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Lamp or laser? Projector technologies compared

All projectors do a similar job – letting your audience enjoy big, bright, colourful images. But inside there’s a choice of technologies to produce the image you see on screen. UHP lamp light projection has been the only choice for decades. And now it’s joined by a new generation of projectors from Sony that use a long-lasting 3LCD laser light source. Both technologies have their own merits, depending on how and where the projector’s being used.

Lamp or laser? Projector technologies compared

What does UHP lamp mean? And what’s laser projection?

Our buyers’ guide compares the benefits of lamp and laser projection for different applications. For decades, projectors have contained a powerful lamp as the source of light. This light passes through an imaging device, then through the lens and onto the screen. The lamp you’ll find most commonly in projectors for business and education is referred to as ‘UHP’. This refers to ultra-high pressure mercury vapour inside the lamp that creates light from an electric arc, much like an ordinary street light.

More recently, Sony has introduced a range of projectors that contain a laser light source instead of a UHP lamp. This uses a semiconductor device to produce visible light, and this is used to create images much as a conventional UHP lamp does. The Sony family of 3LCD laser projectors has rapidly gained popularity around the world, being used for a wide spectrum of applications including visitor attractions, hospitals and universities, engineering firms and transport hubs.

Here’s how the two technologies compare when you’re picking your next Sony projector for business or educational applications.

Which is brighter? It’s not a simple case of one technology being brighter than another. Every Sony 3LCD laser projector – like our VPL-FHZ700L installation projector with 7000 lumens colour output – has a corresponding UHP model, like the VPL-FH500L that offers exactly the same brightness and resolution in the same chassis.
Which offers the best picture quality? There’s no discernible difference in picture quality between the two technologies from your audience’s point of view. Every Sony projector – lamp or laser – delivers richly-detailed, high impact images with excellent colour and contrast.
Which lasts longer? The 3LCD laser light source in Sony projectors offers an impressive operating life of up to 20,000 hours. UHP lamps, in contrast, require more frequent replacement. However advanced Sony technology extends the lamp life of our latest projectors to as long as 8,000 hours (depending on model) – an impressive figure for lamp light sources.
Which requires less maintenance? Laser is a big winner here. The light source effectively needs no maintenance during its operating life. So it’s a great choice for projectors permanently installed in inaccessible or hard-to-reach locations.
Which is cheaper to run? 3LCD laser projection is still a relatively new technology. While production volumes are relatively lower than conventional lamps, this means laser projectors typically cost more in initial hardware costs. Balanced against this, laser’s near-zero maintenance requirements can cut labour costs significantly over the lifespan of the projector. Factor in the savings in lamp costs: typically two to three replacement lamps will be required during the average projector’s operational lifespan, compared with none required for laser – making total ownership costs for laser look very attractive indeed.
What if I’m only using the projector occasionally? Lamp could be the best bet if you’re not using the projector heavily. For applications where the projector is only being used for an hour or two each day, the reduced initial hardware costs of lamp make it a better value option in many applications.
Which starts up quicker? While UHP lamps can take a little while to reach optimum operating temperature, 3LCD laser projectors benefit from near-instant start-up. It’s an advantage in business meetings or classrooms where you can’t afford to waste time and risk losing your audience’s interest.

Find out more about Sony projectors