The Day My Home Theater (Almost) Died

I don’t know how your week went, but last week was not a very good time for me. My home theater had a meltdown, and for a few days I was convinced that my projector had died on me. Of course, this all had to happen right as my DVR hit 96% of its storage capacity and I’ve got a bunch of Blu-rays to review. There’s never a good time for an expensive piece of electronics to fail on you, but this was especially problematic for me.

Here’s what happened: Over the last couple of weeks, I’d had intermittent problems where my JVC D-ILA projector wouldn’t start on the first attempt. I’d try to turn it on, but only get a brief whirling noise from the front of the machine. Neither the fan nor the lamp would engage. The projector would automatically attempt this three times before giving up, at which point an orange “WARNING” light would turn on and the “LAMP” light would start to blink. According to the owner’s manual, this means that there’s a problem with the lamp, which probably needs to be replaced.

Projector lamps are fairly easy to remove and replace. However, I was skeptical that this was really the problem. At around 1,300 hours of usage, my lamp was still well below its rated 2,000-hour life expectancy. While it’s true that many lamps fail early, this one didn’t just die outright, as I would have expected. Several times when this happened, I would unplug the projector for a few minutes, then try again and find that the projector would suddenly start working normally. Because the lamp eventually struck and didn’t seem to have any dimness or flickering issues, and because that whirling noise distinctly emanated from the front of the unit (whereas the lamp is in the back), I suspected that something else was going on inside the projector. Nonetheless, at this point, the problem was still merely an annoyance. So long as the projector started up eventually, I wasn’t too concerned.

That is, not until last Tuesday, when the projector refused to start at all. I tried numerous times over the course of several hours, and got nothing. When it still refused to work the next morning, I knew that I was in a bad spot.

I emailed JVC technical support, who replied very promptly. They (naturally) suggested installing a new lamp. That’s easily said, but the problem is that the official JVC replacement lamp for my projector is priced at $399. That’s a lot of money. I’d be willing to spend it so long as I could be reasonably assured that the lamp was really the source of the problem. I didn’t want to spend that kind of cash only to find that there was still something else wrong. And as I mentioned, I had my doubts that the lamp was really at fault here.

After I described my symptoms, the JVC people agreed that there might be something else going on with the unit. They instructed me to clean out the air vents, in case the cooling fan was blocked by dirt. Indeed, when I pulled out my projector, I found a lot of dust underneath it. However, neither the vents nor the filter in the machine looked all that dirty. I cleaned them, but sadly that didn’t help. I also followed a recommendation to remove and re-seat my existing lamp, to see if it had merely lost its contact with the projector. That didn’t work either.

JVC next advised that I should ship the projector to them for servicing. This was problematic for me for a few reasons. First, I’m outside my warranty period, and there’s no telling how much a repair would cost. Secondly, packaging and shipping a large and fragile item like this is a significant hassle (especially since I no longer have the original box). Perhaps most troubling of all for me is the fact that I’ve had bad experiences in the past with manufacturer repair centers. I’d sent a previous projector of mine (not a JVC) to an authorized repair center, only to get it back without the problem being fixed. I spent a lot of money shipping it back, only for the same thing to happen again. Admittedly, I haven’t dealt with JVC’s repair center, but nonetheless I’d prefer to exhaust every other possibility before going that route.

Where did that leave me? I could order a replacement lamp and hope for the best… or buy a whole new projector. Honestly, I considered the latter. I’ve been planning to upgrade to 3D anyway. Perhaps this was just the kick in the pants I needed. I called up my home theater dealer to ask about the model I’ve had my eye on, one of JVC’s new 3D projectors. (I’ve been very happy with my current unit’s 2D performance. What I’m looking for is basically the same thing, just with 3D added.) Unfortunately, the model I want is backordered until at least April.

So… this seemed like time to try a new lamp after all. Still, $400 felt like a lot to risk for something that I was dubious about. As an alternative, I discovered that I could spend considerably less for an unofficial “compatible” lamp from a generic brand. I found that Amazon fulfills orders for a lamp from a brand called Electrified, which is priced at just under $150. JVC of course recommends against using generic brand lamps, and I’ve read some horror stories about such things having poor reliability. On the plus side, Electrified offers a 120-day warranty. Even if the lamp didn’t work, this seemed like a much more acceptable risk than the $400 official lamp. The fact that I only had to spend $3.99 for overnight shipping with my Amazon Prime membership just sweetened the deal.

Cutting to the chase here, the replacement lamp arrived on Friday. I installed it that night, and the projector fired right up. It was the lamp at fault all along. Whew!

Now that it appears that there isn’t anything else seriously wrong with my projector, this leaves me with a new (much less severe) dilemma. Do I stick with the Electrified lamp and hope that this generic brand product doesn’t crap out on me in a couple weeks? Do I spend the $400 to order an official JVC replacement lamp, and keep the Electrified model as an emergency backup (like the donut tire in a car)? Or do I finally order that new 3D projector I’ve been coveting and hope that the Electrified lamp will hold out until that comes into stock? This is a decision that I’m still mulling over.

9 comments

  1. TJ Kats

    Similar boat as my Panasonic Plasma died about three weeks ago. It actually has two boards that are bad and the price to fix it is almost the price of a new unit. Couple that with the fact that we close on a new house in four days and money is tight until then. Had to pull the 32″ LCD out of my bedroom as a replacement and the drop is size, as well as quality is horrible.

    As to your question about what to do I would say if you are serious about going 3D and can afford to do it right now than place the order and just use this lamp until then.

    • I’m with TJ on this. I have had relatively good luck with Amazon Generics, including bulbs, as, by the time a projector bulb goes out in a projector at a church, replacement bulbs are almost impossible to get from the manufactorer. You said the bulb is warrentied for 120 days, which should take you long past the April date for the 3D backorder.

      If you have the cash, then keep the current bulb and order the 3D, then keep the old projector around as a backup in case you ever have a problem with the new one. If you are tight on cash, order a JVC bulb.

      Here is my question – how does the new bulb look? I would imagine that your image quality is considerably better than the old bulb that was 1300 hours old.

      However, I have another, more pressing issue – bulbs rarely go like that. My experience with bulbs is that they tend to gradually get dimmer, to the point that you can barely see them, before they “blow”, and that is usually way beyond the rated 1,000-4,000 hour rating on a bulb (depending on bulb and projector). If your bulb went, just like that, with no noticable dimming before hand, 800 hours before the rated lifespan of the bulb, I would think you either had a defective bulb or, more likely, a defective projector. My thought is that you may end up blowing another bulb in, say, anywhere from 10-200 hours, depending how hard you run your projector.

      So, with that in mind, keep the generic bulb, and order a replacement projector.

      • Another note – I would also replace any power strips / surge protectors / battery backups that you have hooked up to the projector. Bulbs and projectors are expensive, and replacing a battery backup or surge protector is relatively cheap to ensure that you are keeping your system safe.

        Also, check the load you have on the circuit. Have an electrician come out if necessary, especially if the wiring is, say, more than 25 years old. I actually had an issue with my DVR suddenly not wanting to boot up. Just out of the blue. Turns out, I was drawing too much of a load off of the circuit, and just one day, everything decided that the load was just too great for the wiring. Had been working just fine for years. After having my wiring checked, I simply ran an extension cord to another outlet on the other side of the room that was on a different breaker, moved a few items over to it, and everything was fine.

        Just throwing ideas out. Figure you have already checked this, but I know that I sometimes need to be reminded of stuff that I think is obvious.

  2. Keith

    Me being the cheap ass that I am says to just stick with the cheapy bulb. Sure, there’s a chance it may not last as long as the OE one, but what if it does? Even if it doesn’t you can still buy a 2nd one and still come out ahead. It just seems kinda silly to buy a $400 bulb immediately after buying a $150 one.

    In the meantime, I also agree with the notion of placing an order for the new projector you’ve had your eye on.

  3. Jason

    I once worked for a company that hosted SAP and other software training and we had 12 classrooms each with 2 projectors. Up until I started working there they were shelling out big bucks for replacement lamps. The projectors ran about 60hrs/week. so we went through bulbs fairly quickly. I suggested that we start using generic bulbs and started shopping around for options. after 6 months my boss gave me a significant raise based on that suggestion alone. We never had any problems with the generics while I worked there for 3 years. I’d stick with the generics. Chances are like most things they are made in the same factory as the “approved” bulbs but just skip the badging stage.

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