Things They Don’t Tell You in the Instruction Manual

We home theater enthusiasts are often on the lookout for tweaks that can improve the performance of our audio and video gear. Typically, the expensive doodads that supposedly purify an electrical power signal or reduce vibrations in a disc player’s laser mechanism are just snake oil and work only on placebo effect. Here’s a little tip I tried this weekend that’s absolutely free: Clean your equipment.

I’ve been a projector owner for years. In my mind, front projection is the only way to make a true “home theater.” One common issue with projectors, however, is that the lamps dim over time. Sometimes dramatically so. That bright and punchy picture you get out of the box may not look so impressive after a few years of use. The rule of thumb has it that a projector lamp takes at least a couple hundred hours to break-in and stabilize its brightness. Even after that, brightness can drop as much as 50% after a thousand hours. Most projector lamps need replacing long before their rated lifetimes. Unfortunately, these lamps also tend to be expensive.

Of course, “a thousand hours” in real usage can be a long time. Few owners run their projectors eight hours or more a day. Most fire them up for a few hours at a time to watch a movie or handful of TV shows. Also, it’s not like the drop-off is instantaneous – one minute you have a perfectly bright picture and the next it’s unwatchably dark. No, the dimming occurs gradually over a long period of time. You may not even realize that it’s happened until one day you find yourself wishing that your picture were a little brighter.

That “one day” happened for me recently. My JVC projector has just over a thousand hours on its lamp, and I’ve noticed that it’s just not as bright as it used to be. I can raise the brightness setting electronically, but that has trade-offs in washing out blacks and contrast. I can bump the lamp setting up from normal to High, but that makes my projector fan run very loudly, which is too distracting to watch a movie.

I was on the verge of ordering a new lamp when I came across this thread at AVSForum, where other JVC owners complained that their projectors dimmed at an unacceptably fast rate. While I wouldn’t call the rate on mine unacceptable, it does seem pretty early to be replacing the lamp. Then some users discovered that, after removing the lamp, there’s a glass pane in the light path that seemed to have a film of dirt on it.

After cleaning that glass with a microfiber cloth, several users reported a noticeably brighter picture. Some even verified this with light meter measurements. The working theory right now is that the film is caused by outgassing of the plastics inside the projector generated by the heat of the lamp. This jibes with my previous experience with DLP projectors, which developed a similar issue on their spinning color wheels that required regular cleaning.

Since this seemed like a simple enough task with no real downside, I decided to give it a shot. Even if it had no effect, it shouldn’t harm anything to try. So I pulled out my lamp and took a peek inside with a flashlight. I couldn’t see anything by eye that looked dirty, and the cleaning didn’t seem to produce any dirt on the microfiber cloth. Some of the AVS posters said the same yet still found improvement. After replacing my lamp, the picture indeed does seem to be a little brighter. Not dramatically so, but a little bit – at least enough that I’ve postponed ordering another lamp.

I’m still contemplating an upgrade to 3-D in the relatively near future. Ideally, I’d like my current lamp to get me through until then. Hopefully, this little tweak will help with that.


  1. hurin

    I was not aware JVC projectors were loud, disappointing considering the price tags.
    My old AE700 had some similar problems when run in eco mode, the solution was to shift to high mode for a couple of hours.

    So far I had no problems with my Z3000 after 10 months of use, a wonderful piece of machinery.

    Just wondering, could you write a blog post about the Kipnish studio? I personally think it looks like an elaborate torture chamber. But it’s impossible to have a discussion about it without getting accused of being jealous.

    • Josh Zyber

      The loudness is relative. My projector sits on a shelf very near my head. In Eco mode, I can’t hear it at all over a movie soundtrack, but in High mode it’s too loud for me. If I were able to ceiling mount it or place it at a reasonable distance, I’m sure even High mode would be fine. Unfortunately, those just aren’t options in my current space.

      The Kipnis Home Theater seems to me to be a classic example of someone having more money than sense.

  2. hurin

    I think Kipnish needs a review from someone who knows what he’s talking about. The reviews I read have all been written by people who let them self be dumbfounded by all the expensive equipment without asking if it added or subtracted from the experience.

    When I read his equipment list I could not make any sense of it. It was as if you went to a pet store and bought an expensive fish and an expensive cat, thinking that since they’re both expensive they must also go along with one another.

    • Josh Zyber

      I certainly agree, and that’s a great analogy. The first thing that comes to my mind is that all of those subwoofers in that space would probably just wind up canceling out each others’ bass waves. To which he no doubt has continued to add more subwoofers to “fix” the problem.

      Even the Dolby “Sandbox” sound lab, where they experiment with all sorts of insane speaker configurations, only has one subwoofer.

      Still, I don’t think I could offer any sort of proper review without having been there.

  3. Great article.

    I’ve made it a habit to do regular check-ups of my equipment, at least once a month video and audio tests to ensure the best experience. Added to all this, I dust and vacuum on a regular basis, at least every other day.

    It may seem a like a bit much (my wife thinks I’m obsessed, LOL), but considering the price tag we pay for these things, I sure as hell going to make sure they last me a long time and get the best use of them.

    I also want to upgrade to 3-D, but JVC is still too pricey right now. I’ll be replacing the TV long before my AE4000, and I’m also replacing the PS3 Slim with OPPO BDP-93 in the coming weeks.

  4. Javier Aleman

    I have been thinking about making the jump to a projector but for some reason I’m worried about using it for gaming. I’m planning on building a bigger theater room in my house and a projector would be perfect so please tell me my games, including my Wii with no hd would still look good.

  5. David Baker

    11 years later, THANK YOU! My Epson 5040UB seemed too dim. I ordered a new lamp, but it made no difference. I was rather discouraged at that point. Came across this post, and gave that little glass prism a good wipe. It made a very noticeable improvement, can’t tell you what a relief that is. Great post!

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