ANSI Lumens vs Color Light Output:
The Debate between LCD and DLP

Evan Powell, September 19, 2013

Concluding Thoughts

This comparison of two particular DLP and 3LCD projectors shows that the traditional ANSI lumen spec and the new Color Light Output spec can both be highly misleading, but for different reasons.

The ANSI lumen spec is a problem because it does not take either color brightness or color accuracy into account. Knowing that a projector is rated at 3000 ANSI lumens does not tell us anything about color saturation, color accuracy, image tint, or how dim colors might be. Projectors can and often do deliver bright but unattractive pictures at their rated ANSI lumen output. How much light must you sacrifice in order to get a balanced picture? The ANSI lumen spec gives you no idea. So it is really no standard at all.

Into this ANSI lumen mess comes the new CLO spec which suffers from similar limitations that plague the ANSI lumen concept: It does not take color accuracy into account, and it reveals nothing about whether the projector is calibrated to retain highlight detail. So you can have two specs on a product sheet that says "ANSI Lumens: 3000 and Color Light Output: 3000" and still end up with a picture you would not want to watch.

Despite the flaws it has in common with ANSI lumens, the CLO spec does point to a real difference in how color and white light are created on three-chip projectors vs. single-chip DLP projectors. Practically speaking, the CLO spec is used as a marketing tool to highlight what several 3LCD vendors see as a weakness in the design of single-chip DLP projectors. The DLP vendors counter with the claim that the white filter is no weakness at all, but rather the extra white light increases the brilliance and apparent contrast of the picture and thus should be viewed as a benefit.

Setting aside the marketing rhetoric, this study shows that the color limitations in single-chip DLP projectors can be real. To that degree the proponents of CLO make a valid point. Buyers should be aware that an LCD and a DLP projector with the same ANSI lumen rating may not deliver the same brightness of color images. However, the fact that CLO is not based on any color balanced standard leaves it open to much of the same criticism that ANSI lumens suffers. In this test, our LCD projector lost 24% of its brightness after adjustments to remove the blue/green tint and to regain highlight detail. So if a projector is rated at 4000 Color Light Output lumens, but only produces 3040 lumens once the picture actually looks good, that is something buyers should know as well. But the CLO spec remains silent on this issue.

Specsmanship is and always has been a marketing game, at least where brightness and contrast specs are concerned, so the controversy will continue. One thing is certain--the debate will raise awareness of not only the inadequacy of the ANSI lumen spec, but the inadequacy of all attempts to quantify a projector's brightness without a more comprehensive and commonly agreed upon set of standards.

Previous Page
TEST 2: Calibrated
Contents: Introduction Executive Summary Test Set Up TEST 1: Uncalibrated
  TEST 2: Calibrated Concluding Thoughts

Reader Comments(20 comments)

Posted Apr 9, 2016 7:01:17 AM

By Gene Houghton

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Great article. I would be interested to see how the comparison would be on a .6 screen.

Posted Mar 28, 2016 11:07:58 AM

By Michael Lang

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One of the best articles I have ever read comparing DLP with LCD. Where ddi you get the images

Posted Dec 16, 2015 12:59:10 PM

By Chief Master

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This article was very informative. Thank you Evan

Posted Jul 8, 2015 4:30:38 AM

By devx

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what's the difference between LED brightness and DLP brightness? I see a lot of LED projectors with 400-500 lumens of brightness, does this mean these projectors will be 5 times less bright than an average DLP projector with 2500 lumens. For example, the Optoma ML550 (LED-500lumens) and Optoma HD141x (DLP-3000 lumens), what will be the difference in terms of brightness.?

Posted Apr 22, 2015 4:44:28 PM


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This article was the most informative I've read so far. Being not very experienced in projector purchasing, the information given here answered so many questions. Thus helping me to make a very informed projector purchase. The actual visual tests were great. Thank you very much.

Posted Nov 11, 2014 2:47:59 AM

By Michael

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An excellent article and fair test which should help buyers understand what questions to ask.

I think a second article revolving around the various light sources would be useful as we now have the traditional hot lamp, LED, LED/Laser Hybrid and Laser engines; and again the technology is generally being sold on brightness (lumens).

There will undoubtably be differences particularly in colour fidelity and full on/off contrast between the light sources; and although LED for instance has a low lumens count this may not be the important factor for some buyers, such as artists using pico projector for installations. We know that the cinema projectors are governed by standards and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be provided expectations of the colour fidelity over the lifetime of the light source.

Possibly a more difficult test to create but I think it would be very useful for the art, education, business and home cinema buyers to understand which light source works best for their application.

Posted Sep 5, 2014 12:48:01 PM

By David

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One of the most comprehensive, well explained articles explaining (and showing) the differences in DLP and LCD color and brightness quality. Seeing the images side by side really helps...

Posted Jul 24, 2014 8:59:13 AM

By Home Theater Install

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AV_Integrated: I agree with your comment regarding RGB/RGB color wheel providing most accurate color display. I believe the Optoma HD30B is the model you need to compare to the W1070.

Posted Jul 16, 2014 8:34:52 AM

By AV_Integrated

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It would be excellent to have you guys run through this test again using three of the most popular 'cheap' home theater models. The Optoma HD25-LV (or similar) with a 2x, 6 segment (RGBCWG or RGBCYM) color wheel, the BenQ W1070 with the 6x RGB/RGB color wheel, and a Epson 2030 or 3020 model.

There's a lot of talk out there about the brightness specification of the Optoma models, but it seems that real world viewing won't actually allow it to deliver the same brightness, post calibration, or with normal use, that the W1070 is capable of delivering, and the cheaper Epson model may not be able to match either in regards to contrast, but may do very well elsewhere.

While dedicated home theater users may typically not care, for those with family room environments, non-dedicated spaces, or larger screens, the importance of getting post-calibration real world color brightness figures really seems like an important specification that can't be found anywhere else.

Similarly, it would be great for all reviews to include color wheel information and color wheel speed at differing input frequencies as most projectors don't have the same color wheel speed for 60hz content as they do for 24hz content.

Thanks for a very interesting read, even if I am getting to it a bit late!

Posted Jun 23, 2014 2:21:34 PM

By Bob

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This could happen but is extremely rare.

Posted Jun 23, 2014 2:20:23 PM

By Bob

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All the projectors you are considering have their merits. First consider your requirements - how much ambient light is in the room, what type of screen are you using, what size screen and what will you be watching?

For a dedicated home theater you don't really need 3000+ lumens unless you will be watching a lot of 3D content....most people don't after watching a few movies in 3D.

I do recommend moving up to 1080p, if within your budget. You may find that 3000+ lumens is too bright for a dedicated home theater. Also, look for a projector designed for home theater - for instance a color wheel with a white segment may focus on brightness instead of saturated colors.

Posted Jun 23, 2014 2:03:15 PM

By Bob

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Projection technology has been around for a long time now - both DLP and LCD projected images look great. I feel confident recommending both technologies without hesitation. If a customer is not happy with an image after adjustment, most projector manufacturers will assist customers or swap out the projectors.

The only companies really disputing this fact are the manufacturers of LCD panels and DLP chips. The DLP camp has not run a negative campaign for years, but this year at INFOCOMM, an LCD manufacturer had a side by side demo calling out the benefits of CLO. In the demo, both projectors were displaying images in high bright mode and both images were over-driven, and were not really acceptable, but the DLP image looked worse. When the settings were changed to a more user friendly mode, both projectors looked pretty good.

It seems that some projector manufacturers are determined to shift market share from one display panel technology to another. This might be a great idea in a growing market but the PJ market is relatively flat.

These component manufacturers should focus on finding ways to grow the PJ segment instead of shifting share.

At INFOCOMM there were several amazing LARGE screen displays that called out the benefits of projectors, including edge blending, LED, laser, interactivity, and digital signage. The industry needs to focus on the big picture and not components.

Posted Jun 11, 2014 10:36:19 AM

By Joshua

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Hey all, I just purchased a 730hd Epson with lCD and this is my first purchase of a projector. I'm wondering if I made a mistake for 2 reasons. First, it's 720p and does not do 3d. Second, will the LCD remain viable over time and product the best image? I'm considering swapping it out for Optoma DH1011 or a ViewSonic PJD7820HD.

Question is, will the DLP look as good as the 3 LCD from the Epson?

Posted Jun 4, 2014 11:25:00 PM

By Michael Miller

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And if you run the test after 3 years your DLP projector will have lovely sparkles all over it from the failed DMD chip.

Posted May 12, 2014 12:26:32 PM

By Lee

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Chris, I don't know where you are getting your information. First - no one knows exactly which LCD models have inorganic LCD chips, and many brands don't disclose this- so why you would you say that the #1 subject on the Projector Central forum is not relevant to a consumer anymore? Secondly, on what basis are you making the claim that DLP projectors use "lower quality parts"? Based on the Amazon top seller list today, the top four 1080p projectors are DLP, before a LCD projector is ranked. I have a hard time believing that they have "lower quality parts", when there are also sub $1k 1080p LCD projectors as well. I think the article shows that the image quality of a projector is not defined by a single spec, and this is where reviews by both this site and consumers really help consumer's decision making on a projector - regardless of the technology.

Posted May 5, 2014 9:40:36 AM

By chris

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Many LCD chips today are inorganic, so I don't know how relevant that is today, and I would also figure a true head-to-head test would be difficult as there are so many other factors, whether testing with brand new units, or older units with thousands of hours on them. For instance, it's been my opinion that most entry-level projector that use lesser DLP chips don't look as good (overall) as their LCD counter parts. Consider the Epson 5030UB and/or 6030UB and the Panasonic PT-AE8000U when compared to anything buy BenQ, Optoma, Vivitek, etc. for the same/ similar money. There are longevity issues, maintenance issues, and other set-up parameters to discuss as well, but in general... simply talking to the light output and it's perception in the image quality of the projector... I think LCD wins every time over DLP. When you start climbing the food chain a bit and start considering "better" LCOS units and DLP units, this changes some, but the bulk of the projectors purchased for home use are well under $5k and for those buyers it's hard to surpass the overall image quality of the LCD projectors offered in this pricing category.

Posted Feb 25, 2014 9:59:17 AM

By TimN

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It would be interesting to take this same evaluation and conduct it a year later or with say a 1000 hours on the projectors. Change the lamp and run the same tests again.

I'm guessing you would not get the same results on the LCD projector due to color decay from the organic compound in the LCD panels (chips). You could have a severely yellowish image from color decay and still meet the CLO ANSI lumen specifications.

This is the big advantage in my opinion for DLP projectors over LCD projectors. Same color from one year to the next regardless of how many times the lamp is changed.

Posted Oct 30, 2013 10:51:22 AM

By Darin

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Definitely some interesting results and comments. Thanks. I'm wondering if for Powerpoints in Test 1 you looked at anything like pie charts or line graphs that use multiple colors. Given the results in the Color Bar Test Pattern it might be interesting to see how Powerpoint presentations that are trying to differentiate information by color would tend to fare on each in a room with lots of room lighting on.

Posted Sep 19, 2013 2:04:23 PM

By Evan Powell (Editor)

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JVC's D-ILA and Sony's SXRD are both versions of LCoS. The projectors they make with this technology are three-chip units, so white light and color light values will always be the same on them. Sony quotes the CLO spec and JVC does not.

Posted Sep 19, 2013 1:23:38 PM

By Gary Hatch

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What would a Dila/LCoS (JVC/SONY) projector fall in this mix?

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