Video projector bulb rip
December 26, 2005 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Holy %#$!. I just priced out bulbs for our Proxima X350 video projector. The stores I looked at want $350, about equal to the price used projectors are going for on eBay. If I shell out $350, am I getting ripped off? Since when did it cost so much to make a light bulb?
posted by zek to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
It costs a lot to make a really bright, small lightbulb. This isn't a 60 watt incandescent we're talking about.

And I'd avoid getting one off ebay, you just know how much life it'll have in it. The bulbs are basically meant to be replaceable, like break pads.
posted by delmoi at 4:16 PM on December 26, 2005

Yeah it's a lot, but that's a reasonably normal price. You're getting a brand new blub for that and hopefully many hundreds of hours of life. You never know with the used projectors on eBay - their bulbs could be on their last legs.
posted by scarabic at 4:20 PM on December 26, 2005

Yup, that price is right. It's not a regular light bulb.
posted by filmgeek at 4:41 PM on December 26, 2005

"The material costs of mercury arc lamps (which are the most efficient light sources in the world for their wattage) are very high. The purity of the tungsten electrodes exceeds 99.9999% and the quartz envelope surrounding the electrodes is also ultra-pure so that it can contain the 7,000 degree Kelvin plasma arc."

(From the InFocus X1 FAQ)
posted by cillit bang at 4:45 PM on December 26, 2005

yeah, them lamps are expensive. You also have to watch out about turning off the projector with the kill switch instead of allowing the projector to cool off properly (run the fans for an extra minute) as this will really kill the lamp life. But on the bright side you get a 10' screen
posted by NGnerd at 4:47 PM on December 26, 2005

Oh and secondhand projectors are cheap because they (potentially) have worn out bulbs.
posted by cillit bang at 4:47 PM on December 26, 2005

Thanks all... esp. for the mercury arc information. Guess I'll suck it up and shell out the dough.
posted by zek at 5:30 PM on December 26, 2005

Question for the people giving advice here...what's the alternative? Are there bright enough LEDs to make projectors with yet?

I've always felt that projectors are way over priced for their utility and that eventually someone would come along with a $300 projector and wipe out the market.
posted by Kickstart70 at 6:15 PM on December 26, 2005

Hasbro recently released Zoombox, a video projector plus DVD player for less than $300.
posted by soiled cowboy at 6:31 PM on December 26, 2005

An alternative is scaling the whole thing up so you can use more popular tech. Larger LCD, larger bulb, larger lense, and you end up with an A4 piece of paper about half a metre deep as your projector.

See this earlier thread
posted by holloway at 8:02 PM on December 26, 2005

Er, as in, an object the size of an A4 piece of paper.
posted by holloway at 8:03 PM on December 26, 2005

It almost goes without saying, but I will. When you replace the bulb DO NOT do not do not use your naked hands/fingers Non powdered latex gloves are good). Even the slighted bit of oil on the bulb has the potential to cause the thing to blow, and if you are really unlucky, explode. I worked as a light tech for a few years, saw it happen with a theatre light, most impressive
posted by edgeways at 9:27 PM on December 26, 2005

Yeah, this is the big downside to projectors. Most are easily portable and pretty quiet. They can throw a huge screen, and many offer superb image quality. You can get HD (720p) for under $3k, and solid DVD-quality for under $1k.

If you have light control (a projector room needs to be almost completely dark), this is one of the better ways to do a big screen. You get to measure your screen size in feet, but because the bulbs burn out, you have a cost for runtime. Anywhere from 10 to 25 cents an hour is normal... the cost goes up as you go upscale, because the costlier projectors usually have bigger and brighter bulbs.

As others have said, you must absolutely baby that bulb. Once it goes off, DO NOT turn it back on for AT LEAST an hour. It's much better to run it all day than it is to power it off and on. The bulb must be stone cold when you start it, or the projector will send too much voltage early in the heat-up cycle, and you'll dramatically shorten the bulb life.

I've heard conflicting things about the projectors' built-in cool-down cycles. Some folks claim that a natural cooldown is better for a bulb... that the forced-air cooldown actually shortens the life somewhat, but makes it much safer to restrike the bulb sooner. (many people don't know how important it is to only start a bulb cold.) I'd suggest still letting your projector do its normal thing, but if you have a power failure, it's not death. As long as you don't restrike it for at least an hour, you shouldn't lose much, if any, bulb time. This is inconvenient, to be sure, but is finishing the movie RIGHT NOW worth a couple hundred bucks?

I read somewhere that it's very bad to run a projector on a UPS, but I don't remember why. It might be because most UPSes put out square waves... perhaps these bulbs don't like that kind of power.

If you're shopping for a projector, this is something you should consider... how long will the bulbs last, and how much do they cost? Figure out your run time per hour, and then at LEAST double that cost. Assume, in other words, that the bulb will last half as long as they say. They'll usually last pretty well if you take good care of them, but by using the 50% figure, you won't be as disappointed if it burns out early.

Projector tech is moving pretty fast, too, so when it does die, it's possible you may just buy a whole replacement projector. Don't focus on this factor to the exclusion of all other things, especially if the projector is a cheapie. (the under-$1k DVD-quality units being cheap in this market.)
posted by Malor at 12:07 AM on December 27, 2005

They aren't regular light bulbs. But that's only part of the reason for the high price.

I had to do a case study on these projectors when I was doing my MBA. Pricing on these bulbs has its roots in the pricing of razor blades and, more recently, printer cartridges. THe people manufacturing the items know that you're not going to look at the price of the bulb/blade/ink when you buy the projector/razor/printer. And they know that, when it does come time for you to buy the ancillary product (bulb/blade/ink), they just need to price it below what it would cost you to switch to a new project/razor/printer. They've got you over a barrel. I'm unsure as to whether they consider resale value, but I'm sure eBayers deliberately sell used projectors at the price of new bulbs.

Note: people replace bulbs far less often than they replace razor blades or printer ink. So it's not quite as much as a cash cow. But the decision-making behind the pricing is similar in many respects...except for the giving away the base product for absolute peanuts. I haven't noticed very many dirt cheap projectors and they sure as heck don't send them to me in the mail!
posted by acoutu at 12:12 AM on December 27, 2005

If you're interested in the case study, I think you'll find an abstract here
posted by acoutu at 12:14 AM on December 27, 2005

Kickstart70:...what's the alternative? Are there bright enough LEDs to make projectors with yet?

They're getting there, although IMO brightness is the continuing issue. If/when LED projectors get "bright enough", i.e. as bright as traditional bulbs, a lot of the downsides of front projectors disappear:
- Much longer bulb life, roughly 10x longer
- Much more durable bulb -- transporting it is not a big deal
- Cooler running = quieter operation
- Instant on

/ I'm a huge front projector fan, but I'd love to have all of the above.
posted by LordSludge at 10:04 AM on December 27, 2005

On Preview:

The Zoombox (@$300) isn't comparable with a regular video projector, or even a halfway decent slide projector. The bulb (35w/12v - Possibly an FTE) the Zoombox website states it uses is the sort used in low-voltage track lighting. For comparison, many slide projectors and overheads use an MR-16(300watt/120v - An ELH, for example) - Given it's (almost certainly - $300 with a DVD player built in?) low-quality optics, guessing that the Zoombox has 1/10th the light output of a middle-of-the-road slide projector would actually be kind.

On Topic:

I find that Don's Bulbs is a good website, partially on price, partially because they'll give you multiple descriptors for a given bulb. For example, your projector takes a 120W UHP lamp, in an 027 proxima frame - Searching Froogle for "LAMP+027+Proxima" gives a low price of $319
posted by Orb2069 at 10:20 AM on December 27, 2005

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