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Why Are Projector Lamps So Expensive?

Updated on April 18, 2008
Photo Courtesy of Projector Lamp Center
Photo Courtesy of Projector Lamp Center

Projector Lamp Prices

Many projector owners find themselves quite surprised when shopping for a projector lamp. When a person thinks of purchasing a light bulb essentially, they think of an object that costs about ten bucks, however, a projector lamp is a bit more costly. Surprisingly, this small light bulb of sorts usually costs between 200 to 400 dollars. This may sound outrageous but there are some understandable reasons for projector lamps being expensive.

Reasons Projector Lamps Are So Expensive

  • Unique Design

  • Scarcity (Manufacturers produce lamps in small batches)
  • Difficult and Expensive Materials

  • High Quality Standards

Let us review these reasons together and discuss how to get the best value on a projector lamp.

Unique Design

There are multiple projectors on the market all composed of differently shaped parts and most require different lamps. Each manufacturer will design proprietary projector lamps to be unique from the rest, only fitting their assigned projectors, by molding the casing for the bulb, and holder for the lamp, to be curved a bit differently than others.

Scarcity (Produced in Small Batches)

Also, different types of projectors require different wattage. For example, home theatre and business projectors require between 150 watt to about 300 watt lamps. Because many lamps are composed of different amounts of watts, this limits each lamp's compatibility with various projectors. Due to these two factors alone, there is a limited amount of each lamp produced each year, therefore causing the price of each lamp to inflate.

Difficult and Expensive Materials

More specifically, projector lamps and the bulbs themselves are expensive to make and produce in large quantities for multiple reasons. Many lamps are made with UHP bulbs, developed by Philips. These bulbs are expensive to manufacture because they are made of materials such as borosilicate glass, fused quartz, mercury gases and metal halide. Because quartz is so tough to work with and is so hard, special equipment, which is highly expensive, is needed to heat and mold the quartz. Also, the glass in the lamps is sometimes hand made by glass blowers, adding to the expensive nature of producing even a single lamp. A lot of time and effort is put into creating each lamp that is manufactured because they cannot be mass produced like most products.

High Quality Standards

The scarcity of projector lamps drives their price even higher. Manufacturers protect their investment in expensive materials and time by enforcing high quality standards. At 200 to 400 dollars each, every lamp has to work. The highest acceptable failure rate in the projector lamp industry is around 5 to 7 percent lamp failures per batch with the common failure rate being less than 1%. Reducing the manufacturer failure rate requires increased manpower and the integration of expensive testing technology on the factory floor. When a sample of lamps is tested in most manufacturing facilities, and the sample demonstrates an unacceptable failure rate, then the whole batch has to be reinspected or discarded.

A higher failure rate is acceptable in less expensive items like clothing. Think of how often you have seen loose threads, stains, and little tears in a garmet for sale in a nice department store. That makes it easy to understand that the acceptable failure rate in the mid priced clothing industry is closer to 3 percent. The costs related to quality assurance (labor, equipment, equipment, and failed product that never reaches the market) increase the cost of projector lamps. In a way, this is good for customers. The extra cost for high quality standards (See this document for an example) protects everyone from paying $200 for a broken, useless lamp.

How to Get the Best Price on a Projector Lamp

The safe bet for anyone searching for a projector lamp is to purchase from a reliable source that offers OEM and/or OEM compatible lamps. OEM lamps are produced and sold by the original manufacturer of the projector (Sanyo, Mitsubishi, Optoma) at full price. OEM compatible lamps are produced by companies who reverse engineer the lamps to compete with the manufacturers. Because projector lamps are so unique in shape and wattage from one another, it is extremely difficult and expensive for anyone to duplicate a manufacturer's lamp efficiently and cheaply. Few companies have tried. Unfortunately, there are unreliable sources with lamps that have failed or burnt out much sooner than expected, without warranty. The low price of an OEM Compatible projector lamp can be attractive. Just be sure to understand your warranty rights before purchasing an OEM Compatible lamp.

If you have the luxury of planning ahead, try selecting a projector based on the cost of the lamp. Look for projectors with low cost lamps. Optoma, Sanyo, and Eiki are a few of the many brands with relatively inexpensive projector lamps. Customers can enjoy low cost lamps longer if a projector is especially popular, or the manufacturer uses the same lamp design in multiple projectors over several years. A popular, high quality projector will have a higher demand for projector lamps. That means that projector manufacturers can take advantage of economies of scale in production. They can make lamps in larger batches to decrease the cost per lamp.

Also projector lamps increase in price as the projectors they fit get older. Each new projector model that uses the same lamp as your projector adds two to five years to the amount of time you can expect to pay a relatively low price for projector lamps.

To sum up, projector lamps are expensive because they are rare and made of expensive parts. Here are 4 tips for getting the lamp you need at the best price.

  • Consider OEM Compatible lamps

  • Select a projector with low cost lamps

  • Choose a popular projector.

  • Watch for your projector to be re-manufactured under another name with a lower cost version of the same lamp.


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      Darren 6 years ago

      W Petty, you have no clue yet you talk like you know it all. People like you want every thing for free. I am happy paying the price for quality and assurance that the bulb will last otherwise I would not fork out thousands of pounds on a projector in the first place. In my opinion, the thousand pound was money well spent and do not regret any second of viewing.

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      W PETTY 7 years ago

      Really is the the best crap you can put out seriously? the same bulb ranges from 199 to 527 this is price gouging and I wish they would shut down the companies like yourself that think the bulb can be sold for nearly the cost of the projector itself it is simply greedy corporate heads looking for a way to make more money.

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      Jesson 7 years ago

      Projector bulbs are cheaper than OHP bulbs if compared with price per hour. Brilliant write up but whats more brilliant about any articles are the comments. Thanks a lot for the link Leon. You've just made me one happy bunny. I've just placed an order for a 180W bulb. Am well excited. The forums are still new but have registered.

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      Leon Tucker 7 years ago

      Well I saved a consderable amount of money by purchasing just the bulb as opposed to a lamp. It takes a bit of DIY work to get the positioning correct but it was well worth it. After extensive searching, I managed to find only one company who sell the bulb on it's own. For any one who's interested in rplacing their bulb, I go mines from

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      infusionfx 9 years ago

      Cool, I always wondered why they were so expensive.