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

Executive Summary

For those who don't have time
to read the whole article...

The test shoots in this article illustrate that the ANSI lumen spec and the new Color Light Output spec can both be misleading, but for different reasons.

The ANSI lumen spec is often misleading because it does not take either color brightness or color accuracy into account. Knowing that a projector is rated at, say, 3000 ANSI lumens does not tell us anything about how it will perform with full color images. The picture's whites may be bright, but the colors may be dim, or poorly saturated or wildly inaccurate. The picture may have an objectionable tint. Most commercial/business class projectors (regardless of the technology used) have flaws of this nature that the ANSI lumen ratings ignore. Once you adjust the picture controls to get rid of the color flaws, a projector can end up putting out much less light than its specs would indicate.

The new Color Light Output spec suffers from similar limitations: it does not take color accuracy into account, and it reveals nothing about whether the projector is calibrated to retain highlight detail. So a projector may have two specs that say "ANSI Lumens: 3000 and Color Light Output: 3000" and still end up giving you a picture you would not want to watch. Once the projector is calibrated for best picture quality, it may put out far less light than its ANSI lumen / CLO specs would indicate.

Despite its flaws, the CLO spec does point to a real difference between three-chip projectors vs. single-chip DLP projectors. These two different technologies often do produce pictures that contain quite different amounts of color information. When a 3LCD projector and a DLP projector with a white filter have the same ANSI lumen rating, the DLP may produce noticeably dimmer full color images. To that degree, the "white only" ANSI lumen spec can be viewed as misleading and biased in favor of single-chip DLP projectors. In theory, the CLO spec is intended to remedy this bias.

Those who do not support the CLO spec say that its only real purpose is to point out a particular weakness in DLP technology without drawing attention to related flaws in 3LCD technology--most commonly, the unattractive blue/greenish tint you get when the 3LCD projector is in its brightest operating modes. And from a practical perspective, since most vendors will not publish CLO specs, they cannot be used as points of comparison in the same way that ANSI lumen numbers typically are. So in the end, detractors insist that CLO should be seen for what it is--a marketing tool used by 3LCD promoters rather than an official spec that has been accepted and embraced by the industry.

Nevertheless, though the new CLO spec is indeed a marketing-driven venture by those who promote 3LCD technology, the fundamental point that CLO makes is valid: the traditional ANSI lumen spec utterly fails to provide buyers with an accurate apples-to-apples comparison of how bright projectors really are when they are used to display full color images.

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Test Set Up
Contents: Introduction Executive Summary Test Set Up TEST 1: Uncalibrated
  TEST 2: Calibrated Concluding Thoughts
Comments (23) Post a Comment
Gary Hatch Posted Sep 19, 2013 1:23 PM PST
What would a Dila/LCoS (JVC/SONY) projector fall in this mix?
Evan Powell (Editor) Posted Sep 19, 2013 2:04 PM PST
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.
Darin Posted Oct 30, 2013 10:51 AM PST
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.
TimN Posted Feb 25, 2014 9:59 AM PST
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.
chris Posted May 5, 2014 9:40 AM PST
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.
Lee Posted May 12, 2014 12:26 PM PST
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.
Michael Miller Posted Jun 4, 2014 11:25 PM PST
And if you run the test after 3 years your DLP projector will have lovely sparkles all over it from the failed DMD chip.
Joshua Posted Jun 11, 2014 10:36 AM PST
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?
Bob Posted Jun 23, 2014 2:03 PM PST
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.
Bob Posted Jun 23, 2014 2:20 PM PST
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.
Bob Posted Jun 23, 2014 2:21 PM PST
This could happen but is extremely rare.
AV_Integrated Posted Jul 16, 2014 8:34 AM PST
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!
Home Theater Install Posted Jul 24, 2014 8:59 AM PST
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.
David Posted Sep 5, 2014 12:48 PM PST
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...
Michael Posted Nov 11, 2014 2:47 AM PST
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.
CAW Posted Apr 22, 2015 4:44 PM PST
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.
devx Posted Jul 8, 2015 4:30 AM PST
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.?
Chief Master Posted Dec 16, 2015 12:59 PM PST
This article was very informative. Thank you Evan
Michael Lang Posted Mar 28, 2016 11:07 AM PST

One of the best articles I have ever read comparing DLP with LCD. Where ddi you get the images
Gene Houghton Posted Apr 9, 2016 7:01 AM PST
Great article. I would be interested to see how the comparison would be on a .6 screen.
Rammy Leeds Posted Jun 12, 2016 11:13 AM PST
I see a lot of pico projectors now saying 1800 lcd lumens. But the manufacturer wrote that this is equivalent to 250 ANSI lumens. Why do they do this? Why not stick to ANSI as a measure of brightness? More importantly is there a conversion chart so I can see roughly what these LCD quoted lumen projectors are in terms of comparison to those that write their lumens in ANSI format. Yes there are other pico projectors that just state lumens in ANSI format only. How can I compare these pico projectors with each other if they are using different units of measurements for their brightness. I understand some pico may be using different technology eg lcd vs a halogen lamp.

I've currently an optima pico projector at 100 ANSI lumen. I bought a 3000 LCD lumens pico projector by another manufacturer but how will it roughly compare to the optoma one?

Please help someone
Ted Nunn Posted Oct 5, 2016 12:56 PM PST
Great article. It is nice to see a lack of bias. To fully cover the situation, I would love to see you cover the home theater/entertainment projector technology issue. These two camps can BOTH produce excellent projectors, but the potential customer must endure the fighting and misinformation that is put forward. The same issues that you addressed, along with the Rainbow Effect, are bantered back and forth by both manufacturers and consumers. It would be nice for an EXPERT to share the TRUTH that lies somewhere in the middle of it all. It is no wonder that people back off concerning projectors, when this is a very exciting way to watch entertainment. There should be less mystery and more solid answers for inquiring customers.
Michael Posted Nov 18, 2018 5:31 AM PST
As a DLP user for over 15 years, I believed this was a much superior technology compared to LCD.

Recently I managed to purchase a 2nd hand fairly cheap Epson 3LCD projector. I based the purchase solely on price as I felt it was a good deal.

The result is that i am utterly gobsmacked at the image it produced. It is extremely vivid and TV like compared to a DLP. I cannot believe what I have been missing all these years.

This debate truly is significant and I commend ProjectorCentral discussing this, although it has been some years.

CLO is real. DLP ANSI brightness does not compare to 3LCD ANSI brightness. Comparing the tw now, the DLP is at least half as bright as the LCD even though they both have ANSI rating.

I don't think I will ever go back to DLP after seeing the difference with my own eyes. I urge you all to do your research on both technologies when buying a projector as there are major differences for projectors in the same price range.

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