The projector lamp trap

I’ve owned three different projectors in the last decade. All of them have been your average mid-range wall-mounted home-theater projector. Fool me thrice, and I’ve finally learned my lesson and bought a TV instead.

Initially, I wanted a projector instead of a TV because it gave me a huge picture without burdening myself with a big and transport-unfriendly piece of furniture. I also disliked the idea of having a big and imposing black box in my living room. I decided to get a wall-mounted projector instead.

The first projector I got was an Optoma. It lasted five years and went out with a literal bang when the bulb exploded and took with it the mirrors in the lamp housing as well. It sent shards of glass flying everywhere and down onto my head and all over the sofa. Let’s just say I was quite shocked by the episode.

I wasn’t sure if the projector still worked or if some pieces of glass had embedded themselves into other components. I found a replacement bulb and lamp housing listed in one online store, but it cost almost as much as a new projector. I didn’t want to make an investment in replacement parts that I wasn’t sure would fix the problem.

I decided to replace it with another newer Optoma model instead of trying to clean out all the glass, and investing in a new lamp housing that might not work. I checked the cost of a replacement bulb and lamp housing for the new model before buying it. The bulb and lamp housing for the new projector cost about 90 USD, but I didn’t buy it when I bought the new projector.

The bulb in my second projector blinked out about three years later. This was a then five-year-old model, and the manufacturer had stopped selling replacement parts a year earlier. I checked online and the price of a replacement bulb and lamp housing had increased to 350 USD for the original part. I also found a “compatible” third-party option with no warranty for 220 USD. Yikes. Both options had to be imported with international shipping, import duties, and fees bringing the price for the original part up to nearly 440 USD.

On the other hand, a new projector that promised to be both brighter and quieter cost 520 USD and I could get it delivered for free the next day. This was an Acer projector with impressive reviews from projector special-interest websites. Again, I made sure to check that the price for the replacement parts and was happy to see they didn’t cost more than about 100 USD. I opted to replace the projector rather than trying to service the old one.

We’re now two and a half years later and in the present day. The bulb in my third projector is notably dimmer than it’s supposed to be, and the projector has begun displaying warnings urging me to replace it. The manufacturer had stopped selling replacement parts for my now four-year-old model. A local store listed the bulb (without the lamp housing) for 210 USD. Replacing just the bulb without replacing the entire lamp house isn’t a trivial task. Disassembling the lamp house without breaking it or the mirrors is finicky. Reassembling it and getting the mirrors just right is damned near impossible for an untrained amateur. An incredibly sketchy-looking website lists a “compatible” third-party bulb and lamp housing for only 260 USD plus international shipping, import duties, and fees. Neither options were in stock and the expected delivery time was about two months.

At this point, I felt like a complete idiot. I should have invested in a replacement bulb and lamp housing when I bought the damned projector! I’d made the same mistake three times in a row and newer learned from my mistake long the way. I also felt duped by a cynical industry that doesn’t supply the market with consumable replacement parts, presumably to both screw-with and up-sell their customers in the future.

The crazy price inflation on the replacement bulbs and lamp houses is one thing. Another annoyance is that it took me days to identify and locate the replacement parts each time. The parts aren’t listed in the product manuals, and I had to dig through partially archived versions of the manufacturers’ websites in the Internet Archive to find the part numbers. Online store listings for projector bulbs are also cryptic and hard to decipher. I found that the parts often work with a few different projectors, but that the store listings fail to identify the part number and what projectors they’re supposed to work with. As a customer, you have to guess and pester the store’s support email address for more details about the compatibility of the parts. You’re clearly supposed to replace the whole unit and not try to replace its consumable parts.

I briefly considered replacing the projector with a 1080p 1550 USD laser projector. Laser projectors are expected to last roughly 15 years at 3-hours of use per day compared to an estimated 3,65 years for a traditional projector. There is no guarantee that the projector would actually last that long, though. Its fan or power supply could go out, and there are tons of other different failure modes. The price tag is about the same I’ve spent on projectors over the last decade. Knowing what I know today, I’d definitely spend the money on a laser projector had they’d been so affordable and durable a decade ago!

However, I’d finally learned my lesson and wanted to take advantage of the November sale-season. My last projector has been taken down off the wall and handed in for recycling. Instead, my living room is dominated by a 1,65-meter rectangular black box branded Sony Bravia.

The Bravia TV only cost 1200 USD and comes with a welcome image quality upgrade to 4K and HDR compared to my past 1080p projectors. I’ve only had the TV for a couple of days, and it’s so big and assertive that I get startled every time I walk into the room. It’s slightly more than half the size of the projector image, yet it feels like it takes up five times as much space.

My new Sony TV didn’t come with the EU’s new energy-efficiency labels. The new labels are required to contain information about replacement-part availability and software update availability. It would have been useful to know these things before I bought the TV so that I could avoid making the same mistake as I’ve done with my projectors. The new energy-efficiency ratings and labels don’t come into effect until . Projectors, and many other electronics like laptops and phones, aren’t covered by the new label requirements.

Owning a projector might be a different experience in a different market. I live in Norway and it’s often difficult to get hold of replacement parts and specialist items. There also aren’t any repair shops that accept these projectors. Not that I’d want to hand one in just to replace a user-serviceable consumable part. The projector manufacturers were entirely unhelpful when I’ve asked them for help with procuring replacement parts. This story might have had a different ending if I’d lived somewhere else like the United States.

The prices quoted in this article span a ten-year period, but were adjusted for inflation at the time of publishing.