DLP projector vs LCD projector

Contents

DLP projector vs LCD projector: an introduction

There are 2 main techniques used to project an image: DLP projection and LED projection. Each of these techniques come with benefits and drawbacks, highly differing in average price point. However, the main use of understanding these techniques is not to wow your friends with your tech knowledge, but to help you decide which projector type would best suit your needs and budget. Here we will settle the DLP projector vs LCD projector dispute.

DLP projector vs LCD Projector: Man in front of projector.

DLP

Digital light processing (DLP) was developed in 1987 and has been a popular method of projecting images since. 

DLP projector images are created through a series of microscopic mirrors laid out on a digital micromirror device (DMD). Each mirror is representative of one pixel and as such, the number of mirrors emulates the resolution of the projector. These mirrors rapidly move to block or reflect light sourced from a projection lamp, laser or LED. Before the light hits the DMD, it is first passed through a colour wheel in order to closely replicate the image being fed by the source.

DLP chip
DLP Chip with mirors

There are two main types of DLP projectors:

  • Single chip
  • Triple chip

Undoubtably, triple chip projectors will produce a higher quality image as there’s more room for mirrors and as such, there are more pixels. This does not mean that single chip projectors are bad, they’re just usually lower quality. However, be a little wary when investing in a single chip DLP projector as often the rainbow effect can be a nasty byproduct of these devices.

Both single and triple chip DLP projection is available using either a lamp, laser or LED.

Lamp based DLP projectors

Traditional DLP projectors source their light from a lamp, making them the cheapest within this category. However, with any lamp based projector there is a limited life for the lamp, ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 hours.

It is important to note that although manufacturers will state a number for the expected lamp life, this is listed as a maximum. Before the lamp dies, the brightness and contrast of an image will fade, so it’s important to factor in replacement before this expected time. Fortunately lamp replacement is relatively easy and cheap, costing around $400 USD. 

Lamp based DLP projectors offer better value, delivering on high Lumen ranges from around 2,000 to 5,000. This makes them excellent choices for home theatres and immersive gaming experiences in controlled light environments. 

Summary: Lamp based DLP are the cheapest option, but have the lowest life expectancy (3,000 hours). However, the lamp is easy to change and on some models consumer friendly. Lamps use more energy than their LED counterparts. Good for immersive home cinema and gaming. 

Laser DLP projectors

Unlike their lamp based counterpart, laser DLP projectors are on the higher budget spectrum. 

Laser projectors don’t need to use a colour wheel for projection. Instead, the laser can produce any colour needed. This makes it more efficient and consume less energy than lamp based DLP systems. Furthermore, lasers offer high, consistent brightness with a life of 20,000 – 30,000 hours. This makes them perfect for uncontrolled environments, such as classrooms and business meetings. 

It’s important to note with laser DLP projectors that the ability to switch out the laser after it has died is near impossible for the average consumer. These are guaranteed to last at least 10.9 years at 5 hour usage per day. 

Other benefits of Laser based DLP projectors include the ability to minimise heat, greater installation flexibility and consistent light brightness. 

Summary: Laser DLP projectors are the most expensive option, but are the brightest and have the longest life expectancy (20,000 hours). Adaptable to most situations, they generally offer a large lens range. Good for uncontrolled environments like business meetings and classrooms. 

LED DLP projectors

LED projectors offer a series of energy saving bulbs, that are prone to staying cool. LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are powered by an electrical circuit and illuminated by electrons. With LED projectors, instead of light passing through a colour wheel, the individual LEDs combine red, green and blue to create colours passed on to the DMD.

LED light example
LED light

There has been a rise in popularity amongst this DLP/LED hybrid, causing the price to fall amongst this option. With high brightness, low energy consumption and a 30,000 hour LED life, it’s no wonder the demand for this hybrid is rising. It’s important to take into consideration, although the life expectancy of LED projectors is high, LED lights in general are expensive to replace. 

Summary: LED/DLP hybrids are rising in popularity and falling in price. They are the least energy consuming model and have a long life expectancy (30,000 hours). 

DLP Projector overview

ProsCons
High Quality, smooth imagesCan produce the rainbow effect, with brief flashes of colour across the screen
Excellent contrast ratioReduced viewing angle
Laser/LED DLPs eliminate the need for lamp replacement, whilst Lamp DLPs are easily changed Laser/Lamp DLP can use more electricity
Lightweight Noise of colour wheel can be an annoyance for some
Higher light output due to mirrors 
Highly accurate images 

LCD projector 

LCD stands for liquid crystal display. It works by sending light from a lamp through a prism or series of dichroic filters that separate light into three polysilicon panels. These panels represent red, green and blue, the basis of all colours. As the light is shone on to these panels, individual pixels are opened or closed in order to let the light pass through or block it. 

How LCD projectors work
How LCD projection works

This allows the projector to reach a high range in colours and contrast  (although generally less than DLP projectors), with the brightness from the lamp offering 2,000 to 15,000 lumens. 

LCD projectors are generally cheaper than their competitively priced DLP counterpart, staying mostly below $1000 USD. LCD projectors in general can achieve higher brightness from their lamps than DLP projectors. 

However, it’s important to note that LCD projectors are more prone to overheating and have a lower lamp life than some forms of DLP. Further to this, as individual pixels are opened and closed in relation to source information, they can get stuck or die. When pixels die, it is a permanent fixture that can only sometimes be fixed professionally. 

Summary: LCD projectors work by opening and closing individual pixels. They are cheaper and brighter than DLP projectors. However, LCD projectors tend to be bulky and prone to overheating. 

Cheapest option (<$1000)Can Overheat
Higher brightness ability from lower watt lampsLower life than some forms of DLP projector
Sharper images (more precisely focused)Lower Contrast than DLP projectors 

More bulky than DLP projectors

Individual pixels can die 

DLP projector vs LCD projector: The winner is….

The multiple hybrids of DLP and LCD projectors offer a wide variety of different benefits, as well as drastically different price points. It’s important to consider how long you plan to have your projector, what your budget is and how long you expect to own it. 

If you’re more likely to upgrade your projector every few years, then it’s important to understand that perhaps investing in a projector with a 30,000 hour battery life is not important or within your budget. 

If buying a projector for business purposes, the clear road is down long-life, low maintenance DLP projectors. For the average person looking to invest for their home, think about how much you would invest in a TV. Although cheap projectors do the job, sometimes it’s worth saving a little extra and upping the budget to a higher level projector. 

For most, a high end LCD projector will be in budget, with limited drawbacks and the ability to help you become more comfortable in the world of projectors. 

DLP projector vs LCD projector: A direct comparison

LCD projectorDLP projector
More bulkyLess bulky
Higher brightness for lower level bulbBrightness dependent on format
Shorter bulb lifeLonger life expectancy 
Consumer friendly bulb change Light changes done professionally
Prone to overheating No overheating problems in Laser + LED options
Consumes high levels of electricity Consumes high levels of electricity (aside from LED hybrid)
Screen door effectRainbow screen effect
Sharper imagesLess sharp images (generally)
Lens shift not available in lots of modelsLens shift almost always available
Lower contrast ratioHigher contrast ratio
High maintenanceLow maintenance 

If you enjoyed this comparison, check out some of our other projector debates:

Feel confused about some terms we’ve used here? Check out our ultimate projector guide.

Of course, we welcome you to join the discussion. Feel free to comment your thoughts below.

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