The Cost of Replacement Lamps
By Evan Powell, December 3, 2004
Projector prices have dropped like a rock in the last
few years. There are many models now selling for well under $1,000.
Unfortunately the cost of replacement lamps has not followed suit.
Though some lamps are now below $300, most are in the $350 to $400
range and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Therefore
more and more consumers buying entry level projectors are shocked to
discover that replacement lamps can cost as much as half of the
projector's original price.
A lot of folks are understandably confused and irritated at this
situation. Nobody likes a surprise bill for $400 that they didn't
expect. But it is a lot easier to deal with when you anticipate it,
budget for it, and put it into perspective.
Projectors are not like televisions that can run maintenance-free for
a decade or more. They need to have their lamps changed on occasion,
and most have air filters that need to be cleaned every month or two.
Lamps typically last about 2,000 hours on most models. Some of the
newer projectors offer extended lamp life of 3,000 hours, and a few
are up to even as much as 5,000 hours. Keep in mind however that some
lamps won't make it all the way to their estimated life spans. If you
operate your projector in a warm environment that is not adequately
ventilated, or at higher elevations, this can reduce lamp life. Also,
failing to keep the air filter clean may reduce lamp life as well. And
some lamps will just fail sooner than others--estimating average lamp
life is not an exact science.
While extended lamp life is a plus, don't let lamp life itself be an
overly huge factor in selecting a projector. Certainly a longer lamp
life can mean lower cost of ownership. However, if you get 2,000 hours
out of a lamp it will deliver 1,000 two-hour movies. If the
replacement lamp is $400, that is about forty cents a movie. If you
watch thirty movies a month, your lamp cost is about $12 per month—the
cost of a medium Domino's pizza. Compared to the cost of renting or
buying those thirty DVDs a month, the lamp cost is almost invisible.
Of course if you are intending to operate the projector up to 10 hours
a day or more, you will burn through lamps more quickly than will the
typical home theater user, and replacement cost becomes a more
significant issue. But if you are the typical home theater enthusiast
who might watch a movie a day or less, you will probably conclude that
lamp life and lamp costs are not very important cost factors in
deciding between projectors.
Either way, no matter what type of usage you are planning for, when
you are buying a projector make sure to estimate your intended hourly
usage per month. Then ask the dealer for average lamp life and
replacement lamp prices so you know what you are signing up for. Only
after you've estimated your lamp usage can you put the cost of
replacement lamps into accurate financial perspective and budget for
For those thinking of buying a used projector to save money, a bit of
caution is warranted. There is usually no warranty on a used
projector, and the lamp is likely to be almost expired unless the
seller specifically guarantees you a new lamp. You may not be ahead of
the game if you spend $500 on a used projector, only to find that you
must lay out an additional $400 for a lamp to operate it. Quite often
you'd be better off buying a new projector with a fresh lamp and full
Projectors are excellent tools for delivering huge video images in
your home, office, or classroom. However, they are not
maintenance-free. But as long as you are aware that replacement lamps
are not cheap and you will need one on occasion, you can usually
budget for them over the life of your projector without it having any
serious unexpected impact on your finances.