Partner Contributed Content
It’s easy to get lost in the hype around emerging technologies. Think back to InfoComm 2013, the professional audio-video trade show at which several projector manufacturers unveiled laser projectors. It was difficult then to cut through the marketing language, Twitter enthusiasm and information saturation in order to truly understand whether or not laser projection is a viable solution for integrators and their customers.
Now, a few years later, real-world trends have emerged showing the real appeal of laser projection, applications when laser- makes more sense than lamp-based projection and, of course, when it does not.
Exploring Cost of Ownership
As AVI-SPL’s VP of display technology, Rodney Laney will hear about it if the integration firm’s customers end up with a solution that isn’t right for their application. He knows how important it is to make sure customers understand that they’ve bought a cost-effective solution, and the thing about lamps is that they burn out and require costly replacement.
“Any application where a projector will be used 12 hours per day five or more days per week, a laser projector will provide a lower (TCO) Total Cost of Ownership,” he says.
Not only do lamps need to be replaced every 1,500 to 4,000 hours, he adds, “but also you’re not going to have a lamp fail and leave you with a dark screen. Laser should rarely leave anyone in that circumstance.”
Sony was introduced to the world’s first 3LCD laser light source projector at InfoComm 2013. Now, with its Z-Phosphor line of laser light source projectors, including 11 models ranging from 2,000 to 7,000 lumens and deployed across several markets, Sander Phipps, senior product manager for Sony’s professional display systems, has plenty of data to share with integrators on cost of ownership. “You hang the [laser] projector and you essentially forget about it for 20,000 hours, which in the vast majority of the cases is probably the life of the projector,” he says.
“So you don’t have to worry about buying $2-, $3-, $400 lamps that give you a couple thousand hours.”
There’s Also Peace of Mind
Eschewing lamps offers more than just a cost-saving benefit, Phipps points out. “The most vulnerable piece of a projector, the most likely failure point is the lamp,” he says.
“Invariably, the lamp is going to decide to give up five minutes before the meeting, five minutes before the class. So [laser] takes all that out of the equation.”
Let’s say the lamp doesn’t fizzle out right before a critical presentation. “The second most vulnerable or highest point of failure in a projector typically is the lamp power supply.” After all, lamps need a lot of high voltage, but using a laser- instead of lamp-based projector mitigates that risk. Phipps adds that laser is a better choice “from a purely peace of mind, purely ‘hang it and forget it, it’s always going to work, it will always be there, I don’t even have to think about it’ point of view.”
Customers, of course, weigh other factors besides cost of ownership when considering projectors. They want the images to look as good as possible. That priority points toward laser projection, Laney says. “Your color saturation tends to be significantly better with laser.”
Sony’s Z-Phosphor line in particular seems to win over customers focused on color accuracy, according to AVI-SPL account manager Jake Gilray. “I’ve seen a couple of different lasers side-by-side shooting out images, and to me it was just all about the color accuracy of the Sony,” he says. “You don’t even have to sell it. They see the difference. Often times, that’s the thing that just makes the decision for them.”
The 3-chip design in Sony’s 3LCD laser projectors is the major reason for that perceived better color accuracy, according to Phipps. He says having three chips in each device creates a “better” and “optically more efficient” solution than single-chip alternatives.
“In other words, they can use less energy to produce more light and it would give you much better color response, much more color accuracy, if you will, because it’s modulating all three colors all the time,” he says.
Apples to Apples vs. Apples to Oranges
There is a consistency element that also comes into play when considering laser phosphor versus lamp-based projection, and it’s even more of a consideration for customers that would be using two projectors side by side or blending projections.
This benefit is something that Sony sort of stumbled upon in developing its laser projector line, Phipps acknowledges. “The laser phosphor uses a phosphor element to produce light. By nature that is very stable. What I mean by that is if I strike an element of phosphor with a certain amount of energy, I would get a certain response, a certain amount of light over a certain spectrum. It’s very predictable and very consistent.”
The flip-side is that lamp-based projection is a lot less predictable. “If I take a lamp and put current to it, it will produce light,” Phipps says. “But depending on the individual lamps and depending actually on the age of the lamp, the brightness and color will change a lot.”
That matters because a lamp-based projection will look one way right out of the box, and look vastly different after 500 hours of use and other factors. “With laser phosphor, Z-Phosphor, we can create a projector that has a certain color response, a certain color fidelity and it will stay that way,” Phipps says.
“This is especially nice if you have two projectors in the same room [or if] they’re blended. In a lot of universities you will get lecture halls where they will have a left projector and a right projector because of the size of the hall or in distance learning. And projectors that have slight color shifts are very noticeable when they’re side by side. With lamp-based projectors it’s almost invariable that you are going to have that.”
Ready? Now Wait!
You’re probably accustomed to using a computer with a solid-state drive. But try to remember what it was like “booting up” your older computers, anxious to get to work but instead tapping your fingers on the desk until it finally was ready.
There is a similar benefit to Sony’s laser projectors versus lamp-based projectors. Lamp projectors need time to warm up and also to cool down, which can be challenging for a presenter.
According to Sony, its laser light source projectors take only nine seconds to get to full brightness so a presentation can start; from standby it takes only one second.
Laser Isn’t for Everybody
While it’s easy to list the quantifiable benefits of laser projection, the folks at AVI-SPL and Sony aren’t saying that lamp-based projection isn’t a good fit for many customers.
The flip-side of Laney’s argument that customers using projection for 12-hour clips ought to logically chose laser, obviously, is that many use projection less prolifically. “If you use a projector eight hours a week, a 2,000-hour lamp is going to last you about five years, so you kind of lose the cost-of-ownership that comes with laser because you pay more for a laser projector up front,” he says. “It’s that high-usage cost of ownership where it offers the value. If you’re paying less for a unit that you’re using infrequently like that, they almost become disposable by the time the lamps need to be replaced. The technology [will have] changed.”
There is indeed a “price delta” between a 5,000-lumen lamp-based WXGA projector and a 5,000-lumen laser phosphor projector, Phipps says. “If it’s an application where the projector is used two hours a week and it’s going to take five years to get to the end of the lamp life, [laser] may not make sense.”
Phipps adds, there are also circumstances when a customer is tasked with buying a certain number of projectors and working within a limited budget; meanwhile, maintenance costs fall under a different budget. That customer might choose lamp-based without worrying about lamp replacement costs.
“There are some economics considerations there,” Phipps says. “But we’re seeing that for many customers, laser is the obvious choice, today.”