Lamps (not bulbs)

By Anthony D. Coppedge
Contributing Writer
November 06, 2023

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Lamp technology has gone through significant leaps in technology over the last several years, and the new technologies have created much longer lamp life, and a host of other caveats and pitfalls.

I feel a mini-article coming on, so here I go:

It used to be that a projector manufacturer would say 1,000 hours was the “expected lamp life”. In reality, you got about 450 hours that were good, but the drop-off in brightness was significant, and they rarely lasted the rated 750 hours. Typically, these were the old 575-Watt Metal Halide lamps that had this problem. Also, the max brightness was between 500 – 750 lumen.

Then the 180 watt Metal Halide lamps were running much lower brightness – about 150 – 300 lumen, but would get an astounding rated 2,000 hours. In all reality, they really only lasted about 1,500 hours, but also had the problem of having serious color shift issues after the first 75% of the lamp life and a dip to up to 50% loss in brightness.

Next came the 1,500 hour Metal Halides that would burn much, much brighter – up to 5000 lumen, but were thousands of dollars a piece.

More recently, the UHP lamps hit the scene with 2,000 hours and very little color shift over the life of the lamp. These are produced in a number of variations from different manufacturers, but all have a few quirks (you didn’t think they were perfect, did you?).

If you’ve been looking at projectors for a while, and been primarily using them to display video, you’d notice right off that these new ultra-efficient lamps were, well, blue. As in, the whites were really more of a very light shade of blue. Those old pesky Metal Halides, for all of their issues, really made video look much, much better.

We’re at a point now, however, where there have been some compromises as well as some ingenious solutions. And they didn’t come from the lamp manufacturers, either. No, the projector manufacturers got smart and have come up with:

• Color temperature menus: these allow you to pick a Normal, High Bright and “Cinema” mode. Really, these allow for normal (no changes), High Bright (blue-ish but maximum white levels) and “Cinema” (where the brightness is decreased, the black levels dropped and the color saturation (particularly red) is increased.) It’s artificial, but it can work pretty

• “Eco” mode – sometimes called “lamp saver” mode: By reducing the power supply’s draw, the lamp is effectively reduced to between 60%-70% of max brightness, but you usually get a lamp life increase of nearly 50%.

• Dual and Quad lamp assemblies: Some manufacturers are getting really bright projectors because they’re using between two and four lamps in combination. The flipside of this is that by using half of the lamps, you can double the lamp life (you really only use half at a time). At least one manufacturer, Barco, has a projector that keeps track of the hours used per lamp and will use the lamp that has the least hours on it, alternating throughout the life of the lamps.

As to the price of the lamps, well, you’re really out of luck there. You will spend between $375 and (on the 10,000 lumen projectors) up to $5,000. As an average, though, the vast majority of lamps will cost $500. It’s that old supply-and-demand thing.

As a side note, Philips had a lamp factory burn to the ground a couple of years ago and it caused a real shortage for several manufacturers’ products. Ushio, in particular, really stepped up their production and broadened their lamp “family” to become the second largest lamp manufacturer in the world (behind GE, and that includes light bulbs, too). The lesson here is to stock up on at least one spare lamp for every two projectors you own (assuming identical projectors).

Finally, please, please don’t call them bulbs. They’re lamps. Really. Lamps.

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