon

car headlight xenon HID bulb

Xenon bulbs are projection bulbs that utilize Xenon (a gas) in the actual bulb. Electricity going into the bulb reacts with the Xenon (which is under pressure), resulting in bright light.

Xenon bulbs typically have a better color range than ranges found with UHP Mercury bulbs.

Xenon lamps are known for giving off a light that somewhat simulates sunlight, which makes them ideal for use in projectors for cinemas and searchlights, and other instances where a large beam of light is required. 

Xenon typically has a great color range, making it ideal for cinematic projectors.

Determining the Type of Bulb or Lamp You Need

When it comes to buying a replacement lamp for a projector, you might wonder whether it matters which version of your replacement you buy. Do you go for the cheaper ones or shell out more cash for the name brand ones? 

As with most things, it is up to the consumer to weigh the pros and cons of each option when deciding which projector lamp to purchase. While this can be a little daunting at first, with the following information, you will be able to find footing in the land of projector lamps. 

Learn Your Type 

Now that you have a basic understanding of the different types of projectors, it is important to know which type of projector you own.

The type of projector you own ultimately determines the type of bulb necessary when it comes time to replace the lamp. Therefore, DLP projectors take DLP lamps, LCD projectors take LCD lamps, and so on; this should be obvious but needs to be stated regardless. 

Should you put the wrong type in the projector, you could very well not only damage the projector or bulb, but also void the warranty on the projector and/or lamp.

Different Types of Projector Lamps Available

how to connect a playstation to a projector

A healthy market is a market that offers competition amongst companies to provide consumers with a better product. Just as one person’s idea of “better product” could differ from another’s, so too do the lamps differ in their own slight ways.

Perhaps you have gone to look at different lamps, only to notice that there are different options available for the same type of lamp. Some are more expensive than others. 

Essentially, lamps can be broken down into two categories:

  • OEM
  • OEM Equivalent

OEM 

OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, and when you buy an OEM product, it means that you have bought the exact specific part for your projector. OEM parts are made by the same company that made your projector, ensuring complete compatibility between the replacement lamp and the projector.

Generally, OEM lamps will tend to be more expensive than other options but are usually the highest quality. OEM Lamps tend to have a longer lamp life; a warranty is usually included on the lamp, and replacing your lamp with an OEM part is not likely to void the warranty of your projector.

OEM Equivalent

OEM Equivalent lamps are essentially lamps made to the exact specifications as the OEM lamp but manufactured by other companies outside of the original manufacturer. OEM Equivalent lamps offer the consumer a range of options to choose from, as they tend to be less expensive than OEM, but also lack in quality compared to OEM. 

As there can only be one manufacturer producing OEM parts, Equivalents are produced by many manufacturers, and thus contribute to a larger supply of products for the consumer to choose from, ultimately driving prices lower.

Generally, the cost of an OEM Equivalent lamp can be up to 20% less than the cost of an OEM lamp, with some instances seeing even greater discounts. 

As materials used to make an Equivalent product can differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, the bulb life often tends to be much lower than an OEM lamp, as OEM equivalent manufacturers often have to provide an efficient alternative at a more affordable price range.

Which Bulb/Lamp Should You Buy?

oem vs oem equivalent projector bulb and lamp comparison pros cons

This is the question that pops into everybody’s head when it comes to ordering a replacement lamp.

This can be likened to the process of repairing a car: Often, one has to choose between parts made from the exact same company that manufactured the car or using aftermarket parts made by other companies. 

Let’s Weigh out the Options….

While the OEM lamp might be more expensive, it theoretically should be of better quality and last longer than an OEM Equivalent. 

Theoretically, better build quality and longer life should lead to fewer maintenance costs, as the lamp will not need to be replaced as often. However, often OEM Equivalent lamps function just as well as OEM lamps, especially for those projectors that may only see light use periods over their overall lifetime. 

While OEM Equivalents tend to be cheaper in price, and lesser in quality compared to OEM, they are still 100% compatible with the intended projector, and maybe a great value for the right person. 

If You Can Afford It….

It might be a little too much to ask up front, but going the extra mile and spending the extra money on an OEM lamp is the best way to go. By buying an OEM lamp, you can feel confident in knowing that you bought the very best part for your projector and that the lamp sufficiently meets all of the projector’s needs. 

Cutting a corner to save some money usually ends up creating a large spiral of sunk costs as a chain reaction takes place that ends up costing more money than it would have taken just to buy the OEM lamp in the first place.

How about an example: You choose to buy an OEM equivalent part, but in the long run, it isn’t quite up to snuff and doesn’t perform exactly the way that your projector is designed to run. 

What happens?

Well, it is quite likely that your projector might suffer from several different ailments, as the components of the projector are being used in a manner that is different than what it was designed to do, even though it is 100% compatible. This ultimately results in repairs that end up costing more than it would have taken to purchase the OEM lamp in the first place, setting you back even further. 

Another example of this can be seen when going to purchase cell phone chargers. Many manufacturers sell chargers compatible with different phones, but if you were to use one of those “generic” chargers, you might find that your battery becomes seriously impaired as it gets charged at a different level than which it was intended.

Can I Prolong the Life of My Lamp?

open room and space for maintaining projector lifespan
source: Optoma

The mindful consumer takes great care in maintaining their possessions, effectively stretching the value of the money they have spent on the product by making it last longer. Can this mindset be applied to projection lamps? Absolutely.

There are many different actions you can take to maintain your projection lamp, ultimately aiding in lengthening the life of the lamp, and the projector as a whole. 

Maintain Proper Ventilation

Electricity produces heat. Your projector is chock full of electrical components that will inevitably warm up. Because of this, it is of the utmost importance to maintain proper ventilation for the projector, as prolonged heat can seriously degrade electrical components, ultimately driving up your maintenance costs. 

Think of your old desktop computer that might have been hidden away in a wooden desk, with no clear open ventilation for the tower of the desktop. Aside from poor computing habits, the computer likely became bogged down as the internal machinery of the computer repetitiously executed the same commands. 

After a while of doing the same thing over and over, the computer needs a breath of fresh air. 

The projector is no different, as often, its user’s demands often similarly tax the projector as a computer. Therefore, maintaining proper ventilation can keep the projector cool, and lengthen the life of the projector by preventing the degradation of the electrical components within.

Go Hunting for Dust Bunnies

Along with proper ventilation comes dusting, as we are sure you may be aware that electronic devices tend to collect dust (remember the desktop mentioned above?). Dust tends to collect in the unlikeliest of places.

Cleaning the dust build-up on the projector can help maintain it’s lifespan overall, as dust can act as a sort of insulation, causing the internal temperature of the projector to rise to undesirable levels.

Change the Filters

Hand in hand with providing ventilation and regularly dusting comes the regular maintenance of the projector filter. 

Theoretically, if you provide good ventilation and keep the dust maintained, the filter will not have too bad of a build-up.

However, it is important nonetheless to maintain the filter as it helps control the airflow coming directly to/from the projector. This aids immensely in keeping the projector cool. 

If a filter has a build-up and is not maintained regularly, the projector can be prone to heat damages. 

Change the Operating Mode

If your projector has it, consider running the projector in the Lamp Economy Mode. This mode will essentially optimize the projector’s performance to achieve a longer lamp life by lessening the demands of the projector on the lamp. 

Usually, the image will be slightly darker in brightness due to the setting’s limits but should lengthen the life of the lamp because it is not running at full capacity as it normally would. This basically underperforms the lamp in exchange for longer lamp life. 

Other General Maintenance Guidelines

There are a few other tips to help in the overall maintenance of a projector:

  • When shutting down the projector, you should wait until the fan completely stops before unplugging the projector. Not following this increases the chances of a short circuit.
  • Be smart when transporting the projector. Not taking care of the projector’s physical security could have seriously detrimental consequences. Anything could happen, so be mindful of how you transport the projector; maybe consider a carrying case.
  • Take great care not to leave the projector in extremely cold or warm temperatures for extended periods. When you bring the projector back to room temperature, the projector could produce condensation, which is not ideal for electronic components. Not doing this will severely impact the life of the lamp and projector overall.

How Easy is it to Change a Lamp?

If you use your projector frequently, you will inevitably have to replace the lamp in your projector. While this can be an extreme inconvenience, the process is actually pretty easy and straightforward. 

General Precautions

There are a few things to keep in mind during the lamp replacement process that are extremely important for both your health and safety and the longevity of the projector.

  • Before attempting to replace the lamp in your projector, it is extremely important to shut the projector down and leave it unplugged for at least an hour or longer. 
  • While the projector is being used, the bulb inside gets incredibly hot, and attempting to change the bulb before it has sufficiently cooled down could result in a serious burn or injury. 
  • Because of the normal temperatures of the bulb, it is important to take great care never to touch the bulb with bare hands. The oil from your skin can transfer onto the bulb, increasing its regular temperature to higher temperatures. As mentioned previously, electronics and heat do not mix, and since oil usually catalyzes heat, its best to take proper precautions. 

Changing the Lamp

The lamp is usually located beneath a panel on the underside of the projector. To get to the lamp, all you need to do is remove the panel, and then remove the used lamp module.

To replace the lamp, simply place the replacement in the same spot as the used lamp was, and reattach the outer panel. Once you have replaced the lamp assembly, go into your projector’s menu and find the setting Lamp Timer (or something similar). Reset this timer, and you have successfully replaced the lamp to your projector.

All in all, the process is extremely easy, and you have nothing to fear or worry about. 

Conclusion

You are now armed with the information needed to venture forth in your lamp projector related quests. With the information you have learned, you should be able to successfully maintain your projector by making informed purchasing decisions regarding projector bulbs. 

You now know the difference between projectors, technologies, and components. You should be able to practice a successful maintenance routine to improve the life of the projector. You should also be able to successfully replace a projector lamp. 

Not all projector bulbs are the same, nor are projector lamps the same. Projectors actually utilize a wide range of different technologies that take advantage of certain benefits while often sacrificing other features. Projectors don’t have to be complicated, and by keeping the information covered in mind, you can keep it simple when it comes to projector bulbs and lamps.

References:

http://www.haywood.k12.nc.us/technology/2015/03/13/projector-bulbs-101/

https://www.outdoormoviehq.com/ultimate-guide-to-projector-bulbs

https://www.theatricalbulbsupply.com/the-difference-between-oem-original-equivalent-compatible-lamps/

https://www.projectorlampsource.com/original_vs_compatible_projector_lamps.html

https://www.techmaish.com/4-kinds-of-projectors-explained/

https://www.howtogeek.com/402227/how-do-laser-and-led-projectors-work-and-which-is-right-for-you/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Projector

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_crystal_on_silicon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid-crystal_display

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LCD_projector

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra-high-performance_lamp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenon_arc_lamp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal-halide_lamp

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