DLP Dilemma

Rob from Hawaii—at least, I assume he's from Hawaii, since he started his message with "Aloha"—wants to know if DLP is still a viable option for TV shoppers:

I'm looking for a 50-inch or larger LCD flat-screen TV, and I was surprised to see that DLPs are still around. I thought they had gone away. Is DLP a good choice? Who's a good candidate to pick a DLP instead of an LCD or plasma? It looks like you can get a DLP for a lot less, and I read that a new type of DLP doesn't need the lamp replaced.

All good questions, Rob. First, DLP TVs are indeed still around, though they are becoming less common as more buyers opt for LCD and plasma flat panels. Only two manufacturers still make DLP TVs—Samsung and Mitsubishi.

DLP TVs are rear-projection displays, which means they are self-contained boxes in which the image is projected onto the back of a translucent screen that occupies most of one side of the box. Unlike the behemoth rear-pros of yesteryear, which could easily be more than two feet deep, DLP TVs are relatively svelte at 11 to 16 inches deep, but they are still monsters compared with LCD and plasma TVs. Thus, one purchase criterion is having enough floor space to accommodate one.

You're right that DLP TVs generally offer the best bang for the buck in terms of screen size—you can't get a 60-inch LCD or plasma for anything close to the price of a similarly sized, lamp-illuminated DLP. So if you want a very large image on a small budget, DLP is the only way to go.

It's also true that some DLP TVs are now available with LED illumination instead of a conventional white-light lamp, though these models tend to be more expensive. Lamps must be replaced every couple thousand hours or so—which translates to less than a year if you watch the TV eight hours a day, seven days a week—costing several hundred dollars a pop. On the other hand, LEDs typically last the life of the set.

Mitsubishi recently introduced a line of DLP TVs that use lasers for illumination, which also need no replacement. However, the 65-inch LaserVue set carries a list price of $7000, which negates the price advantage of DLP TVs over flat panels.

If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sorc.com.