Many projector manufacturers have launched laser projectors. In this article, we explore some of the pros and cons of laser projection and dispel some of the myths associated with them.
WHAT IS LASER PROJECTION
The first thing to clarify is the concept of Laser Projection. What we are talking about is a projector that uses some form of laser light source to create the light. This is different from a traditional ‘lamp’ or ‘bulb’ projector that has a UHP or Xenon lamp to create the light. So a laser projector isn’t massively different and it certainly doesn’t have sci-fi like beams of light scanning over a screen. The majority of the projection system remains the same between both types of projector.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF LASER PROJECTION?
One main advantage is the long life lightsource. A conventional lamp typically has a working life of between 2,000 and 4,000 hours whereas a laser projector light source will typically last over 20,000 hours, so up to ten times longer.
Laser projectors can also power on and reach their full brightness more quickly than a conventional projector. They produce less heat and use less power than equivalent lamp projectors and in some situations can produce more accurate colours.
IS A LASER PROJECTOR BRIGHTER?
No, not necessarily. Both laser and lamp-based projectors should have their light output stated using the ANSI lumen scale. For example, a new laser projector with a light output of 5,000 ANSI lumens will be the same brightness as a new lamp-based projector with a light output of 5,000 ANSI lumens.
Differences in brightness start to occur as the hours used increases. The brightness of both laser and non-laser will decrease over time but it is the conventional lamp that gets dimmer quicker. It is a common misconception that the quoted lamp life is the number of hours until the lamp ‘blows’ or stops working. Projector lamps are very different from household bulbs and as they are used they get dimmer. The brightness decreases quite rapidly at first and then slows down. The quoted lamp life is actually the number of hours the lamp will run until the brightness is half what it was when new.
A laser light source will also get dimmer as it is used but it differs from conventional lamps in two ways; the brightness decreases at a much slower rate, and the rate at which it decreases is constant.
In the graph below we compare the brightness of a conventional projector (red) with a laser projector (blue). The conventional projector has a lamp with a life of 4,000 hours and the laser projector light source has a life of 20,000 hours. The graph shows that each time the conventional lamp reaches 4,000 hours of use the brightness has dropped to 50% and the lamp is changed for a new one.
Over the lifetime of the projector, there are times when the laser is brighter and times when the conventional lamp is brighter. We can see that the laser projector loses light output at a slower rate. We can also see that over 20,000 hours the conventional lamp has been changed four times so there cost associated with that in both money and maintenance time.
WHAT IS THE DOWN-SIDE TO LASER PROJECTION?
The main issue is that the initial purchase cost of a laser projector is quite a bit higher than a projector that used conventional lamps. Depending on the amount you use it you may find that it costs you less in the long run when you factor in the potential cost of lamps.
IN WHAT SITUATION IS A LASER PROJECTOR THE BEST OPTION?
Due to the longer life and slower light degradation, a laser projector is a good option in situations where the projector is on regularly for long periods of time. For example, if used in a retail environment the projector could potentially be on for up to 12 hours a day for 6 or 7 days per week. This would equate to over 4,000 hours of use per year and a conventional lamp would need replacing every six to twelve months. When you consider the cost of replacement lamps, the cost of fitting them and the fact that they use more electricity to run you would find that a laser projector would be a good, cost-effective option over the lifetime of the projector.
If a projector is being installed in an inaccessible location where it is difficult to maintain, a laser projector would be a good choice as you are less likely to need to get to it to change lamps.
The rapid power on/off, improved colour reproduction and in some cases, lower fan noise can also be an advantage in high-end or specific applications. The manner in which laser light is used varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and there are still different types of projection technology such as LCD, LCOS and DLP using this light source. To say laser projection is better quality is not necessarily true as there are also many lamp-based projectors capable of very high-quality results.
WHEN IS A LASER PROJECTOR NOT THE BEST CHOICE?
If you are looking for a cost-effective solution that will be used occasionally then a projector with a conventional lamp is likely to be the best option. If you use it for meetings or presentations for only an hour or so a day then the likelihood is that a normal lamp will provide good results for at least a few years. In this situation, the additional cost of a laser projector would not be worthwhile.
Laser projectors can provide a great image and the rapid turn on/off cycle means it is more like turning on a TV rather than a projector that you have to wait to warm up. The quality and colour of the light produced allows for better colour reproduction and crisp images. The more consistent brightness and increased lamp life is an advantage in high usage situations. Although relatively new and a premium cost, as with all technologies, the cost will fall as production increases and it is likely that this type of light source will continue to be developed and become the norm in projection technology.
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