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

Evan Powell, September 19, 2013

TEST # 1:

IMPORTANT NOTE: The results of this test are valid only for these two particular models, not all LCD and DLP projectors in general. These two test units show image characteristics that are common in commercial/business projectors but not home theater. Furthermore, business-class DLP projectors can be designed with a variety of color wheel configurations that will produce different results. Typically, home theater DLP and 3LCD projectors are optimized for maximum color quality, not maximum light output, and the results herein do not apply.

1. Monoscope Test Pattern

LCD vs DLP, Test Pattern 13LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

These pictures show how these two projectors look in their brightest pre-programmed operating modes, typically called either Dynamic or Presentation on most projectors. Settings are in factory defaults, so this is the way they perform out of the box.

The most obvious difference is that the LCD has a decidedly blue/green cast to the image, whereas the DLP is comparatively neutral. The DLP is actually slightly warmer in color temperature than neutral, but its white is much closer to pure white than we get with the LCD. Its gray values appear gray, without any apparent color tint.

ANSI Lumens: By official ANSI lumen standards the DLP projector is the brighter of the two. Its official rating is 1000 lumens higher than that of the LCD. Our meters indicate that the LCD model is producing 4545 ANSI lumens in this mode, and the DLP is at 5800, or 28% brighter on white measurements.

Color Light Output: As per the previous discussion, the CLO number on an LCD projector will always equal the ANSI lumen value. In this case, the sum total of red, green, and blue luminance values adds up to 100% of white (or what passes for white) on the LCD. On the other hand the CLO number on this DLP projector in this maximum brightness operating mode measures about 1300 lumens of color light output, or just 22% of white.

2. Resolution Test Pattern

LCD vs DLP Test Pattern 2 3LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

2. This is a resolution test pattern, but for our purposes here it reveals more about the color bias on the LCD. Notice that it is decidedly blue in the lower to mid-tone values, shifting to cyan as it gets brighter, then to green in the highlights. This chart is supposed to be neutral gray and white, pretty much as it appears on the DLP. What this chart reveals is that any picture being shown on the LCD projector (in this uncalibrated bright mode) will have a cool bias. Mid-tone gray objects will always appear blue. Whites will have a greenish tint. Skies and blue water will appear bluer than they are in the original source, and skin tones will look sickly.

The color bias on the LCD projector can be calibrated out, but the brightness of the picture will be reduced. We will see that in the second set of test shots later in this article.

3. Color Bar Test Pattern

LCD vs DLP Color Bars, uncalibrated 3LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

3. On this standard color bar test pattern, compare how these two projectors are displaying it with the ideal pattern below. Neither projector is displaying it correctly, but the errors are quite different. And of the two, from a color accuracy perspective, the 3LCD is doing a better job than the DLP. Its red bar in particular is much closer to accurate than the DLP's dim, brownish tone. Cyan is also reasonably accurate on the LCD compared to the teal on the DLP. On the other hand, the LCD suffers from a lack of saturation--none of the colors are as rich and vibrant as they should be. Blue and magenta in particular are downright pastel.


The DLP projector's interpretation of the color bar pattern is quite poor. Red is brown, magenta is purple, cyan is teal, and with the notable exception of white, they are all dull.

The errors on these projectors can be reduced or in some cases corrected entirely with some attention to calibration of contrast and color balance, but only at the expense of lumen output.

Leaving aside color accuracy for the moment, it is easy to see from the screen shot that the LCD rendering of this pattern is substantially brighter than that of the DLP. This goes directly to the point that advocates of the CLO spec try to make: This DLP projector measures 28% brighter on a white pattern, but the LCD is able to generate substantially brighter color values. So if you intend to project full color subject matter, the ANSI lumen spec is not a valid measure of brightness between LCD and DLP projectors (that is, single-chip DLP projectors with white filters in their color wheels).

What difference does it really make? Let's take a look...

4. Wine Glasses

LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

4. A couple of wine glasses show how these errors translate into real life. Here, the red color of the wine is obviously more vibrant on the LCD. The dimmer brownish red we saw in the color bars above manifests itself here with a relatively weak rendering of the wine. On the other hand, contrast is much better on the DLP. The wineglass is much better defined against the brighter white background. On the LCD you see the undesirable tonal shift in white, and the glass merges with the background--the highlight detail is missing. This can be fixed on the 3LCD projector by reducing contrast at the expense of overall image brightness.

5. Night Scene

LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

5. A shot of a city at night reveals the latent advantage in contrast and black level that DLP projectors often have over their LCD counterparts. Though the image is much brighter on the LCD, it is bluish and dull compared to the DLP projector which presents this particular scene much more successfully despite a bias toward green. This can also be fixed with an adjustment on the LCD, but again at the expense of image brightness.

In these tests we tended to notice more digital noise on the 3LCD projector, and it was quite abundant in dark scenes like this one in which it is visible even in the small screen shot.

6. Desktop, No Color

3LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

6. Here is a scene with very little color content. The DLP projector does a much better job with this image than does the LCD. It is more neutral in color and higher in contrast. For any type of subject matter that has little color the DLP (in its brightest dynamic/presentation mode) will have a latent advantage. That includes everything from financial spreadsheets and text documents to black and white photography.

7. Pencils

3LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

7. This image is a mix of gray and colored elements. The background is actually middle gray, and the DLP projector presents it fairly accurately while the LCD interprets it as blue. The colored pencils are brighter on the LCD and their color tone is closer to accurate, but they lack saturation and are too pastel.

On the DLP projector, while it gets the gray background correct, its color shows greater inaccuracies. The yellow pencil appears as olive green and the orange appears to be a deep, solid brown. But the white highlights on the glass are correct on the DLP while appearing blue-green on the LCD. The LCD picture is brighter, the DLP picture is higher in contrast. Neither image is a faithful reproduction of the source signal.

As an aside, on some of these screen shots you will notice some brightness uniformity issues, and it is most obvious in this image--the LCD is darker on the right, and the DLP is darker on the left. This is due to some vignetting in the wide angle camera lens used to make the screen shot, not to any uniformity problem with the projectors.

8. Balls of Yarn

LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

8. An example of high color saturation. The flaws we have seen in previous images appear here as well. The LCD colors shift toward undersaturated pastel, the highlights are blown out, and the image has a bluish tint overall. Meanwhile, the DLP colors are much more saturated, but dimmer with significant inaccuracies---yellow appears orange, cyan appears green, and red appears dark plum. The DLP does a much better job holding detail in the highlights, but the picture is relatively dim.

The LCD projector is certainly much brighter, and many might say more successful. With a bit of calibration to reduce the overdriven highlights, the LCD will look a great deal better. Promoters of the CLO spec are correct to point to the inadequacy of the ANSI lumen spec which rates the DLP projector 1000 lumens brighter than this LCD. Clearly with full color images the LCD is able to put a brighter image on the screen, and in many cases it will be the more compelling image.

9. Bell Peppers

3LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

9. This is a good example of disaster on both projectors. The LCD projector is blowing out highlight detail, and colors are not as saturated as they should be. However, there is no question that the LCD's picture is much brighter than the DLP. The saturated red areas measure a whopping four times brighter.

This configuration on the DLP projector has the "Brilliant Color" control at its maximum setting, which means it is pumping out as much white light as possible. Bright whites against subdued color create increased contrast. The green stems are slightly darker than ideal, but there is much more balanced detail in them than is apparent on the LCD. The big problem is that the reds really get hammered in this image.

Both of these images have obvious flaws. Reasonable people may differ on which one is the more successful rendering of the subject, but everyone would agree that neither one is great.

10. Pastels

3LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

10. In this scene of pastel colors the DLP image appears to be higher in color saturation than the LCD. Most would agree that the DLP's rendering is the more successful of the two. In this situation the DLP's subdued color brightness renders the subjects darker, which contributes to the impression of higher saturation and contrast. However, there is significant color shift. The ball of yarn in the middle is supposed to be blue as it is on the LCD, but it is teal. The yellows show an olive green bias as well.

Meanwhile, the overdriven contrast on the LCD reduces saturation, and the blue-green bias interferes with color interpretation. These flaws combine to produce a decidedly poor result. Both of these flaws can be substantially reduced as we will see in Test # 2, but getting rid of the blue-green tint and reducing contrast to bring back highlight detail will reduce the total lumen output of the LCD.

11. Maiko, Kyoto

3LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

11. The DLP projector has a clearly superior image with this subject. The tonal values in the face appear to be reasonably accurate, whereas the LCD renders the young lady's face with very little detail and a decidedly green bias. The red tones on the DLP are much darker than they should be, as this is a bright red kimono and bright red lipstick. But the combination of good contrast, neutral gray tones and poor color accuracy combine to create an image that, while not accurate in some respects, is certainly more attractive.

11. Black and White Photography

LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

11. I do black and white photography in my spare time--this is my photo of Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley. When it comes to presenting my work on the large screen, the DLP projector has two big advantages. First, the neutral gray scale is vital. The LCD's blue tint can be largely calibrated out, but once that is done the projector is about 60% of the white brightness of the DLP projector.

Second, this DLP projector has an advantage over the LCD in "ANSI contrast," which is the range between black and white in a given frame. What this translates to is more image detail being retained in both the highlights and the shadows/dark areas. You would not know this from the specs since both of these projectors are rated at 2000:1 Full On/Off Contrast. Unfortunately, few vendors publish ANSI contrast specs. But for reasons of both gray scale neutrality and inherent contrast, the DLP is the better of these two commercial projectors for the display of b/w photography.

12. PowerPoint Presentation I

3LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

12. This image reveals how key weaknesses of both projectors can affect PowerPoint presentations when they are run at maximum lumen output. The LCD's tinted image reduces contrast and makes it harder to read than it otherwise would be.

However, the DLP projector has a big problem here as well. At first glance the DLP appears to be the more successful of the two images. But if you look closely on the 3LCD image you can see that the bars in the graph have numeric data on them. The LCD's much brighter bar color makes this data visible, whereas the DLP's very dark coloring on the bars pretty much eliminates any ability to see and read the data.

If you are preparing a PowerPoint presentation using full color graphics, be aware that the colors you see on your computer screen can be radically reinterpreted when they are displayed on commercial/business class LCD or DLP projectors in their brightest modes. Your presentation should be previewed on the projector itself to make sure you don't end up with problems like those in this image.

13. PowerPoint Presentation II

3LCD Projector                                                             DLP Projector

13. In this full color PowerPoint slide the vibrant color on the 3LCD projector makes the overall picture brighter and the text easier to read. Especially in ambient light, the extra color brightness helps. Keep in mind that this DLP projector as it is currently calibrated measures 28% brighter on an ANSI lumen basis. But that is for white only. In this image the LCD's yellow is 80% brighter than that of the DLP. The only element that is brighter on the DLP's image is the white text "Usability."

With this type of subject matter the DLP's much darker rendering of yellow reduces the contrast between the background and the text. Even though the DLP has an intrinsic advantage in contrast with text documents, spreadsheets, and other non-color subject matter, it can show much lower contrast when the projected image has a lot of color as it does here.

This series of screen shots illustrates the various problems we might encounter when running projectors in their brightest, maximum lumen settings. What happens when we apply some color and contrast adjustments to our projectors while sacrificing some brightness? Let's go on to Test # 2 and take a look...

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

Reader Comments(22 comments)

Posted Oct 5, 2016 12:56 PM

By Ted Nunn

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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.

Posted Jun 12, 2016 11:13 AM

By Rammy Leeds

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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

Posted Apr 9, 2016 7:01 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 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 PM

By Chief Master

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This article was very informative. Thank you Evan

Posted Jul 8, 2015 4:30 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 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 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 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 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 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 PM

By Bob

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This could happen but is extremely rare.

Posted Jun 23, 2014 2:20 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 PM

By Gary Hatch

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

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