Why Are Projector Bulbs So Expensive?

I've been trying to get a clear answer to that one for the last couple of years, but every time I ask Panasonic or Infocus about the high cost of replacement bulbs I get some mumbo-jumbo about the high tolerances or exotic materials that go inside—or more commonly no response at all. It's been bugging me lately because my beloved Panasonic AE-900U is getting dim. (And has a wicked fan rattle, too, but that's probably both fixable and the fault of Porter's disgusting shedding, not a failure endemic to the model.) I priced out new bulbs and they're all about $300-400, depending on the source. What is a real pisser is that I could buy a used AE-900U on eBay for around the same price, making it clear that the only thing of real value inside a projector is a fresh, new bulb. It's got to be a racket, right? I understand that those lamps need to throw out a ton of lumens, but even if they're filled with strange metals and inert gasses, hundreds of dollars for a bulb seems nutso to me. Then again, I'd feel a lot better about paying for a new bulb if I were wrong, so if you've got some science to drop on me I'd love to hear it.
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67 Responses to Why Are Projector Bulbs So Expensive?

  1. Harrkev says:

    Keep waiting for the LED’s.

    Have you seen an LED that can replace even a 100W household bulb? Yes, they exist, but they are terribly expensive. Some of those bulbs in projectors are 200W or more, so you need even MORE expensive LED’s. Plus, there is the fact that one LED die is not going to do it, so you now have multiple dies, so multiple sources of light. This will greatly complicate the optics needed in order to get a nice-looking image.

    Also, old-fashioned bulbs generate a lot of heat, but they thow it out as infra-red light, which heats up everything around them. So the heat is not concentrated in one tiny spot, and is easier to remove. LED’s, on the other hand, generate waste heat that stays in the LED itself, so you need a giant honkin’ heat sink on there, and you probably still need the fans. While bulbs work BECAUSE of heat, LED’s tend to die if overheated.

    I have no doubt that LED projectors will happen, but I would not expect it in the next couple of years.

  2. floydrob says:

    as far as i know, Standard white led’s have an output of 100-115 lumens (i’m not 100% sure, correct me if i’m wrong)
    my projector bulb has an output of 2000 lumens. couldnt i just soldier together 20 led’s (giving me the 2000lumens), take the curved mirror from an old torch, make some kind of frame/bracket and put in place of the bulb?
    this would only cost like 10pence per LED or less.
    please advise.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’ve had a variety of projectors over the last few years- from CRT to LCD. I’ll tell you this- it’s cheaper to buy the $100 3 year/2 lamp (the proper term) warentee. I also work in a chemistry lab where things like a Xenon lab where, as was mentioned earlier, the prices go for around $1000 per lamp. Yes, it has to do with the quality of the materials used, but also the exactness fo the engineering involved. On the other hand, if the lamps were standardized a bit better, I would bet they would be cheaper. As it is…well.

    Keep in mind too that these lamps have a shelf life if not used of usually around 6 months to a year, so it’s a painful drain on a company to actually keep the little suckers in stock. That’s also why you should be wary of either cheap ebay prices, or old lamps you find in stores.

  4. A_B says:

    It takes a lot of dead pixies to make enough pixies dust for even one bulb. And dead pixies don’t come cheap.

    You should thank your lucky stars it isn’t more expensive, you cheap bastard.

  5. assum says:

    i await biological tvs
    now u wait.

  6. Anonymous says:

    It’s also likely that they roll part of the cost of the unit into the cost of the bulbs. This allows them to sell the units cheaper and then recover some of their manufacturing costs of the units on the replacement parts. This is definitely the printer cartridge plan as once you buy the main unit you’re locked into buying their proprietary ink replacements for the life of the unit (or refilling them).

  7. ChoppyChoppy says:

    I work for an ad agency that leases nearly 200 Panasonic projectors for digital onscreen advertising. All I have to say is that this crap HAS to be a racket, mainly because there’s never been a deal for mass purchase that my company has gotten from Panasonic. No “corporate discount.” This stinks of a little old-fashioned negative reciprocity if you ask me. Despite spending thousands of dollars each year on bulbs, you’d think they’d cut us some slack – not even close. If their bulbs are so sophisticated, you’d think they’d get the automatic keystoning right!

  8. tfinniga says:

    I’d guess that the reasons are lack of competition, standardization, and/or volume. I got a crappy tornado projector for the kids, and it takes standard track lighting bulbs. It’s really dark, but I got a two-pack of xenon replacement bulbs for $8, so if xenon is the only rare material in the fancier bulbs, that’s likely not the reason for high prices.

    The argument about precision in manufacturing is interesting, but it seems that hotspots could be fixed in software. I’ve seen projectors that calibrate other things with structured light. Correcting for hotspots should be relatively easy, especially if you consider the electronics basically worthless, and doing so would let you use much cheaper bulbs.

    I’m sure there are lots of ways to reduce prices, but it’s likely not advantageous for the producers to do so, and nobody else is stepping in offering generic replacements, so maybe the market is still too small and fragmented.

    And I’ll bet it’ll stay small as long as it costs on the order of $1-$2 per hour just to run your projector.

  9. Kid says:

    Speaking of cheap bulbs, I would have recommended the Lumenlab eVo projector, which uses bulbs you can find in Home Depot…. BUT

    I’m shocked to find out just now that they have discontinued the product! :(

    What I’m even more shocked is that they are coming out with a RepRap robotic kit!! Awesome!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always assumed it’s the same principle as inkjet printer cartridges (or razor blades, to take the classic example): Drive down the cost of buying into the system, to draw in customers; take your profit on the ongoing supplies needed to actually use it.

    That may be overly cynical. But I don’t grok why a projector bulb for LCD or DLP projection would need to be that much more precise/expensive than a similar bulb for slide or movie projection. Those aren’t cheap either, but they’re reasonable.

  11. chef says:

    #3 Although it’s redundant, I think that it’s totally fine to “sign” your name at the end of an e-mail or post. If you want to think of it another way, you still sign your name after writing a letter on stationary with your name in the letterhead.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Wow, I have seen no actual, concrete explanation for the original question. Wonderful theories, but still searching for answers. The bulb could be made of Swarovski crystal, have a platinum filament, and have solid gold electrodes and it still wouldn’t even cost half of what they charge to make.

    Oh, and to the guy who spent $25,000 on a projector setup and dismissed everyone else’s efforts, you’re a pompous Summer’s Eve without anything to contribute. If he could afford ten of these crazy expensive bulbs in one shot, I doub’t he’d have posted this.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I am buying scrap projector lamp together with cage. Can be any brand and any quantity. If you are to supply me, please contact me at By the way, my name is Vincent Chew. Thank you.

  14. Anonymous says:

    With LED technology advancing I can’t wait for a projector that uses a LED for the lamp instead of the standard lamps. The lifetime on LEDs are so much longer that you would have to replace the projector before the bulb in most cases.and they have some really bright one’s now. Not bright enough to project with yet but only time will tell. Keep fingers crossed.

  15. danbeckmann says:

    Some of the materials used may in fact be exotic in nature, particularly a dichroic reflector for the bulb. This coating will allow infra-red light (heat) to pass through while reflecting visible light, thereby reducing the amount of heat shooting through the LCD element (or at the DLP mirrors). Also, the reflector may not be a second-power parabolic rather a fourth-power parabolic which much more accurately and evenly distributes light rays emitted from a focal point, and are therefore more difficult to accurately manufacture.

  16. monopole says:

    Its the entendue. Basically brightness vs area. You can’t increase the entendue, and each stage of the projector reduces it. As a result the metal halide bulbs used in projectors generate very small but exceedingly bright (and white) points of light. The other problem is that metal halide bulbs tend to like to go out with a bang, so shielding is required.

    The other problem is the totally out there lumen ratings. Projectors don’t hit the lumen ratings they are speced for (they usually are on the order of 300-500 lumens) and even that is overkill for well designed home theater. The SMPTE standard for cinema screens is 15 lumens. That’s not a typo.

    Personally I use the Mitsubishi PK200 LED projector. It will project a very nice large image in a reasonably dark room.

  17. shaynafay says:

    When I was teaching middle school, someone donated a projector. I was teaching a 6th grade computer elective where the kids were creating powerpoint presentations. This was a big deal considering all most of them knew was how to play games. I get the projector for the class, turn it on and – nothing. Broken bulb. Some schmoes in another class were fooling around and bumped into the cart. Our tech budget at this school was $0 so we did a fundraiser. If 1/3 of the kids in the school brought in a dollar, we could have raised the money to buy a new bulb. We raised a little over $100. Sad.

  18. Brett says:

    precision, exotic materials, low demand, blah, blah, blah, the reason they are expensive is because suckers like us will pay it! simple solution buy a bulb for a common overhead projector and modify it. If you really care about even brightness across the screen then you probably don’t care about $300. If you don’t think your capable of modifying it they it’s your own fault for being content in your own ignorance. The way the economy is heading being a hapless consumer isn’t going to work anymore!

  19. projectorlampsworld says:

    follow this link to know why projector lamps are so expansive

  20. hazelwoodfarm says:

    ELBIGGUS made a comment about car bulbs…well, let me tell you that I just replaced a very small xenon headlight bulb in my CLK and it cost $140.00. Totally absurd, Most big business’ are just thieves. Screw the little guy, every, I repeat, every chance they get!!

  21. Moon says:

    I had the choice of paying $300 for a bulb for my old Dell or buying a new better Dell projector for $600. Guess what I did?

    As an aside, those upconverting HD-DVD players make the resolution of regular DVDs better than any movie theater I’ve ever been in.

  22. Enochrewt says:

    Because they must be manufactured using the soul of a dead orphan or forsaken child.

    You should look into an LED DLP projector. The LEDs are rated at about 20,000 hours, but you can’t replace them (yet anyway). But that’s pretty comperable to an old CRT TV’s life.

  23. Mechalith says:

    Speaking as a former phone monkey for Infocus…

    The lamps are considerably more complex to make than a nomal lightbulb (50 odd steps as opposed to 3 or so, if I remember right) and work by generating a mercury-plasma bead inside the lamp. If it’s not put together exactly right the bead will drift into the wall of it’s enclosure and “rupture”. (three guesses what that’s a euphemism for) Under normal circumstances, properly maintained, a lamp will last 2-3 years before it fails.

    Combine that with the fact that almost all projector lamps (regardless of projector manufacturer) are made by the same two or three companies and you’ve got a very expensive, very locked down market, which drives prices up. The things genuinely cost an arm and a leg, even for the companies that sell them, although they do make a considerable profit obviously.

    By comparison, a black inkjet cartridge costs 10 cents, including packaging and sells for $50.

  24. Teckno_901 says:

    Well, i’m going to get my hands on a used projector for under £30 and im going to see if i can rewire it to accept normal halogen or metal halide bulb. I’ll let you know how i get on

  25. Joel Johnson says:

    I just want to acknowledge how much more knowledgeable all you guys than me and how happy that makes me.

  26. milovoo says:

    Just want to put in another late recommendation for the LumenLab projector – I have a eVo v.1.0 that I’ve been using almost every day since it came out.

    It uses $ 30. HID bulbs that I have yet to replace and is (like all good things it would seem) pretty much discontinued.

    I just figured I would never be able to relax and watch a movie on the projector if I was mentally picturing the hours of use ticking away at twenty cents an hour or whatever the usage cost of a high end bulb would work out to.

    When it dies, I think I may just have to build my own.

  27. Anonymous says:

    the reason projector bulbs cost so much is because projector companies rip us all off.
    The projector company is the only one which makes the bulb for that projector – they are the only people anyone who buys that projector can come crawling back to.
    No exotic gasses (the same ones as in OHP projectors), no extraordinary tolerances – it’s that simple.

    It’s the same with ink cartridges for printers: you can get a new Epson inkjet printer here with cartridge for £25 ($35).
    However, the new cartridge for this printer costs £15 ($20)!

    This is why companies have invested thousands in machines which can avoid all the refill-protection systems in any cartridge and you can now get your original cartridge refilled for about £5 – much more reasonable, and it works up to 6 times.

    why hasn’t the same been done with projector bulbs?
    because few people have successfully worked out how to circumvent their particular projector’s bulb-protection systems without breaking it. And nobody posts an article about their failures… do they?

    some people have figured out how to do it, but if you’re not pretty good with DIY, you’re on your own, as of yet.

  28. chroma says:

    Lumenlab still sells kits, and their “65K T15 Lamp” is only $50.

  29. Moon says:

    If you are buying the cheap projector, why would you want to spend $30 on a blue ray disk?

    Crazy talk. The up-converter is just fine.

  30. dculberson says:

    Many projector lamps are xenon arc lamps. Every decent projector that I know of uses some sort of arc lamp, I’m just not sure if they’re all xenon. Projectors that use other lamps are never as nice – not anywhere near the league of Joel’s projector.

    I bought an Epson because the bulbs were so much cheaper than normal ($125 – $175) but really the bulb cost isn’t a big deal if you “amortize” it over it’s usable life – even with the more costly bulbs. I figure using $.50 worth of bulb life to watch a 2-hour movie isn’t a big deal. And burning through a dollar or two worth of it for a long video gaming session is totally worth it.

    It used to be absolutely nuts how labor-intensive these bulbs were. I had an early DLP projector, based on the TI reference design, and the bulbs for it came with hand-lettered QC notes in little tiny print on the fused area of the bulb. (fused area = or whatever you call the squashed bit below the capsule.) I Can only hope that production has become a little more efficient since then!

    In answer to your query, though, Joel: My theory is it’s a combination of complex design, high precision requirements, expensive materials (fused quartz, dichroic reflector, etc), low production volume, and insanely high profit margins.

    The Lumenlabs projector wouldn’t be anywhere near the quality of a good home theater projector, by the way. You really do get what you pay for in this area – there’s no $500 projector that’s as good as a $3000 projector. It may be good enough for some people, but that doesn’t make it a nice projector.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I have an evo 1.2 — it is hairdryer loud. I believe lumenlab, or someone on the lumenlab forums does sell cheaper replacement bulbs for conventional projectors. However, I must say the evo is a tad of a disappointment.

  32. w000t says:

    #18 –
    No, you’re thinking of a dream projector, also knwon as a “joy can.”


  33. Brucifer says:

    Wheather or not this has been said I will fill in some of the blanks. The LCD and DLP projector lamps are expensive because…drum roll.. they use a tiny 1mm – 3mm plasma arc inside the small bulb produced by an enormous amount of striking power to create the arc. This arc is incredibly intense and bright. Some are now using Xeon bulbs with the same specifications.The arc is maintained by the power supply and electronics.
    The bulbs conatin mercury and many have several materials in them but either way you look at it this is one of the reasons they say it is expensive. They are hazardous to the enviroment and they can explode. They create a lot of pressure and heat. There is NOT a filament in them like any other bulb and yes there WILL be a new projector on the market THIS August or September will be LED based!! It is a new type of LED under the markerting patent of a “PhatLite” or “Phat Light”. They produce up to and over 22 trillion colors on the 3 DLP chips, no color wheel and the LEDS are expected to last 100,000 – 120,000 hours. It is an awesome piece of equiptment and will be availabe in more and more brand names as they pay into the patent rights to build their projectors with this new phatlight LED. They will have up 2000 to 3000 lumens as well. This means no dust, and no expensive bulb replacements. They also said the cost will be the same as any projector now, depending on the features, except add $700.00 or so to the tab. But for those hours of use it will be worth it. However, food for thought. If you are aware… a 65 inch flat screen tv that is DLP is nothing more than a DLP projector with the same/similar type of lamp. It does not use as much power, probably around 100 watts less than a projector but the same never the less and yet.. it costs HUNDRESDS of dollars less than a DLP projector lamp! Brightness would be an issue but I wouldn’t mind paying $169.00 for a 6000 hour,120 Watt, 3500 lumen mercury arc DLP TV bulb than pay $445.00 for the same bulb that goes in my DLP projector. I think there is a scam there.. but regardless..that is the low down on the new projectors and why the old bulbs cost a fortune.

  34. Gorshin says:

    To be honest, I am surprised there are even this many comments. It’s a scam. Pure and simple. Why do people try to find reason in something so unreasonable? Exotic gases? Special reflective coatings made from rare minerals harvested from distant asteroids? Light emitting liquids distilled from the tears of unicorns?

    Come on. Why all the hand wringing?

    Because those who have paid the sucker surcharge would rather convince themselves their payment was justified than admit they have been and continue to be taken.

  35. Anonymous says:

    the thing is. company’s have it locked down they know the supply and demand game. they supply the parts and they demand the money so it gives them the right to charge what they want

  36. sredmore says:

    I did a search on the mitsubishi pk200 and came up with this great piece of automated translation


    Users ar discovery young applications day-after-day in the place of the young PK20 LED DLP® PocketProjectorâ„¢. This is the 2nd propagation of Mitsubishi’s award-winning, micro-sized light projector. With an ultra-wide genus lens, the PK20 has unitary of the shortest range flip distances of peregrine projectors on the securities industry today. Powerful plenty to contrive a 60-inch range, you put up easy make a 20-inch bias test accompanying simply o’er a pick of acoustic projection space. If you’re a sales executive director, trainer, gamer, traveller, or motor home, you tin use up the “big screen” right-hand on in the opinion of you. Or habituate it at national notwithstanding digital photo or picture shows. Here’s What’s New in this Ultimate Portable Projector This division of projectors is so young that Mitsubishi has made a specifical elbow grease to take heed to in what condition you’re using this peculiar introduction mathematical product, and and then accord by with the help of young features. First, the PK20 expands its portability by adding an SD scorecard twinkle remembering reader for the sake of on-the-fly photo share-out or presentations.

    (and it goes on from there)

  37. prosy1986 says:

    Yes, really projector lamps costs about 60% of projector price. Say for eg, Viewsonic PJ503D an entry level DLP projector costs $500 now, the lamp costs around $260 to $300. One think we need to hack : the projector gets fired if it gets signal from the lamp unit. Then we should analyse the optics and bare lamp construction, holder type, size etc with details. Of course when your lamp hour exceeds 3000 hrs only. Then we can bid with an electronics technician to make the lamp work with new bare lamp which cost about $25 – $30.

    But it may take time and perseverance to get it done. But worth a try, I think

  38. Anonymous says:

    Just want to comment that this is NOT exactly like printer ink or razors.

    whereas HP makes the printer and ink cartridges
    It is highly likely (I’m speculating here) that Panasonic makes the projectors but does not make the bulbs. So the racket, if there’s one, may not involve the projector maker.

    I arrived at this speculation from the fact that car makers do not make their own xenon bulbs. they could, but it’s not cost effective.

  39. movie maniac says:

    If your a movie junkie like me don’t waste your time on cheap projectors and looking for cheap bulbs. It’s just not going to happen. I’ve done all the research and came to my own conclusion early last year.

    I decided to purchase an HD VPL-VW line projector from sony for about $9000. I also purchased ten bulbs for $450 a piece, which last 3000hrs/ea.

    At a total of about $14,000 I calculated that the average movie is 2.5 hrs, I’d have 30,000 hrs of bulb life to watch 12,000 movies… as if i could watch that many, but i’m working on it. It came out to just under a $1.20 per movie for projector and bulbs. Now if that’s something you cannot afford then you should not even be looking at buying a projector.

    My first big screen tv @ 52″ in 1992 i think cost close to $10,000. I now have a 13′ screen with more vibrant colors and overal light ( over 30000/1 contrast ratio) than any flat panel/plasma screen owners will ever know and it will probably last longer, so $14,000 was of little concern to a movie maniac like myself.

    I’ve only just replace my first bulb and i’m looking to upgrade to a larger projector screen. By the time I go through all the bulbs I’ll be ready to buy a new projector, unless they come out with something better.

  40. David Carroll says:

    Ok. Now I get why popcorn and a Coke is $10 at the movies. I’m paying for $500 light bulbs!

  41. LumenArc says:

    Well there are companies out there that will sell you only the bulb/burner which should cost considerably less. I think the reason that they are expensive is that when compared to other lamps, the reflectors are really thick and quality glass, the burner/bulb has considerable amount of life when in comparison with OHP halogen lamps. Considering this it actually works out the same ifyou was to get a total of 3000 hours out of a OHP lamp.

    If anyones interested in just the bulb for projectors, then http://www.lumenarc.co.uk sell just the burner on it’s own for a reasonable price.

  42. mark zero says:

    I’d be happy to pay $300-400 or more for an LED replacement lamp, because I have a Viewsonic. My regular lamp has a life expectancy of 2000 hours, and costs hundreds. The rest of the projector would probably wear out before an LED lamp would.

    BTW, I’ve seen it mentioned that someone did a study and found that it was cheaper to run projectors with bulbs until they actually burned out before replacing them, even taking into account the risks of them imploding and destroying the projectors, rather than replacing them when the projectors’ timers said to. Of course, you’d only really want to do that if you ran a media department, so you wouldn’t lose your one and only projector at a critical time.

  43. Anonymous says:

    I’m curious myself. I spent $270 last year for a bulb(Sanyo PLV-Z3). I didnt toss the old one, it still works but was well beyond recommended life. I am just going to buy thicker curtains for the windows next time, it would be cheaper and save my money for a new projector.

  44. screwballl says:

    these bulbs are pretty much the same as the sealed beam bulbs used on many modern vehicles. The automotive bulbs can sometimes be had for as low as $40 so the only reason it is so high for projectors is they know people will pay it to keep it going.
    bah give me a LCD TV and I will be happy, no need for a projector with all the associated costs.

  45. falves says:

    Projector bulbs are so expensive probably for the same crazy reason that replacing all four color toner cartridges in one of those lower end color laser printers often costs more than the printer did when new! What sense does that make?


  46. chapu says:

    What sense does signing under a blog comment make when your name is clearly posted automatically along with the post? These things may never be explained.

  47. csbmonkey says:

    Re regular 35mm projectors in theaters: That would be an $850 bulb. http://tinyurl.com/2ab3e7

    2000 hours.

    After reading this, I am going with #5’s explanation. That’s the most simple and sounds the most plausible for the size the bulbs are. 35mm projectors make up for that with power and size re hot spots (not that we didn’t have to send some bulbs back when I was a projectionist) and an adjustable reflector. No adjustable reflectors in an LCD projector that I know of.

  48. cisco says:

    The timing on this is freaky. Earlier today I passed on buying an Epson LCD projector for $50 with a dead lamp … because when I priced a replacement lamp it was about $400-500 !

    Sure maybe the total price would come out cheaper than a comparable new projector, but the new one would have ALL new parts AND come with some kind of warranty.

  49. Ursus says:

    I work in the entertainment lighting industry, and deal with expensive lamps (and their cheap knockoffs) all the time.

    It’s not so much that you are paying for exotic materials or high tolerances; the gas and filament are fundamentally the same as any other bulb. What you are paying for is the precision with which those elements are made. The reflector is engineered to give you an even field of light (no hotspot in the middle), the filament is as free as possibly of impurities that would affect the color temperature of the output, the glass of the bulb well formed to be as transparent as possible. Cheap knock-offs, on the other hand, are often built to less exacting standards, and your image would suffer.

    That said, it is, of course, also a racket. Though not as bad as the printer ink racket…

  50. Falcon_Seven says:

    Aw, quit your whinin’. You should be happy that you’re only payin’ $250 or so for a lamp. If you were runnin’ an IMAX/OMNIMAX projector you’d be payin’ $6000 plus for a lamp.

  51. pgee says:

    The key element here is….. volume. If you consider how many 60 watt light bulbs are produced….and then consider how many light bulbs for a specific projector are produced, the percentages and numbers tell the story.

    Think short production runs, warehousing, cost of overhead and stocking as well as the number of different models and specifications. Think of the “optimum performance levels”, average mean time before failure and product design and evolution.

    So, with mark-up, allowance for defects, and inventory costs and overhead.

    You get…..the feeling you have been “soaked”, at “no extra charge”…

    What’s worse…. because of supply and demand, expect to pay even more…. if you have a “hard to get replacement” because of a limited supply run or obscure replacement number because of age.

    In short….”we can… whenever we can, because we can.”

  52. wil9000 says:

    Them photons is pricey. No way ’round it. The worst part is that 5 years more down the road, there’s going to be a completely different solution. Brighter, clearer, better, you know, everything to piss us all off in every way. Remeber how cool dot-matrix printers were?

  53. Orlando Insane says:


    These guys have 15W LED’s that can output upto 875 Lumens (!)

    of course they run ~90$ a pop…

    but can’t we muster up some brain power and write an instructable on making a LED projector mod?

  54. ElBiggus says:

    Is it a xenon bulb? I’ve no idea whether they use xenon or something less exotic in domestic projectors. Anyway, if that’s the case then xenon itself is pretty scarce, and due to the high temperatures involved the envelope will likely be made of quartz rather than glass. Both raw materials serve to push the price up even before you factor in the additional complications in manufacturing a bulb out of them. Even if it’s not xenon, I suspect that a bulb that’s designed to pump out high-intensity near-white light for several thousand hours will be slightly better engineered than the mundane 60W jobs you use to light your house, plus will have a lower manufacturing density pushing unit costs up.

    All that said, though, the cost of replacement bulbs is the only thing that’s put me off buying a projector; here’s hoping white LEDs can rescue us!

  55. murray says:

    Joel, I think perhaps a more enlightened (oh yes I did) way to ponder this question is this: why are some things so cheap?

    The answer, in many cases, is production volume.

    So until the production volumes of projector lamps reach sufficiently high figures, they are going to cost a lot to make.

  56. Pope Ratzo says:

    Now that projectors are becoming much more popular, I expect that some bright company will come out with a sub-$100 bulb soon, and then it will be a race to the bottom.

    When I used to do instructional media at a local university, I could never understand why little light bulbs should cost more than $400 a pop except that the companies that sell them figure they’ve got a small window of opportunity to price-gouge, so they’re going to get all they can.

    “Free Markets”. How nice.

  57. Anonymous says:

    @Movie Maniac

    On the other hand you could just buy a Sharp QA-2500 for $150 on ebay, plus an overhead projecter for $20, and a nice screen for $50. Total cost $220. Bulb replacement is about $8 each online. I find mine last on average about 100 hours, so even for 1000 thats still only $80.

    Oh and I can’t afford your setup. But I wouldn’t as hell throw out mine despite the fact its “low quality”. For me I get nice colours across about 100 inches. For the price it beats any 52 inch TV out there that my friends have. Plus the gaming is awesome.

    Nice bragging though. :)

  58. Nixar says:

    “It’s not so much that you are paying for exotic materials or high tolerances; the gas and filament are fundamentally the same as any other bulb.”

    You most certainly don’t pay for the filament, for there isn’t any. Projector bulbs are discharge lamps, i.e. a lightning is continuously passing through a special mixture of gases. They are *not* incandescent light bulbs, for fuxake.
    They are expensive because they are made of material resistant to high pressure, high temperature, the electrodes have to be very durable and so on. They look superficially like common light bulbs, but the fabrication processes are completely different.
    They might be overpriced, but not by an order of magnitude like ink cartridges.

  59. Dillenger69 says:

    It’s too bad projector bulbs aren’t as easy to make as car headlights.

    Every few years I toy with the idea of getting a projector instead of a new TV but scrap it due to the bulb cost. 52″ isn’t big enough for me. I want a 9’x6′ screen to watch my movies on.

  60. Anonymous says:

    If you’re in the market for a projector but think that the cost of ownership is too high or that you should wait for LED bulbs: don’t. I bought a 720p projector (Panasonic AE500) in 2004 for $2000, replaced the bulb once for $400, and just love it. It’s not appropriate for the living room, but I’ve got a dark basement theater room and run the projector in economy mode.

    High-def at 10 feet diagonal is fantastic; cheap 480p projectors with noisy fans can’t compare. You can get a great 720p projector for about $1200 now–cheaper than a big flat-screen TV–and you don’t even need to spend much on a screen. My 119-inch Da-lite was $700 (I’ll never need to replace it), but screen paint or even plain white paint on a smooth wall is sufficient, especially to start with.

    My next step is to buy a 1080p projector, which will be $2400, full HD, quieter, and brighter–and cheaper than a 58-inch flat screen TV. Yes, the replacement bulbs are expensive, but you’ll only ever buy 1 or 2 per projector.

    DON’T buy the most expensive projector you can afford; DON’T buy a cheap SD projector. Follow basic gadget procedure: buy the middle one and plan on replacing it after a few years when the technology is better and cheaper. DON’T buy several bulbs right away (wait 1 year, then buy 1 bulb). DON’T buy from a brick-and-mortar store; research it online and buy online (ProjectorCentral consistently rates Panasonic and Sanyo as the best value). And, for pity’s sake DO watch HDTV and Blu-Ray disks, not just up-converted stuff.

  61. Anonymous says:

    Like two other posters, I have a Lumenlab eVo, bulbs cost $30. Maybe you should be asking them why their bulbs are so inexpensive instead of the other-way-round?

  62. dustbuster7000 says:

    I think the important factor here is, as a couple of people have pointed out, volume. Normal incandescent bulbs and now even compact fluoro bulbs are churned out in the hundreds of millions a year (probably more). The economies of scale on that compared with maybe tens of thousands of special, high brightness, high life bulbs are staggering. For purposes of comparison on performance, try staring at a standard bulb for a little while and see if you can last that long staring at a projector bulb (without the lenses, assuming you can physically achieve that). You get the idea. Much more performance, much higher manufacturing requirements.

    And as for cinema bulbs, you aren’t paying $10 a ticket for a $500 bulb. Cinema bulbs are much more expensive than that (I can’t remember how much, but think thousands) and some come shipped in a box, within a case, within a case. Very high pressure bulbs, quite delicate and more than capable, once installed, of setting fire to a piece of paper held in front of them (eventually).

    How much technology they share with home projector bulbs I don’t know, but bulbs with Xenon in them probably aren’t going to be discharge lamps. Xenon is a noble gas usually used for preventing immediate filament oxidation in high end incandescent bulbs.

  63. millia says:

    Well, from experience here helping school districts, there’s two factors at work here:
    a) cost of the ‘sled.’ These suckers are different on just about every single projector I’ve seen, even from the same maker. So you’ve got these fancy devices, with low volume numbers, and expensive manufacturing costs. The only real purpose they serve is to precisely align the bulb. The secondary purpose is to keep you from touching the bulb, and thus shortening its life. If you’re cynical, the real purpose is to make very expensive blades to the $500 projector. I can’t completely rule this out.

    b) low-volume bulb usage. Bulbs seem to be like RAM- they reach a sweet spot of cheapness and then go up. On some sleds, you can just take out the bulb, and pop in a new one- and that’s usually no more than half the cost of the new sled/bulb combo. At one point, I could buy the bulbs in our sharps for about $25, $50 for the large bulbs. (Sharp seemed to pick bulbs that were used by other industries.) That’s a good deal compared to the $300/$500 the new sled/bulb ran. I just replaced a bulb in one of our older conference projectors, that used to be $50, and it was $230ish.

    It’s not hard to replace just the bulb unless it’s soldered in place, and googling the #s on the bulb can usually net you a replacement, usually from Japan. Take out the old one, disassemble, wash the sled, and the put on clean cotton gloves and put in the new bulb.

    I have seen only one company that advertised ‘replacement sleds’ ala the ink refill places, but it strikes me as a profitable market.

    Epson is advertising at trade shows the lower costs of their bulbs. Anecdotally, that seems to be the case. However, like elbiggus, I’m really waiting for the LEDs to get bright enough to take over the market. Quieter projectors, no need for filters, etc., are greatly desired here in the schools, and the LED based projectors aren’t bright enough yet.

  64. dustbuster7000 says:

    Correction, they *could* be discharge lamps. Xenon arc lamps are exactly what theses expensive cinema bulbs I was referring to are, apparently. So if the home projector bulbs use the same technology, then that might account for the high price. Proprietary price gouging nowithstanding, of course.

  65. nex says:

    There are some silly opinions in the comments above, and who cares, overall the discussion is headed in a good direction, I think you guys are getting somewhere here. But one paragraph stood out as particularly misinformed to me:

    Projectors don’t hit the lumen ratings they are speced for (they usually are on the order of 300-500 lumens) and even that is overkill for well designed home theater. The SMPTE standard for cinema screens is 15 lumens. That’s not a typo.

    Well, yeah, it’s more of a thinko. You’re saying that home projectors are orders of magnitude brighter than cinema projectors? Let’s do some research here.

    The SMPTE standard for cinema screens is so-and-so many candela per square metre (well, whatever non-metric equivalent you have in the US), i.e. it’s about how much light any particular area of the screen is giving off, not about how much light is coming out of the projector. Which makes a lot of sense; having the brightest lamp in town doesn’t mean much when you’ve got a crappy screen that swallows half of the projected light. Also, when you have a larger screen, people are (on average, at least) sitting farther away, so even though you have more square feet of illuminated area, each square foot still has to be just as bright as on a smaller screen for the same total amount of light reaching the viewer. Therefore, bigger screens require brighter projectors. A really big screen doesn’t require a projector with 15 lumens, but tens of thousands of lumens.

  66. Anonymous says:

    why wouldn’t it cost a lot? the market for a particular bulb is small, each model uses a different bulb, and people only buy one every two – three years. I don’t understand why people would expect printer ink to be cheap either. Each model uses a different cartrige. Why would people expect companies to be gentle to consumers’ pocketbooks? Their goal is to maximize profit. The only reason why the printers are cheap is because of competition. There’s not much competition in the bulb or catrige market. The price has more to do with business than engineering.

    #8 DILLENGER69
    if you have a dark room, and you’re only watching movies with it (not TV)
    it’s quite worth while to watch it on a big projection screen, there’s a huge area difference between a 52″ diagonal and a 90″ diagonal.
    It’s funny when people go HD and watch it on the same size TV that they watch on analog. it’s like paying for an expensive sports car and driving it at 60MPH.

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