Laser vs Lamp projector: Which is better?

Last updated on November 14th, 2019 at 02:46 pm

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Laser vs Lamp projectors: an introduction

Lamp vs Laser projector: A modern day dispute amongst home cinema owners. However, for the average consumer it is perhaps one of the most confusing debates. There’s a lot of jargon thrown around in this dispute and the expectation of understanding all of it is high.

In reviews, it’s common websites throw in “Laser projector” or “Lamp projector” and expect their readers to understand exactly what they mean. However, not everyone reading is an expert and a lot of people are exploring the realm of projectors for the first time. 

Before making a purchase decision, it’s important to understand these two types of projectors, their average price points, and common problems.

Lamp projection
Laser projection

Lamp projectors  

Lamp projectors are the most common and cheapest form of projector you’ll see on the market.

From as early as the 1940’s images have been projected using a bulb or limelight, with laser technology only becoming popular in recent years. 

As with any bulb, the lamps are powered by an electrical signal passing through a semiconducting material, activating electrons which produce protons, thus creating light.

Lamps are present in both types of projectors currently available on the market: DLP and LCD. However, the type of lamp used within these displays can vary from a regular lamp to multiple LEDs, all with varying benefits, drawbacks, life expectancies and prices. 

Traditional Lamps: DLP and LCD 

A DLP projector uses a source of light reflected through an RGB colour wheel and onto 1 or 3 DMD chip(s) in order to project an image. 

On the other hand, LCD technology sends the light from the lamp through a prism or series of filters into three colour panels (red, green and blue). From here, individual pixels open or close to either let the light pass through and project or block it. 

However, in both DLP and LCD the source of light remains the same: a bulb or lamp. As such, the benefits and drawbacks they offer based on this are the same. 

Lamp based projector
Lamp projector

Lamp: Price

Across the board, projectors using traditional lamps are the cheapest. They don’t offer innovative technology from their light source and the market is saturated with options.

As such, the law of demand states that the price has to decrease  – which it has. 

Depending on other factors, lamp based projectors can be priced anywhere from $50 – $1000 plus. However, as a general rule of thumb, for a home theatre, there are plenty of decent lamp projectors you can purchase for below $1000 USD. 

Lamp: Advantages

Lamp projectors have a series of advantages aside from their lower price point:

  • Ease of changing bulb
  • Lumen rating 

Firstly, all projector light sources have a minimum life expectancy, similar to what you would expect from a regular light bulb or battery. 

Usually this is between 3.000 – 4.000 hours, so if you were to watch 5 hours of content a day, you would get around 2 years out of your projector bulb. Bulbs in projectors are notoriously easy to change and relatively cheap. The cost of changing a bulb is around the $400 mark. 

Lamp projectors also offer relatively high lumen rates of around 3,000 – 5,000. 

This is perfect for home cinema or gaming. Obviously this varies per projector, but hitting this amount of lumens will ensure you can watch content on your projector in rooms with some ambient lighting. 

Lamp projectors: Disadvantages 

Of course, it’s important to factor in the disadvantages that come with purchasing a lamp projector:

  • Overheating 
  • Bulb life
  • Noise levels

One of the biggest problems lamp projectors face is overheating. Although light itself cannot produce heat, it can transfer its energy into heat. Unfortunately, with bulb lighting this tends to be the case when using the projector for long periods of time. 

However, some bulb projectors come with a fan to counter this. Often though, fans can become loud and get in the way of viewer immersion

Lamp projector: Fan
Ventilation fan (Not actual size for projectors)

Further to this, in relation to LED and laser projectors, the bulb life is pretty short. Although perhaps the ease of changing it combats this problem. As well as this, bulb projectors tend to be a little more bulky than laser projectors, making them less portable. 

Lamp: Overview

AdvantagesDisadvantages 
CheaperOverheating
Lamp can be changedShort lamp life
BrightMore bulky 

Power consuming

LED: DLP

Similarly to traditional lamps, LEDs can also be used in 1 or 3 chip DLP projectors as the main light source. 

LEDs offer a series of energy saving lights that work together to deliver one big light source.

These bulbs are powered by an electrical circuit and are illuminated by electrons. They also eliminate the use of the colour wheel in DLP projectors. Instead, LEDs combine RGB to create colours they pass on to the DMD(s). 

LED projector light: RGB
LED Light

LED: pricing 

The use of LEDs in projectors is growing, which is great news for us as consumers. It means that the price of LED projectors is leveling out and is no longer considered a luxury.

In fact, nowadays you can pick up a good quality LED projector for just a little more than a standard bulb model.  This is a great incentive to drive down the cost of LED replacement too, which is traditionally very high.  

LED: Advantages 

LEDs counter some of the main issues of traditional lamps:

  • Bulb life
  • Energy saving
  • Noise levels

To begin with, LEDs offer a much larger life, at up to 20,000 hours for some models of projector. This means that your projector could function up to 11 years at 5 hours a day. 

This is an excellent incentive for trading in and upgrading when the time comes, as more likely than not, your projector will still have a huge amount of life left in it. 

In addition to this, LEDs are power saving bulbs, meaning your projector will consume less electricity. Not only does that save you in indirect costs, but also makes them more future proof and could help with resale of your projector. This also means that there is no warm up or cool down time for your projector. So you guessed it – no overheating. 

LEDs eliminate the use of a colour wheel, so there’s less chance of distracting noise coming from your projector. Further to this, LEDs are more compact than traditional lights, meaning that they can be used in smaller,  more portable projectors. 

LED: Disadvantages

LEDs in general don’t have a host of disadvantages, they’re honestly a pretty good solution for projectors. However, that does not make them perfect, they do have some issues:

  • Brightness
  • Cost of replacement

One of the biggest issues with LEDs is the brightness.

Because of their energy saving capabilities they are a bit dimmer than standard bulbs. Not an issue if you have full control over the lighting. However, it becomes a huge issue when you have high ambient lighting levels in, for example, business meetings or classrooms. 

Another disadvantage of an LED light source is the cost of replacement. If for some reason the light in your projector breaks, replacing the LED is going to be a really high cost. 

However, don’t worry too much, in general LEDs are shock resistant, unlike traditional bulbs. If you have a secure mount or shelf, LED damage is something you shouldn’t worry about too much. 

LED: Overview

AdvantageDisadvantages
Energy savingExpensive bulb replacement
Lowering price pointDimmer light
Shock resistant 
No noise or rainbow effect
Long life expectancy 

Laser Projection

There’s no escaping it, laser projection sounds way cooler and more futuristic than the 2 former options. However, is that reason enough to splurge on one? Probably not, although we’re not ruling it out. 

Laser projectors, similarly to LED, does not need a colour wheel in order to produce white light or colours. 

Using the combination of RGB through a continually spinning wheel is ineffective and power consuming at best. Instead, laser sources use 3 separate (or sometimes 2) red, green and blue lasers that create colour after passing through a colour combiner. The light the laser produces is produced in the same way as other light sources.

However, although laser projection has been hailed as the future, it is not yet developed into a low budget or easily accessible option. 

Laser: Pricing 

Laser projection is undoubtedly the most expensive of the three options. Some inexpensive laser projectors come in at around $2000. 

This means with a life expectancy of 30,000 hours, it’s around 6 cents per hour (excl. electricity). When you compare this to a bulb projector, which breaks down to 16 cents an hour (3,000 lamp life at $500), it’s a pretty good deal. 

Topped with the fact you won’t need to replace the projector or lamp and have lower electric costs, it could be worth the big upfront payout. 

Laser pricing

Laser: Advantages 

Laser based projectors come with a host of advantages to compensate for their high price point:

  • No warm-up time
  • Electricity usage 
  • Life expectancy
  • Lumens (brightness)

Firstly, laser projectors have the ability to go from off to on with minimal warm up time. Those of you that have experience with lamp projectors will know that perhaps one of the most frustrating elements of is their required warm up period.

Further to this, as prior mentioned, laser projectors use less electricity than lamp projectors (but not as little as LED projectors). 

In addition, laser projectors have a life expectancy of up to 30,000 hours. Of course, with technological improvement, the likelihood of you keeping the projector for up to 15 years is unlikely. However, it does significantly improve the resale value to aid you with an upgrade. 

Lastly, the brightness laser projectors offer is incredible. They offer such high brightness capabilities that some have to be fitted with an optical diffuser in order to comply with safety standards. 

Laser: Disadvantages 

The two main disadvantages of laser projectors are:

  • Price point
  • Changing light source

Of course, with technological advancement, laser projectors will start to reduce in price and become more accessible, but we’re not quite there yet. 

Further to this, should your projector break it is very hard to fix. This can be done by professionals, but the price point it would come in at might not justify having it fixed. But as long as you’re careful with your device, there should be no issue. 

Laser: Overview

Pros Cons
Excellent brightnessExpensive
Reduced power consumptionDifficult to fix
Long life expectancy
Minimal warm-up time 

The decision: Laser vs Lamp projector

Although it’s difficult to define who the winner is in the laser vs lamp projector discussion, the future is pointing towards laser and LED light sources.

If you want to future proof your investment, perhaps it’s best to focus on the LED or laser. Of course, if you’re on a budget, LED is more accessible. 

However, if you have the cash to splash, it’s definitely worth looking into purchasing a laser projector. This is not to say that lamp based projection is not viable, but there are definitely more disadvantages to this option.


LampLEDLaser
Price


Size


Warm-up period


Brightness


Power consumption


Life expectancy


Ability to fix 


Noise (DLP)


Shock resistance


Overheating


Total387

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