The Dying of the Light

Just the other week, I wrote in our 3D poll that I intend to keep my 3D projector in good working order for as long as I can. Practically the same day that post published, the projector died on me.

I have two projectors in my home theater that I use for separate purposes. The unit that I call my reference display is a JVC D-ILA model, which I almost exclusively use for watching 2D movies on Blu-ray. That particular projector stinks at 3D and I don’t like wasting its lamp hours for watching TV shows. A few years back, I snatched up a clearance sale deal on a Sharp XV-Z30000. This is a DLP model and one of the last home theater projectors Sharp made before exiting that product category. I bought it primarily because DLP is the only display technology totally immune from 3D crosstalk artifacts. I also default to it for general TV watching. As a result of my recent viewing habits (which lean more towards TV than movies), I actually get a lot more use out of the Sharp projector than I do the JVC.

Things went swimmingly with this projector for a long time. The Sharp doesn’t have quite as nice a 2D picture as the JVC (which has better contrast specs and performance), but it’s typically plenty good for the needs that I use it for. In recent weeks, I’d noticed that the image was perhaps a tad dimmer than ideal, but in my opinion was still acceptably bright. I figured that I’d have a while left before needing to replace the lamp. Unfortunately, out of the blue, a “Change the Lamp” warning message flashed on my screen.

I checked the lamp hours in the projector’s menu and found it to be at 1,945 hours. According to specs I found online, this lamp should be rated for 5,000 hours in Eco mode, which is what I thought I had the projector set for. Strangely, I discovered in the menu that Eco mode was actually turned off. I don’t recall whether I did that intentionally at some point in the past, or if it was an error I’d never noticed. When I tried switching Eco mode on, the projector just shut down on me!

I restarted the projector and it seemed OK for a few minutes. I switched back and forth between Eco mode On and Off and saw no difference in picture brightness on my screen (or any audible difference in fan noise). Then, a couple minutes later, the projector shut down on its own again.

That was obviously troubling. I wasn’t sure if the problem was the lamp failing on me or something wrong with the projector itself. At that point, it was getting very late and I was trying not to panic. I elected to go to bed and try again the next day.

Day 2

Sadly, even after a day’s rest, the projector decided not to play nice with me. Theorizing that the shutdown issue could be an automatic protection measure when the lamp reaches its rated limit (which is 2,000 hours in High mode), I reset the lamp counter back to zero. That made no difference. The projector would only run for a few minutes before shutting itself off. After the third time that happened, I gave up again and decided to buy a new lamp.

I didn’t relish this prospect. Projector lamps are expensive. Moreover, because the XV-Z30000 is a 2012 model that Sharp doesn’t support anymore, even finding a replacement at all proved to be a challenge. Most of the retailers I usually go to for this purpose don’t carry it. Although some eBay sellers offer replacements that are allegedly compatible with my projector, I don’t entirely trust knockoffs from China. Finally, I located an OEM lamp (with a 90-day manufacturer warranty) at Projector Lamp Genie for the steep price of $365. At the time I looked, the store only had one in stock. After some deliberation, I ordered it and spent another $20 on overnight shipping.

Where There’s Smoke…

Day 3 brought me nothing but bad news. I received the replacement lamp, installed it, and powered on the projector. Although the projector seemed to turn on and I could see a small amount of light coming through the front lens, I saw no picture on screen. Then I noticed a burning smell, which quickly got stronger.

I immediately turned off the projector, unplugged it and removed the lamp. The smoky smell filled my room and I needed to bring in a fan to clear it out.

If nothing else, I felt glad that I bought the lamp from a retailer that would let me return it, rather than some random eBay seller. However, I still wasn’t sure whether the problem was a defective lamp or the projector itself crapping out on me. For obvious reasons, I was afraid to try it again.

A couple hours later, I put the old lamp back in. The projector successfully turned on and produced a picture of adequate brightness, but then automatically turned itself off again after less than two minutes.

Steeling my resolve, I decided to be brave. I put the new lamp in again and turned on the projector once more. This time, I kept the remote in hand and a fire extinguisher by my side.

I didn’t smell anything burning this time, which was an improvement. At first, it seemed that I still had no picture. However, when I turned off all the lights in the room, I realized that there was an incredibly dim image on the screen, barely visible at all. I turned off the projector, removed the lamp, and reseated it, then tried again. Same result. This lamp was clearly defective and would have to go back. Even with nearly 2,000 hours on it, the old lamp produced a much brighter picture for a couple minutes before the projector turned off.

Try, Try Again

I called Projector Lamp Genie and opened an RMA ticket to return the defective lamp. The sales rep indicated that one more lamp for this model was expected in the following week. That was good news, at least.

In the meantime, I looked up the warranty info for the projector. I bought it in May of 2013, just short of four years ago. The manufacturer’s warranty is only three years, but luckily I purchased it with a credit card that offers an automatic one-year warranty extension. If these problem I’ve experienced turn out to be more than just lamp failure, I still have a small window where I might be able to get it serviced.

A week later, another lamp came in stock and I had it shipped overnight to me. This time, my results were a mix of good news and bad news.

I put in the new lamp and turned on the projector, and got a picture of sufficient brightness. The projector ran for more than two minutes without shutting down. These were good signs. I started to think that my problems were all related to the lamps – the original one hitting the end of its lifespan and the next one being defective.

Then the projector shut itself off after ten minutes for no reason.

Dammit.

I let it cool off for a bit and then tried again. This time, I immediately turned on High Fan mode. The results were better this time. I was able to watch two hours of television with no unwanted shutdowns. The projector turned off normally by my command. That was several day ago, and I’ve watched two to three hours of TV every night without any more problems.

Decisions, Decisions…

I’m torn on what to do next. If not for that ten-minute shutdown, I’d feel a lot better about things. Assuming that this problem doesn’t recur in the near future, I don’t know whether I should send the projector in for servicing. I only have about a month left on my warranty extension, so it seems like it would be better to be safe than sorry. On the other hand, I’d hate to ship off the projector only for Sharp to say they can’t find anything wrong with it.

Unfortunately, I can’t duplicate the issue consistently. If the shutdowns happened on a repeatable basis, I would definitely send the unit for servicing as soon as possible. If not, however, I’m concerned that Sharp will just take a quick look at it, not find anything immediately wrong, and send it right back without doing anything. I’d be without the projector for potentially weeks or months, and there’s a lot of risk of damage during shipping. (I had a really bad experience in the past with shipping a projector for servicing.)

If this problem is all related to overheating and using High Fan mode solves that, great. That’s no problem. However, if the projector overheated when the weather was cold and my room was pretty chilly, what’s going to happen in the summer?

15 comments

  1. NJScorpio

    Here is my current story, I’ll try to keep it brief.

    I have a ViewSonic 1080p 3D projector. Connect to that I had an Xbox One, a cable box (via HDMI into the Xbox One), and my surround sound via optical. (1) Feather from cat toy get sucked into Xbox One vent, jams in fan. I still have yet to get around to repairing it. (2) With 3,000 hours on the bulb, it was time to replace it. The projector is discontinued, so it took some jumping through hoops. No biggie. (3) Cable box prompts me to upgrade it. I do, and three days later it won’t power on (but is very hot). At the same time, the HDMI port on my projector stops accepting signals. Even an HDMI stick (Roku) plugged directly in. Somehow, something got fried (not even getting into that). (4) I decided to cut my losses, replace the projector with the same model, and sell the partially working one (and retain the new bulb). I order it from a third party seller on Amazon, and it’s a scam where it was never shipped, that had several hundred dollars of mine tied up for a few weeks. (5) I decide to buy the newer model of the same projector, that is on the same Amazon page. I’ve owned several different projectors, so this isn’t my first rodeo…but I was so quick to order I didn’t see the throw was different until I went to install it. My mount is 10 feet from my screen in a 12 foot room, and I’d need 14 feet to fill my screen. (6) Oh, and my projector mount shattered during installation, I assume due to age. (7) I go to drop off the projector return at my local UPS store, and they are closed. Relocating, and didn’t open at the new location…so I had to trek one town over…just to add insult to injury.

    So I just mailed back the projector to Amazon as a return yesterday, and I intend on buying the short throw variant (which has the same throw as my “regular” prior model). I’ve had people say, “Just get an UHD tv!”, but I love my projector setup. In fact, I tried out a 3D Blu-Ray on my PSVR last night, and it wasn’t nearly as immersive as my 130″ screen in my den. I’m frustrated that everything seems to be going wrong, and I could take it as a sign, but I’m not going to.

  2. Plissken99

    I feel your pain brother.. there is little more annoying in life than when the theater room isn’t working. The closest experience I’ve had was with the JVC RS40 which burnt out bulbs about every 400-700 hours. I’m a watch everything on the projector type, so I was doing new bulbs every couple of months before I finally unloaded that thing. JVC paid for most of them, after demanding to speak with a supervisor usually.

    Ever since I like to sell and upgrade every 1-2 years. I’ve avoided situations like yours that way, keeps things well within warranty.. now excuse me I have to go throw a butt load of throw salt over my right shoulder. I’m afraid to fire mine up having just read this story!

    • NJScorpio

      Prior, when I’ve had to replace my projectors (due to hardware problems long after the warranty was up) technology was advancing fast enough that I could afford to upgrade. I wish my current projector purchase could be an upgrade (it is to a degree in terms of contrast and lumens) from 1080p to 4k…it’s just way too expensive for me.

  3. John Smith

    Josh, you’re not upgrading to the newer JVC 4K e-shift models? I have an old Epson but thinking of getting their new “4K” 6040 or one of the JVC e-shift models.

      • Ross

        Josh, how often do you calibrate your projector? Also which colour meter do you own? I’ve been having issues with mine and I realized it was due to flickering. I turned up the lamp power and back to normal and it has fixed my issue and I was able to calibrate again with excellent results. I spoke with Michael Chen and he recommended I calibrate every 300 hours since I have my own light meter and Calman.

        • Josh Zyber
          Author

          I have the C6 meter. I calibrate after the first 100 hours on a new lamp. After that, honestly, I don’t have a set number. In my experience, most lamps will settle down for a good long time after the initial break-in. I recalibrate when I feel that the picture has drifted enough to be noticeable.

  4. Ross

    I’m going through a warranty debacle now. I’ve always calibrated my displays using Calman and an x-rite meter. It’s always been a pain for me. I get mixed results and often have to spend hours trying to get the results I want. I’ve calibrated my old Vizio, and my old Epson projector. My old Epson was cheap and not very accurate with poor blacks so last year I pulled the trigger on the 5030ub. I was in love instantly. The first thing I did was calibrate. I waited 300 hours then calibrated again. I always check my previous settings when I perform a new calibration and they had shifted a lot. I have calibrated roughly 5 times in the year I have owned the 5030ub and the grayscale shift is drastic. My last calibration was 2 months ago, I checked this week and it shifted to 6800k.

    The problem now is when I perform a 2 point grayscale calibration I have to push red all the way up on the gain and offset. My last calibration was similar but not as bad. Now my gamma is a poor 2.27 and grayscale de is a poor 2.21. Before my gamma was 2.38 and de was 1.24. Excellent results. Now my darkest grays are reddish and same with my whites.

    I contacted Epson and they will ship me a refurbished 5030ub and hold partial payment on my cc until they receive my unit. I do not like the idea of a refurbished unit. I’m starting to think it’s not my projector. It’s my light meter. So I decided to research online and I found a review on my x-rite meter from HD Guru. He experienced the same issue with the meter. Calman repsorts and accurate picture but when viewing content it’s clear something is off. I decided to contact Michael Chen who is a well known THX calibrator and book an appointment with him this July. He travels around Canada and he’s in my city in July. Michael will watch me perform the calibration with my gear then he will measure my results with his gear then adjust accordingly. I asked him how often I should calibrate and he said every 800 hours for a projector and 300 in my case since I own the software.

    My projector is my main display so if I calibrate every 300 hours that’s 2-3 months. This is a major pain for me. My results are all over the place from calibration to calibration that I decided to reset my projector and use the default THX mode. The results are amazing. Everything looks better. When I flip back and forth between my calibration settings and default THX mode the difference is night and day. My image is brighter, more depth and better gamma.

    But I’m a purist and it bugs me that my display isn’t calibrated. Do I send out my projector and get the refurbished unit and try calibrating again? I feel it’s not my unit, I’m sure it’s my meter so if I do swap it out I’ll have similar results. I’m going to keep viewing in the default mode for a week then make my decision but so far I much prefer the default picture compared to the calibrated picture. It might not be as accurate but damn it looks good and that’s all that matters!

  5. Ross

    If it is my meter and I decide to upgrade to the C6 meter which is $1000 CAD do I really want to calibrate that often? I will always be thinking after I calibrate how much it shifted and how accurate the picture is. I only have 1600 hours on mine now and I have an extra bulb so I do plan to keep the projector for many years.

  6. Pedram

    I feel for you. I had my bulb explode in my projector way before its expiry date, and it was a scary experience. It was also hard week or two without the projector after becoming accustomed to watching most things on it. I was lucky in that I found a reseller selling a replacement bulb on Amazon. It wasn’t through an Optoma approved reseller, but it worked nonetheless (and I saved more by not having to buy a new housing like Optoma wanted).
    I would go the warranty route. Perhaps if the same thing happens more consistently in the future, you have cause for getting them to fix it then because they didn’t when you originally reported it before the warranty expired.

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