Can A Projector Lamp Be Replaced With LED?

Whether you’re a museum manager, elementary school teacher, or home movie fanatic, I’m sure you know all about projector lamps.

These box-shaped devices have been used since the late 1890s to project images, videos, and movies onto large screens.

Of course, technology advances rapidly, so newer projectors are brighter, quieter, and more efficient than ever. But what about old projector lamps – are they destined for the junkyard, or can they be retrofit with modern bulbs?

HID, UHP, and halogen projector lamp bulbs can be replaced with LEDs, but it won’t be a straightforward task. Due to LEDs’ newer technology, an internal motherboard, heat sink, or a transformer might need to be redesigned.

With replacement HID bulbs costing in the region of $300, I can understand why you want to replace it in the projector.

This is a complicated subject, but lots of people have successfully completed retrofit projects!

Stay tuned for an overview of the different types of projector bulbs and an analysis of how to swap out old projector bulbs for newer ones.

What Type of Bulbs Is Used In Projectors?

Before I jump into the topic of replacing your projector bulbs, it’s beneficial to understand how the different technologies work.

Generally speaking, there are 4 main types of a projector bulb: halogen, HID, LED, and laser. I’m going to discuss each one in turn.

Old projectors used candles and oil lamps as their light source. Still, these were eventually replaced by incandescent bulbs and then again by halogens.

Halogen bulbs create light in a similar way to incandescents – they use tungsten filaments enveloped in a gas-filled capsule. The addition of halogen gas adds longevity to the bulb, as the tungsten atoms can be recycled.

After halogens came metal halide lamps, also known as high-intensity discharge (HID) or ultra-high performance (UHP) lamps. These bulbs have been tried and tested in projector lamps since the 1960s.

HIDs emit light when an electric current is driven through two tungsten electrodes sitting inside a gas-filled quartz capsule. The electricity causes metal halide vapor in the capsule to evaporate and form a light-emitting plasma.

The main downside of HIDs is that they take a few minutes to properly start-up and shut down, plus their internal cooling fans can be noisy.

Nowadays, the most popular type of projector bulb is a light-emitting diode (LED). LEDs produce light using a semiconductor chip. Electricity causes positively charged electrons to meet negatively charged electron holes, which produces light.

LED projectors are beneficial because they are smaller, longer-lasting, and achieve full brightness immediately.

The newest addition to the projector bulb family comes in the form of a laser. A laser beam is created when a collection of electrons become excited by an electric current.

Each of the electrons produces the same wavelength of light, so they can merge and form a parallel beam.

Much like LEDs, lasers are extremely long-lasting, do not produce heat, and start-up immediately.

Average Lifespan Average Cost Average Lumens Per Watt
HID 3,000 hours $50 – $200 75 – 100
LED 20,000 – 60,000 hours $100 – $200 60
Laser 30,000 hours $1500 – $8000 33 – 603 (K Guttag)

Can HID Lamps Be Replaced With LED?

Perhaps you’ve recently picked an old HID projector from a thrift store, is there any way to get it working again without spending hundreds on a new HID bulb?

Thankfully, there is. But there are a few things to bear in mind before you get started.

If you’re thinking of replacing an HID projector bulb with an LED, you need to pay attention to its lumen output.

If the projector is designed to use a 1000 lumen HID bulb, the LED you to fit needs to be roughly the same (or higher).

Most projectors work by splitting white light into red, green, and blue layers.

Essentially, this means that only 20% of the white light generated by the bulb makes it to the screen. Poor lumen output will make the projected image blurry and difficult to see.

Additionally, when retrofitting an LED bulb, you need to consider heat. Excess heat dramatically shortens the lifespan of LEDs. Given the confined space inside the projector, it’s likely that heat will be able to build up.

Therefore, you need to implement a dissipation device – whether that’s a fan, vent, or chipset cooler.

The third element to think about is the projectors programming. If a projector is designed to work exclusively with HID bulbs, it will ignore or reject LEDs. So you need to think of a way to cheat the system.

The easiest way to do this is by locating and disabling the projector’s optocouplers. This will fool the motherboard into believing that the LED bulb you fit is a legitimate HID bulb.

Voila!

Do LED Projectors Have Integrated Bulbs?

LED bulbs may be long-lasting, but they are not invincible. So what happens if your LED projector bulb breaks? Can it be replaced?

The short answer: probably not.

Most LED projectors aren’t designed to allow for light source replacement, especially not consumer replacement.

This is because LEDs have incredibly long lifespans. Manufacturers assume that by the time the LED starts emitting 70% of its initial light output (L70), you’ll be ready to replace the whole projector unit.

To cut costs during the manufacturing process, they integrate the LEDs with the rest of the projectors’ motherboard, making them difficult to separate.

How To Replace Projector Lamp

With that in mind, how easy is it to replace a projector lamp? Lucky for you, I’m about to reveal all.

Step number one is to find out whether your projector lamp is replaceable. This is easy to find by referring to the unit’s product manual.

If it is replaceable, head to Google, Amazon, eBay, or wherever you like to shop and look for a replacement bulb.

If it is not replaceable, don’t lose hope!

It may be tricky, but you could try replacing the bulb anyway.

Remember that opening up your projector and playing with the bulb is likely to void any warranty you have.

Proceed with caution.

There are tons of easy-to-follow video tutorials that detail precisely how to replace a projector lamp.

Even if you can’t find your exact make or model, watch a few videos anyway, you’ll definitely learn something valuable!

Final Words

All-in-all, projector lamps are difficult but not impossible to replace.

Did you know that in 2017 Hitachi produced a 3500 lumen LED projector?

Hopefully, in the next few years, laser projectors will become more accessible. Manufacturers slowly realize how useful it would be to have replaceable LED lamps.

  • Have you ever tried replacing an old projector bulb?
  • Was it successful?

Tell me all about your project in the comments section, I’d love to know.

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