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Podcast w/ Bennett Liles: Lamp-less Projector Technology, Part 1

NEC Display Solutions about lampless projector technology

From Sound & Video Contractor Magazine, this is the SVC Podcast with Richard McPherson of NEC Display Solutions. Show notes for the podcast are available on the web site of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at

In today’s AV market there’s not much that’s potentially bigger than the new lamp-less or lamp-free projectors. How dependable are they? What features do they have? Richard McPherson, Senior Product Manager for Projectors with NEC Display Solutions is going to give us a look into the coming world of lamp-free projectors. That’s next up on the SVC Podcast.

Richard, I’m sure glad to have you with us on the SVC Podcast coming to us from NEC Display Solutions; Senior Product Manager for Projectors. I’ve wanted to get one of these done on lamp-less or lamp-free projectors for a while now and at NEC you’re the guy to talk to. Some say the revolution is at hand while others feel that lamp-less projectors are not quite ready for prime time. So where are we with lamp-free projectors as far as the brightness, cost of ownership, resolution and so forth?

Well, let’s look at that, Bennett. From the NEC standpoint we cover a couple of different categories – actually a multitude of different categories – so we’re looking at anything from a three-pound projector, which is an LED-based source, which is still lamp-less, so it’s LED-based, and then you go into a laser phosphor system, which is in the 6,000 category. And then we actually have two different projectors that are RGB laser currently in the market that are a pure RGB laser true laser source versus a hybrid of any sort to that effect. [Timestamp: 1:53]

Yeah, lamp-less projectors are still fairly new. I mean they’re not just everywhere yet but I’ve read here and there that the lamp-free projector technology may now be where lamped projectors were maybe 15 years ago?

I’m not sure if I would definitely make that statement to be true. As far as all of the images and the resolution and giving consideration to contrast ratio, I would say differently than something that was 15 years old. We look at the system processing that’s now incorporated into the projectors. All we did in this case is we’re taking what existed in today’s current lamp-based projectors and we placed a lamp-less system in there. So depending on what that lamp-less system is we are utilizing that as the source of light. So it’s not that they’re going backwards in time, in essence, from a processing and quality standpoint. Maybe from the brightness standpoint in certain categories, yes, that’s going to be the case, but not as an overall would I make that statement. I would think we’re absolutely moving forward pretty aggressively in each category, to be honest. [Timestamp: 3:05]

And looking at these on the various company websites, it appears to me that one of the limiting factors at least up to now might have been the issue of brightness for the cost but it looks like we’re getting some lamp-less models that are pretty powerful now.

Yes. When we’re comparing cost itself, we’re looking at it from a standpoint of a brightness/cost comparison that way. Yes, anything that’s lamp-less – or what we consider here as solid state – overall is going to be a little bit higher price point than a traditional lamp-based system. But there’s two reasons for that. One is the technology you’re getting as far as not having the lamp and the maintenance costs associated with it, but also the longevity that you’re getting. So in a traditional lamp-based system, depending on the brightness category you’re in, it could be anywhere from 1,500 hours – now that’s kind of high. So you’re looking at 1,500 hours of life in a 12,000 lumen projector or 14,000 lumen projector all the way up to potentially 8 or 10,000 hours when you’re looking at a 3,000 lumen projector. So the difference being when you go to a lamp-less you’re going to 20,000 hours and possibly 30,000 hours depending on the usage model. So in some categories here, some instances we may even be able to achieve beyond that – not knowing at this moment, but there’s a chance that we could achieve greater than 30,000 hours.  So there’s a tradeoff, but in that tradeoff there is a little bit of price differential and that price differential could be anywhere from I’m going to say one-and-a-half to possibly three times the cost. That’s a general idea right now in the market. [Timestamp: 4:41]

And one of the big selling factors on the lamp-less models is their possible longevity so the longer you keep it, the better deal it is for you.

Absolutely, yeah. There’s another big advantage to lamp-less technology all together other than just the hours – from the hour standpoint.  When we’re looking at lamp-based technology today – and it’s not to discard lamp-based technology at all – but when you’re looking at lamp-based technology, lamp life, when we refer to hours of usage it’s usually the 50 percent brightness standpoint. So when we say a lamp is going to last for 4,000 hours, that’s at 50 percent of its brightness. So the decay is fairly quick, if you think about it, from putting 4,000 hours in a graph compared to a 20,000 hour lamp-less system. So the decay of the brightness is really going to be drastically different when you’re looking at lamp-less versus a lamp-based system. [Timestamp: 5:32]

Yeah, I think that in the educational market in particular you have projectors being turned on and off and on and off all day long and not even have a chance to cool down for more than five or ten minutes. So I don’t think that you can reasonably expect to get the full dealer specified lamp life in that kind of environment.

In the typical form you would see that the more you strike the lamp potentially shorter the life would be. Now that’s going to depend on a bunch of different factors in the environment, whether it’s cooling down properly, what the average temperature in the room is, stuff like that. But you’re going to see a little bit less life when you strike it more often. Now in a solid state you’re not going to see that phenomenon; you’re not going to see that decay after. As a matter of fact, the greatest thing about the solid state or lamp-less, as we’re mentioning, is that it’s instant on/instant off. So within five seconds you have an image on the screen and you can turn it off after an hour and then literally turn it right back on 10 seconds later without having any detriment to the technology itself. So it’s a totally different beast than what we’re used to with lamp-based systems. [Timestamp: 6:40]

And I noticed that on your website you’ve got the NC1440L and the NC1040L. What sort of market are these aimed at? They seem to be pretty beefy in terms of light output.

Yeah. They’re actually designed for the digital cinema market. When we say digital cinema market, we’re looking at small theaters as well as I’m going to say unique types of theater applications as well as some post production. And they’re designed that way just because of the fact that they have a wider color space – a wider color gamut – than traditional projectors with lamp-based systems. Effectively, they’re 5,000 and 10,000 lumens respectively, so the 1040L is 5,000 lumens and the 1440L is 10,000 lumens.  Now it’s the same unit, just we use different laser modules or additional laser modules to create the higher brightness. So the 1040L has one laser module in the projector head and the 1440L has a dual laser module in the same projector head. [Timestamp: 7:38]

So is it reasonable to assume that in the future if you want to go with a brighter projector that you may be able to just swap out the module instead of buying a whole new projector?

Yeah, that’s actually something that we can really state.  As a matter of fact, in the future we plan on having units that utilize a similar or the same projector head that utilize a much higher brightness laser module. [Timestamp: 8:01]

I know there are various iterations of solid state projector technology. You’ve got LED, you’ve got laser, laser phosphor and hybrid types. Are there any that are particularly powerful or particularly limited?

I think you have to look at what technology you really want to try and drive forward. So when you’re looking at the LED-based system, it’s pure LED – so just red, green and blue LED’s, you’re going to have the ability to handle much smaller cabinet size, a very small form factor, but you’re going to be limited to the amount of brightness you’re going to get out of the unit. There’s different underlying factors in the technology, so it doesn’t allow you to have a lot of light output in a very small cabinet. You would have to have a much larger cabinet to dissipate any kind of heat from the LEDs themselves. So it’s a great product when you’re looking at a small cabinet size, so for those mobile applications, business-to-business for sales reps, it’s a great little projector to have. When you’re looking at laser phosphor, now you’re looking at the fact that you can achieve anywhere up to probably 15,000 lumens at the moment. That’s not stated as fact anywhere, but that’s what we’re seeing in the market is the potential of 15,000 lumens. So you have a limitation there as far as how bright you can get, but then again you can tailor that to the different-sized cabinets of the projectors themselves. You can have a 10-pound projector, a 15-pound projector, a 40-pound projector, 80-pound projector – it depends on what you want to do and what you’re trying to achieve – but you can do so with the laser phosphors. When you look at RGB lasers, it’s a totally different ballgame all together because the LED-based system and the laser phosphor-based systems stick with the typical SMPTE standard color gamut. When we’re looking at the RGB laser – what we consider true laser – that is an expanded color space, so it’s much larger. It actually reaches the direct 20/20 color space that will be introduced in the market from a consumer standpoint in the very near future. So it gives you colors that traditionally we have not been able to view or see because content has never been created there, as well as the fact that because we don’t see content or not just content but the devices couldn’t do it, we would now see different colors altogether. [Timestamp: 10:21]

Yeah, I think that’s a breakthrough in perception, too, because there are those in the marketplace who still don’t seem to think that the lamp-less models can produce the same vibrant colors that most lamped types can.

It depends on the system as well as the technology and how you tweak it and how much you want to pay for that unit no matter what you do. There are tradeoffs, whether it’s looking strictly for a lower price point or if you want to add some features and stuff to the technology itself within the projector, then you will be able to automatically create the same exact look and feel as what we’re used to today with the lamp-based systems. [Timestamp: 10:57]

And do you have to offset to any degree when you’re looking at the brightness specs for lamped models as compared to the lamp-less types?

I guess I’m not sure what you’re stating there, but I think if I’m correct in understanding what you’re saying that there’s relatively no difference in how you’re going to measure or view the image brightness standpoint or the contrast. It’s going to be the same way of measuring or viewing so I wouldn’t see any difference between those two. [Timestamp: 11:24]

Alright, well it’s an increasingly important factor in the market and know they’re here to stay. In fact, one day people might be saying, “What’s a projector lamp?”

That’s a possibility. I’m not going to say that’s going to happen yet, but that’s a possibility, right? [Timestamp: 11:36]

Down the road it probably will but the market will decide as usual. It’s been great talking about this. Richard McPherson, Senior Product Manager for Projectors with NEC Display Solutions. And in part two we’ll get into some of the things that manufacturers are doing to make it easier to own a new lamp-less projector. Thanks for being here with us.

No problem.

Thank you for being here with us for the SVC Podcast with Richard McPherson. Show notes are available on the website of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at In part two Richard will compare cost for brightness and other features between lamped and lamp-free projectors and how ambient light affects them all. That’s on the next SVC Podcast.

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