CEDIA: A Projector ditches bulbs for LED

As this bitstremia item went to post, the CEDIA Expo in Denver hadn’t yet opened. But we’ve already seen what will surely be one of the show’s real groundbreaking products: a bulb-free video projector. No more spending $300 and up to change the bulb every 2,000 to 3,000 hours — the LEDs the projector uses in lieu of a bulb should last many years with no maintenance at all.

In a small hotel suite in downtown Denver, Taiwanese manufacturer Chi Lin Technology showed a DLP video projector prototype that uses red, blue, and green LEDs instead of the usual UHP bulb. By flashing the LEDs sequentially onto the single DLP chip, the projector creates a color picture much the same way that the rotating color wheel in a bulb-based projector does.

The PhlatLight LEDs Chi Lin uses have already proven their mettle in rear-projection TVs from NuVision and other companies; in those products, they achieve a projected (so to speak) lifespan of more than 20 years. Problem is, these LEDs haven’t been bright enough to be practical for use in front projectors. But through the use of a special water cooling system (complete with a pump and radiator), Chi Lin was able to coax enough brightness out of them to deliver a claimed maximum brightness of 600 ANSI lumens. The image I saw wasn’t bright compared with what typical bulb projectors deliver, but it’s bright enough for use in a room where the lighting is fairly well controlled.

Chi Lin rates the contrast ratio of the projector at an extraordinarily high 100,000:1, far better than any bulb projector can achieve. The LEDs also produce a broader color gamut than a bulb can, which was readily observable in a shot of red peppers from a demo DVD Chi Lin Senior Manager Alex Wang played.

Because it’s an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Chi Lin doesn’t sell projectors under its own name — it makes them for other companies. While the model I saw was just a prototype in a plain black box, company spokesperson Gina Wu said Chi Lin could have LED-driven projectors rolling off the line as soon as Q1 2009 if it finds a willing customer. She also said that while other companies have built working LED-driven projectors, “They’re not as mature as ours.”

Wang and Wu said that while the LED-driven projector would, at least initially, cost more than a bulb projector, they couldn’t predict how much the first models might cost. But given that you’d likely save thousands in bulb cost over the life of the projector, and you’d probably get better performance to boot, even a big bump in cost would make this projector the most exciting thing to happen in big-screen home theater since constant-height systems came along.—Brent Butterworth

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