3LCD projector technology vs. DLP

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Projectors are fantastic educational, business and entertainment tools that can make school lessons, business presentations and movies so much better by displaying them on the nearest wall that’s far bigger than any screen.

When it comes to projector technology, two standards compete for your money: Texas Instruments’ DLP and Epson’s 3LCD.

DLP stands for Digital Light Processing, and it relies on a spinning “colour wheel” that is divided up into red, green, blue and white sections that filter out their respective colours to create the colouring on the final image.

Seeing the final image also requires that your brain does some work, re-assembling the flashing bits that are appearing on the screen at high speeds into a final, coherent image. While viewers don’t notice that they are in fact working their brains while watching anything on a DLP projector, eye-strain will eventually creep in.

Affordable DLP projectors typically also have only one image processing microchip, which is the electronic brain that ensures the various colours that make up the image are displayed when their appropriate section of the colour wheel is in front of the lamp. While there are multi-chip DLP projectors, these are mostly used in cinema projection and cost a lot of money.

DLPb
Inside a DLP optical engine.

3LCD technology is completely different to DLP, as it has no moving parts and instead uses three LCDs, three image-processing microchips and a bunch of clever mirrors to do the appropriate light filtering.

The two different approaches naturally lead to two different outcomes: DLP projectors produce really white whites and very dark blacks, but their colours tend to look washed out and unnatural, and when slightly-differing shades of the same colour are shown, there are clear delineations between them which results in a rather artificial look.

3LCD projectors, on the other hand, produce really nice-looking colours but their whites are slightly yellow and their blacks slightly grey. They are particularly good with colour, though, producing much more natural-looking gradients and bright, vibrant imagery.

Motion – the kind seen in movies – is also much smoother on a 3LCD projector, and watching anything on one places less strain on the viewer’s eyes and brain, as the final image is assembled inside the projector before the viewer sees it.

3LCDa
Inside a 3LCD optical engine.

At an event organised by Epson South Africa to showcase their 3LCD tech, I was told that because 86% of all content shown on projectors is made up of colourful images (both still and moving), 3LCD projectors are the better choice. Better colours, smoother motion and more realistic-looking imagery, they said, have the benefit of holding kids’ attention for longer in educational applications, while also helping presentations stand out and movie action appear smooth.

To prove their points, two similarly-specced projectors – one DLP projector from an unnamed competitor, one Epson 3LCD projector – were set up and connected to a laptop by way of a VGA splitter cable, and the same images displayed on both simultaneously.

3LCD vs. DLP
What I saw closely mirrors what you see above.

In the demonstration that followed, all of the points Epson had made about their 3LCD technology proved true to my eyes. But what really stood out was just how much brighter colours were and how much nicer the videos looked that played on the 3LCD projector.

Not even the DLP projector’s whiter-looking whites and darker blacks could make up for the huge disparity in overall colour quality between the two. The possibility always exists that with some tweaking the DLP projector could have improved its colour output, of course, but Epson assured us the two projectors were using their default, out-the-box configurations and thus the playing field was level.

When asked about the price difference between similarly-specced DLP and 3LCD projectors, Epson admitted that 3LCD projectors do cost a little more than their DLP counterparts (but no specifics were given). From where I was sitting, that difference certainly looked worth the extra cash.

Epson also said that to allow people to do their own comparisons when evaluating the various projectors out there, it’s not only a projector’s White Light Output (WLO) that must be considered, but also their Colour Light Output (CLO) figure.

DLP projectors typically have a high WLO rating (measured in LUMENS), but their Colour Light Output figures are far less impressive. Epson says that knowing the CLO and WLO numbers provides a much better indication of any projector’s overall capabilities, and in the future, CLO will be the standard by which all projectors are measured.

Epson has been banging on the 3LCD drum for quite a while now – it is their technology, after all – and their demonstration was convincing. It’s definitely something to think about when shopping for your next projector, that’s for sure.

We’ll be getting one of Epson’s 3LCD projectors in for review in the coming weeks, so keep checking back to see if our real-world findings gel with what I saw at Epson’s demonstration.

Deon du Plessis

Deon du Plessis

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.

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