"OEM" - The Smoke and Mirrors of Projector Lamp Module Sales

Posted by on for ProLampSales

The language being used to describe the replacement light source for digital projectors is a case study in sales talk often meant to confuse rather than clarify.

Here is an example from the web site of a reseller:

“We carry 4 versions of the Optoma EW531 Lamp. There are 3 OEM versions: the OEM lamp directly from the bulb manufacturer of the original lamp included with this projector, the same OEM lamp sold by Optoma, and an OEM compatible version from another OEM bulb manufacturer, but not the original manufacturer for this model. We also sell an economically priced compatible version of this lamp made by a leading third party manufacturer using genuine OEM parts.”

Apparently, the hope is if you manage to use the term “OEM”, one way or another, in all possible lamp descriptions, you're bound to get a conversion even if the customer has no idea what they are actually buying. But, perhaps that is the point.

To straighten out this language mashup, let's start with definitions used by the projector manufacturers.

What are the words that define the light source unit in a projector?

  • The bulb produces the light.
  • The housing (sometimes called cage) holds and aligns the bulb inside the projector.
  • The module (sometimes also called the “lamp module”) is the term used to describe the complete bulb and housing unit.

What is an OEM lamp module?

OEM means original equipment manufacturer. This is a company that produces parts that are included in a product manufactured and marketed by another company. For projectors, the bulb and housing in the lamp module are in most cases produced by companies under contract and working closely with the projector manufacturer.

Projector manufacturers contract with one of the six primary bulb manufacturers - Philips, Osram, Ushio, Phoenix, Iwasaki and Matsushita to produce the bulb that meets the brightness and optical specifications of the projector.*

Projector manufacturers also usually contract with a company that builds plastic housings or cages.  The housing is designed to hold the bulb in a precise alignment. The housing is also designed to slide in and out of the projector so it can be removed and replaced with a new lamp module.

To be a 100% OEM lamp module, both the bulb and the housing must meet these two requirements:

The OEM bulb for a projector model is the one that is made only by one of the six bulb manufacturers contracted with by the projector manufacturer.
The OEM housing (cage) for a projector model is the one that is made only by the housing manufacturer contracted with by the projector manufacturer.

What types of lamp modules do resellers offer?

100% OEM Lamp Module

Resellers of 100% OEM lamp modules source these modules from the projector manufacturer. The module will be in a branded box from the inventory of projector lamp modules the projector manufacturer stocks.

Common sales language: “OEM lamp module, 100% OEM, Factory original lamp module”

50% OEM Lamp Module

This type of module includes the OEM bulb which must be made by the same bulb manufacturer that was used for the bulbs in the new projector.  The housing is re-manufactured usually by a company who did not manufacturer the OEM housing. It is designed to meet the requirements of the original housing in the new projector.

Common sales language: “OEM bulb, OEM bulb inside”

0% OEM, Quality Bulb

This is a lamp module that uses a bulb produced by one of the six primary bulb manufacturers (see above) but not the manufacturer of the bulb that was in the projector when it was new. What's the difference? Some will argue not much. The bulb will be high quality and most likely meet the optical requirements of the projector manufacturer. However, it will not be the exact bulb that was produced for the new projector under the guidance of the projector manufacturer and it cannot be correctly called OEM. The housing for this “0% OEM, Quality Bulb” lamp module variation is re-manufactured just like the housing for the 50% OEM module.

Common sales language: “OEM compatible, genuine original bulb inside”

0% OEM, Copy Bulb

This lamp module consists of a bulb made by a manufacturer that is not one of the primary projector bulb manufacturers listed above and a re-manufactured cage made by a company who did not make the housing in the new projector.

Common sales language: “OEM compatible, genuine compatible”

How to choose the type of module that fits your needs?

The price of the module goes progressively lower as you move from 100% OEM to 0% OEM, Copy Bulb. The difference in price can be startling. For example, the 100% OEM lamp modules for the Optoma EH501 projector will run you about $375 while the 0% OEM, Copy Bulb version can be had for under $70. The other types of modules fall somewhere in between.

This type of price variation, in addition to the fuzzy or misleading sales language, can make buying a replacement a challenge.

In general, those buyers not wanting to risk any compromise in lamp module quality compared to the new projector, will often choose the higher priced 100% OEM module.

A school operating on a tight budget may choose either the 50% OEM or the 0% OEM, Quality Bulb versions to save on initial costs and still get a very good replacement lamp module.

Given the poor overall quality of the 0% OEM, Copy Bulb version it's hard to justify a purchase no matter how low the price. The one place this module might make sense is if you have an old projector that will soon be replaced and you just want to keep it going for a couple of months. With this type of module, don't be surprised if light output noticeably declines or the lamp fails completely within a few months.

The good news is there are lots of options for lamp module replacements. The bad news is you have to sort through the marketing haze to make sure you know what you are buying. Hopefully, this post will help.

*Pansonic and Epson are the exceptions. Panasonic usually manufactures their own bulbs and Epson has designed their own unique bulb, the E-TORL.

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