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507 Hours

No, I’m not pitching a movie sequel where James Franco gets his other arm trapped behind a rock (though that might be hilarious). The number above reflects how long the lamp in my JVC projector lasted before crapping out on me this week: 507 hours. Considering that it was rated with a 3,000-hour lifespan, this is really frustrating.

I’ve had the DLA-RS40 for eight months now. I’ve given my impressions of its performance in previous posts. Although I’ve had mixed feelings about 3D playback, standard 2D viewing has been mostly exemplary, as I’d come to expect from my experience with previous JVC models.

Unfortunately, since not long after its initial release, this particular product generation (late 2010/early 2011) has been the subject of complaints on AVSForum about an alleged design flaw – that the lamps burn out early. Several users reported that their projector bulbs started to dim drastically after a few hundred hours, some to a point described as “unwatchable.” A few claimed that their lamps had catastrophically failed between 600-1,000 hours.

I read these discussion threads with interest, but tried not to stress about it too much. AVSForum is often filled with hyperbole, and many of the people there put their equipment through punishing conditions. Posters talk about racking up 500 hours on a projector in three months time. That would require running it for almost six hours a day every day. It took me eight months to get that far, and it’s not like I’ve been letting the thing sit idle for that time. I tend to watch a few hours of TV on my projector about 4-5 nights a week. That’s a high volume of usage, in my opinion. Also, a lot of these people have absurdly huge screens much larger than mine, so what they might describe as an “unwatchable” level of brightness may still be acceptable at my screen size (a teeny-tiny, microscopic, six-feet wide, in case you’re wondering). Further, some people posted about having no significant lamp brightness issues over 1,000 hours or more, which set my mind at ease a bit.

Anyway, everything seemed perfectly fine for the first 400 hours or so on my projector. Not long after that, however, I noticed a detectable loss of brightness in 3D mode, and an increase in 3D crosstalk artifacts. (I’ve written about that here.) Yet 2D playback (which remains 99% of my viewing) seemed unaffected.

By about the 480-hour mark, it was clear that the lamp was headed on a rapid downward trajectory. 3D playback was effectively unusable, and I’d found myself having to inch open my iris settings more and more during 2D viewing as well. By 500 hours, the picture had become uncomfortably dim even with the iris all the way open. At this point, I placed an order for a replacement lamp. That’s a $400 expense that I hadn’t expected to make for at least another year or more. And, unfortunately, the lamps were backordered.

Earlier this week, I turned on my projector, and the lamp had dropped another 70% or more in brightness overnight. I’d be generous to estimate that I got 1 foot-lambert of light on my screen. The picture was truly unwatchable. I turned the projector right off and sent an email to my dealer pleading for a status update on the replacement lamp. Thankfully, it finally came back in stock and is scheduled to arrive by the end of this week. I’ve been without a projector in the meantime, however.

Much has been speculated about the cause of these lamp failures. Some people believe it to be a defect in the lamp construction, caused when JVC changed manufacturers between this product generation and the previous one (which had no serious issues in this regard). Others speculate that the projector itself may be overdriving the lamps and causing premature failure. Rumors have flown that JVC has issued a running change to the lamp design that’s supposed to fix this problem. The current (late 2011) product generation uses the same lamp model. However, the company has offered no official acknowledgement that anything was ever wrong in the first place, much less that it’s been resolved now. Feedback from people who’ve installed replacement lamps is inconclusive so far as to whether they last any longer.

Some people have sworn off JVC products as a result of this issue. I can’t go that far. Having gone through several other projectors over the years, absolutely nothing I’ve used can touch JVC’s D-ILA line for picture quality… when the projector is working right, of course. I have to admit that I’m a little disillusioned with the company right now, though. For now, all I can do is install the replacement lamp and hope that this one lasts a reasonable amount of time.

12 comments

  1. JM

    When will they be able to put 30,000-hour LED lamps, with enough lumens for a 150″ screen, in projectors of this caliber?

  2. EM

    This talk of hours raises a question. I’ve never owned a “serious” home-theater projector (just some of the cheapie units sold as toys, with half-SD resolution). Do HT projectors typically have a bulb-usage chronometer?

  3. Josh Zyber
    Author

    @EM – Yes, pretty much all home theater projectors have a lamp usage meter.

    @Jane – I’m waiting for JVC to figure out a way to integrate an LED lamp with its high-contrast D-ILA technology. When that day comes, it will be a category killer. Unfortunately, the LED projectors available so far are enormously expensive, aren’t bright enough, and can’t match the contrast performance.

  4. Didn’t you just have to order a replacement lamp like six months or so ago? Or is that when you got this projector? I remember your last bulb seemed to last way below the quoted specs as well. Didn’t your last bulb burn out around the 800 hour mark? I hate to say it, but your recurring issue with bulbs is enough to make me think twice about getting a projector. I had been wanting one for years, and they are finally of a high enough quality and a cheap enough price that I have started looking (not seriously at this time, probably still be a couple of years), but if my bulb was burning out after 500 hours, I would be yelling and screaming at the manufactoror to replace my projector or the bulb under warrenty.

    • Duh, just reread the article – you clearly state you had this projector for 8 months. So it must be the previous projector you were having issues with the bulb on.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      I did previously have lamp issues, but that was my prior projector. That one died at 1,300 hours out of a rated life of 2,000. While disappointing, that didn’t seem too out of bounds, and I had gotten a lot of good use out of it. (It was even still plenty bright just before it died.)

      This one died at 500 hours out of 3,000, and had been dimming rapidly for the last 50 hours before that. Clearly, it’s a defect of some sort this time.

  5. Wyatt

    Josh,

    You ever think of going with another projector, like Panasonic PTAE7000U? I bought one last year and it’s an amazing machine. I used to own an earlier model of JVC’s projector, forgot the model number. I decided to go with the Panny because I’ve ran into lamp issues with my JVC too.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      I’m extremely sensitive to dynamic iris artifacts. The reason I’ve been such a fan of JVC is that its projectors have high contrast without a dynamic iris. I don’t know if I could go back.

      My replacement lamp arrived last night. It’s installed and seems to be working well so far. I’d gotten so used to the dimming on my last lamp that I’d apparently forgotten what a bright picture was supposed to look like. :)

      Here’s hoping that this one holds out longer.

  6. ThomasW

    Hmm… expensive in purchase, expensive viewing hours also; almost a dollar per hour..

    A JVC RS-40 maybe state of the art, but I think I’ll stay with my old CRT projector while it still lasts. Still a nice punchy picture from it, nice contrasts.

  7. J.J.

    I’m a proud owner of the epson 8700ub, and this model, and the previous ones before it (8500ub, 8100, etc) have a known bulb problem. However, in contrast to JVC, Epson has acknowledged the problem and gave a two year warranty on any bulb failure, and there have been cases of bulbs sent after the warranty expired. Epson truly has a customer service department that should be copied to the other projector companies. It’s not enough to sell a good product, you have to support it. Here’s a link supporting my claims:
    http://www.projectorcentral.com/projector_news.cfm?2010-10-20-Epsons-Remarkable-Lamp-Guarantee&entry_id=354