With an increase in the number of laser projectors on the market, everyone from industry professionals to armchair bloggers seem to be weighing in on the pros and cons of laser versus lamp digital projection.
With 2019 here, it seems like a good time to compare the specs, review the arguments, and attempt to provide a basic decision guide for anyone buying a projector for commercial or institutional applications.
Compare The Specs
Light Source Rated Life
3000 to 5000 hours at full power (5000 to 8000 hours at eco, reduced power). Replacement lamps are available.
16,000 to 20,000 hours at full power. Lasers are not replaceable.
Light Source Output Consistency
Lumen output slowly degrades over time. Manufacturer rated life denotes the point in time when lumen output is 50% of initial output.
Light levels are constant until the laser fails
Light Source Reliablility
Lamps will have more variability than lasers in long terms of light source reliability. However, both lamp and laser projectors have power supplies, fans and electronics giving them a similar likelihood of needing maintenance for these components.
(this data, from Projector Central, is for new projector models on the market in December 2018):
5000 lumens or less: $300 to $1500 (1061 projectors)
5000 to 7000 lumens: $900 to $20,000+ (367 projectors )
7000 lumens and higher: $3000 to $25,000+ (225 projectors)
5000 lumens or less: $640 to $3000 (141 projectors)
5000 to 7000 lumens: $2000 to $20,000+ (179 projectors)
7000 lumens and higher: $7000 to $50,000+ (176 projectors)
Questions to Ask Before You Buy
How much brightness do you need?
Laser projectors can produce much higher levels of brightness than lamp projectors. If your application is a sanctuary high brightness may be an important factor. In a conference room, not so much. If the space is generally dark and the screen is not large, there is little need for the added brightness of a laser projector. However for large venues with some ambient light where 10,000 lumens or more may be required, then laser should be considered.
Where is your projector installed?
Lamp projectors, when mounted high on a wall or ceiling, will require a cost of labor to replace the lamp every couple of years. These costs should be taken into consideration. Most projectors now allow lamp change without removing the projector from the mounting bracket. However, for some installations lifts or tall ladders may be required to reach the projector. If there is just one projector in a facility, the periodic labor cost may not be significant. If there are many projectors, the maintenance cost can add up and make the laser projector more competitive in spite of the higher initial cost.
Laser projectors do not require light source maintenance over the life of the laser. When the laser fails, it's time to buy a new projector.
How important is image quality, color and contrast?
If your application requires images or video to display very fine detail, a wide spectrum of color or extra sharp contrast, laser projectors will do a better job than lamp projectors. For most business or educational uses where presentations include graphs, spreadsheets and illustrations, the enhanced image characteristics provided by laser are usually not necessary. However, for museums, trade shows or entertainment applications, particularly if in a large venue, laser will provide the extra punch needed to grab and keep the viewer's attention.
How long is the projector typically used?
For some commercial and industrial projection applications, the projector may be ON continuously for many hours at a time. Logically the much longer rated life of laser compared to lamp (20,000 hours vs. 4000 hours) could be a significant advantage because of reduced maintenance.
Laser projectors outperform lamp projectors on virtually every metric – at more or less double the initial cost.
For certain large venue and/or long run time applications, laser is the clear choice assuming you have the budget. For other uses such as conference rooms and classrooms, laser may be justified if you have the budget for the higher initial projector cost and can calculate a lower life cycle cost compared to a lamp projector which will require four to six lamp changes over the same time frame.
In the next couple of years we will see more and more laser projectors on the market. These projectors will be available in a wider range of lumen output to meet the needs of most projection applications. Competition will result in lower prices.
Today lamp projectors still dominate the market. But there is little question that laser projector technology has arrived and will increasingly compete in all types of projection applications.
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