RPTVs vs. Flat Panels

You have the best home-theater website, hands down. I also love your short guest appearance on Leo Laporte's radio show every week. I notice that you talk about plasma and LED LCD TVs a lot, but very rarely talk about DLP TVs. Even last weekend when you were the guest host on Leo's show, there was no mention of it. Is this because the technology and displays are not as good as plasmas and LCD TVs, or is it because there is no market for those TVs? Or is there another reason? I can get the Mitsubishi WD-92840 92-inch DLP TV for about $3300! No plasma or LED comes close to this price. If I want an 80-inch or larger flat panel, I'm looking at somewhere north of $10,000!

Levy Sergio Palacios

Thanks so much for your kind words! You're right, I don't talk much about DLP TVs any more, though I do remember talking about them on last weekend's radio show. I might have been responding to a question from the chat room during a commercial break and not on the air, though now that I'm thinking about it, I'm pretty sure it was in response to a call-in question on Sunday. Either way, it is included in the podcast of the show that you can find here.

Someone asked about companies that make DLP rear-projection TVs, and I said there's only one left—Mitsubishi. All other TV manufacturers have gotten out of that business in favor of flat panels, which consumers prefer by a wide margin. Why? Probably because flat panels take up so much less space and—let's face it—they are much sexier than big, bulky RPTVs.

On the other hand, you are entirely correct that RPTVs generally cost far less than flat panels for very large screen sizes, though you need to factor in the cost of replacing the lamp every year or two at $100 a pop or more. Mitsubishi's LaserVue models avoid this by using lasers to illuminate the picture, but the L75-A91 lists for $6000 with a 75-inch screen. However, I see it's only $3600 from Amazon as of this writing. The 92-inch WD-92840, seen above, also lists for $6000 (Amazon has it for $4359), so it you can get it for $3300, that's a serious bargain—as long as you have the floor space and seating distance (at least 12 feet) to accommodate it.

Do flat panels produce a better picture than rear-pro TVs? Well, lamp-based RPTVs can suffer from hot-spotting, in which one area of the screen is brighter than others. Also, the picture quality often declines as you move off axis, though this is true of LCD TVs as well. Finally, the blacks are generally not that deep.

At the largest screen sizes, it's also reasonable to compare RPTVs with front-projection systems, which are generally more expensive when you include the cost of a good screen—such a system starts in the $5000 range and can easily reach five figures or more. A front projector can create a much bigger image than even the largest RPTV, but you must have complete control of the ambient light in the room or use an expensive ambient light-rejecting screen to avoid washing out the image. By contrast, most RPTVs are extremely bright and can compete with lots of ambient light if necessary.

We are currently in discussions with Mitsubishi to get one of its big RPTVs in for review, because we recognize the value they represent at large screen sizes regardless of any picture-quality tradeoffs compared with other display technologies.

If you have an A/V question, please send it to askhometheater@gmail.com.

MatthewWeflen's picture


Good comments re: RPTV. I am a former RPTV owner, I owned the Sony KDL-50A2000, a SXRD set from 2006. Based on my experience with it and with my parents' Samsung DLP, I have some observations.

1. Black levels are just not competitive with even average flat panels today. Although some sets have dynamic iris technology, I think there is just too much light scatter within an RPTV cabinet to provide a punchy ANSI contrast ratio that competes with flat panels today. Now, I'm not saying the images look terrible. Not at all. They just don't look as good as, say, flat panels from 2008 on. I was positively shocked when I fired up my 52EX700 for the first time. The black level seemed subjectively at least twice as dark.

2. I personally don't think cabinet size is as big a deal, at least not if you're uninterested in mounting your television. Most microdisplay RPTVs will fit on exactly the same a/v cabinet as a comparably sized flat panel. I know this, having swapped out my 50A2000 for a 52EX700 edge-lit LED set. The only gain for me was space to put a HTPC tower behind the TV.

3. Lamp life and cost is the big bugaboo for microdisplay RPTV, in my book. A UHP lamp will constantly degrade over time, shifting in both absolute brightness and in color temperature. And sure, though I love fiddling with controls quite a bit, I kind of hated having to do it 3 or 4 times during the life of the lamp. Samsung seemed to be trying out LED-based solutions before it exited the market, but it never seemed to go anywhere. But basically, I would not consider a RPTV purchase until and unless the lamp got to a level of providing, say 20,000 hours of use with little to no degradation in performance.

4. So basically, the place I think a large DLP set like the ones Mitsubishi produces can compete is against Front Projection setups. A 90-inch screen for $5k is a compelling value against all the factors that putting together a good FP setup entails. But I would want to see my concerns re: ANSI contrast and lamp life addressed before I'd consider it. Well, that and DLP rainbows, which I can see pretty easily.

shutyertrap's picture

My one and only TV in the house is a Pioneer Elite 510. For years, I'd been operating under the belief that my tv was better than anything out on the market today. About 3 years ago, I started noticing that I wasn't enjoying my viewing experience as much anymore. I finally started researching flat panels, and now my eyes are wide open.

Sure my set is capable of inky blacks and vivid colors. Capable. The problem that rears its ugly head is that you need to do maintenance to keep it that way. Optics cleaning, calibrations every 2 years, and gamma correction to keep the blacks at the proper level.

Guess what? Unless you have the time and equipment, that gets real expensive, real fast. My opinion is of course relating to CRT based tech, not DLP, but I've read enough forum posts about DLP to know it's got it's fair share of annual maintenance needs too.

Yeah, I'd love to read reviews of new RPTV sets, but I'd also like follow ups to give consumers an idea of future costs involved in keeping the tv looking the way it did after first calibration. Shoot, I'd like to know the same about flat panels, and whether they need re-calibrations throughout their lifetimes.

mailiang's picture

I belong to a few audio video forums where we have members who have a ton of mileage on their flat panel TV's and the general consensuses is, that except for a few adjustment tweaks, as long as the sets were originally calibrated correctly, there is very little maintenance required to keep them at their best.