While most projectors used today still use replaceable mercury lamps as their light source, lamp-free projectors have become increasingly popular for mainstream projectors. According to Futuresource, in the first quarter of 2020, more than a third of all projectors sold above 3500 lumens used lamp-free light sources. So what are the different lamp free technologies – and which one is right for your application?
There are three major lamp-free projector technologies used by major brands.
- 100% LED
- 100% Blue Laser
- Hybrid LED / Laser
Each of these technologies has specific strengths to consider in your application. This article will explain each technology – and why you might want to choose one over the other for your next projector.
Around 2010, Texas Instruments began producing DLP chips that were designed for LED light. By combining red, blue, and green LEDs, manufacturers were able to create projectors that were much smaller and less expensive than traditional mercury lamp-based projectors. The major drawback is that many of these models were not bright enough for home cinema or meeting rooms.
Since then, projectors using LED’s have gotten smaller – and brighter. For home cinema enthusiasts who are looking to duplicate the experience of a commercial Digital Cinema movie theater that uses the DCI-P3 color space approved by Disney, Sony, and Paramount, there are now LED powered projectors that are bright enough to enable the same experience in a typical home theater. The BenQ HT9060 is an excellent example of how LED color saturation and accuracy can make a home theater picture look spectacular. According to hometheaterhifi.com, this was “…in many ways the best projector I’ve ever reviewed.”
On the smaller side of things, there are now many battery-powered LED projectors such as the BenQ GV-1 that have built-in audio and wireless streaming designed to enable you to project a movie from your phone. These are ideal for camping or ad-hoc projecting in areas where there may not be power. While they are not as bright as a regular projector – it’s a great way to share pictures or movies with a group.
The main drawback is that LED projectors have the lowest brightness levels of the three lamp-free technologies, so you will need a darker environment to make them look good. The home cinema models are typically under 2000 ANSI lumens, while the battery-powered projectors are usually between 200-400 ANSI lumens in brightness.
Since the first classroom laser projector was launched by BenQ in 2011, projectors using 100% laser light have become brighter, and more affordable. For high brightness projectors above 4000 lumens, they have also enabled highly color accurate models with similar performance to home cinema projectors. Nearly all laser projectors work by using a phosphor wheel and color filters to transform the blue laser light to a billion other colors. While the original high brightness laser projectors were designed around the Texas Instruments DLP chip for commercial cinema use, today you can find a 5000 lumen with 4K projectors using the same basic technology for under $5000. The main advantage of 100% laser projectors is that engineers can use more lasers to achieve higher brightness – up to 10,000 lumens and beyond from over a dozen popular projector brands.
One other benefit to laser technology is that when used with DLP technology, the entire projector can be sealed – and certified dust-proof using the IP5X test –just like in an Apple Watch. That means an institution can hang a projector in a difficult to reach overhead location – and never worry about cleaning a filter again. Projectors using 100% laser technology can also be used on a 24/7 basis without any warranty concerns.
The main disadvantage of 100% laser projectors is the higher initial cost of the projector compared to a mercury lamp powered projector. These costs are typically offset by eliminating the costs of purchasing, installing, and disposing of replaceable mercury lamps, which can run as high as $400 each for a 5000-lumen projector.
This lamp-free technology was launched at about the same time as the BenQ laser projector and uses a combination of LED and lasers as a light source. Casio was the first projector to use this technology, and in 2019 was the only brand still using this design. The main advantage of the combination of LED and lasers is that it enables a less expensive projector compared to the 100% laser designs.
The downside to this technology is that LED’s and lasers have different properties, which can make it difficult to get the colors exactly right over time – limiting its appeal to home cinema enthusiasts and other color sensitive applications. This technology also can have usage restrictions, which can reduce the light source warranty if the projector is used over a certain number of hours per day.
The other drawback to this technology that it has brightness limitations. While it is brighter than LED powered projectors, there are no models available today higher than 4000 lumens.
Of the three different technologies available, lasers are the most practical and offer the biggest opportunity for innovation. Because lasers are currently used in commercial digital cinema with DLP chips, you will see lasers power even brighter images in the future. Over time we can expect to see lasers being used to create more color-accurate projectors and become more affordable.
Because each technology has its advantages and drawbacks, you need to consider how you will be using the projector. While each situation is different, here are some simple guidelines.
For a home cinema experience like no other, the BenQ HT9060 delivers spectacular color performance for a dedicated home cinema installation. If you are using the projector more casually in the home, a lower-cost battery-powered projector such as the BenQ GV-1 is a solid choice.
For projectors that are the primary communication and collaboration display, lasers are the ideal choice. A brighter image enables everyone to see the picture clearly, and if you have a room with the lights on – you will want a 4000 lumen or brighter projector. Currently, lasers are the only lamp-free technology capable of delivering 5000 or higher lumens at 4K resolution, such as the award-winning BenQ LK952 projector used in lecture halls and churches across the country.
If you are only planning on using a projector on an occasional basis – and don’t need as much brightness, then a LED / Laser Hybrid might be a good fit for you. Because the light source warranty for heavy use is only 6000 hours on many models, it not well suited for applications such as digital signage, or classrooms that are used to teach both day and evening classes.
Sometimes it can be difficult to find answers to your questions when trying to find the right projector for your business. Since most retailers don’t have experts on the floor that can help –where can you turn? For customers looking for advice on choosing the right projector for their business, you can talk directly to an experienced BenQ product expert who has access to over 70 different projector models and can guide you to the best one for your application. We also can help you find a reseller nearby, or if you want, you can purchase one right on the phone. You can reach them at 888-818-5888. If you want to email them instead, you can reach them at BenqB2B.BQA@Benq.com.