DLP vs. 3LCD Projector Technology: Which Is Better?

You basically have two affordable projectors to choose from for your burgeoning home cinema or home theater setup—the Digital Light Processing (DLP) projector from the late 1990s or the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) projector from the late 1960s. It is also of note that 3LCD is a separate category from “regular” LCD projectors altogether. Long story short, here’s the deal when it comes to the DLP vs. 3LCD projector debate. DLP projectors have more mirrors that offer you more pixels to project your desired videos and images, especially in Full HD 1080p or Ultra HD 4K.

Meanwhile, LCD and 3LCD projectors are more cost-efficient in the sense that many consumers are satisfied with the level of color and detail available for this 50-year-old technology. What’s more, 3LCD projectors, in particular, offer exceptional brightness with less power while being less expensive at high definition resolutions compared to DLP.

Further reading: Projector Display Technology 

What Is a DLP Projector?

A Digital Light Processing Projector uses DLP tech that involves mirrors and the chips that control them. The digital micro-mirror device (DMD) chip consists of 2 million micromirrors. They can be moved away or towards the light source (a lamp, LED, or laser) in order to reflect or deflect light towards the black & white image. The color of the image is then determined by either a 3-chip RGB system or a color wheel for single-chip systems. 

  • The DLP Revolution: DLP projectors are mainly used in colleges and schools for their classrooms and conference rooms with ambient light turned on indoors. DLPs are less costly compared to other technologies even though LCDs are technically cheaper to apply to HD technology. Its color wheel is divided into primary colors that reconstitute all the colors required to form a given digital image.
  • The Spinning Color Wheel: A quickly spinning color wheel and the persistence of vision effect are used in order to give the monochromatic or black & white image its color. The colors flash sequentially but at quick rates to give each part of the black and white image its color. The light source can either be a lamp or LED as well as a laser. This spinning wheel also causes the rainbow effect on DLP images. It alternates between the red, blue, green, black, and white image so quickly you perceive one image.
  • Micro Mirrors for Each Tiny Pixel: A DLP device bounces the light from the bulb or LED (as well as a laser) off of a special chip with tiny mirrors for every single tiny pixel. The reflected image from this chip then goes through the spinning color wheel that gives it the RGB tint. This process happens quite fast and depends on the persistence of vision in order to see one color image from the thousands of times per second alternating red, green, and blue monochrome images that combine together to form into a single-color image.

DLP vs 3LCD image

What Is a 3LCD Projector?

Modern digital projectors make use of Liquid Crystal Display or LCD projector color image generation technology known as 3LCD. If you’re talking about digital projectors in the 21st Century or the 2020s used in business presentations or home theaters, then you’re likely using the 3LCD type of LCD projector. Epson, an imaging company from Japan, first developed the advancement n the 1980s.

  • More About Epson’s 3LCD Landmark Technology: Epson refined 3LCD tech to perfection then had it licensed for use in projectors in 1988. The first 3LCD projector was known as the Epson VPJ-700, which was launched in January 1989. Arguably, it was these LCD digital projectors that competed head-to-head against their DLP counterparts. It’s particularly handy when it comes to doing affordable Full HD or Ultra HD resolution projections.

You may also like: Epson Home Cinema 880 3-chip 3LCD 1080p Projector

  • 3LCD Tech Is Licensed All Over via the 3LCD Consortium: Even though 3LCD tech is still owned by Epson, an affiliated organization named after the propriety technology is responsible for marketing it. The organization of 3LCD is a projector maker consortium that licensed the innovation to be utilized in all their products, such that it isn’t Epson alone making 3LCD projectors but everyone who’s a member of the 3LCD consortium.
  • How 3LCD Works: A prism instead of tiny mirrors and a color wheel is used by a 3LCD projector in order to create the image. It separates the light from the lamp or LED into red, green, and blue (RGB). Each part of the RGB light passes through the LCD panels, which then shows the image in that color. When the projector combines the separate colors together you get a full-color single image projected through the lens when push comes to shove. No color wheel needed and no risk of the rainbow effect.

The Bottom Line of 3LCD vs. DLP Projectors

Here’s the bottom line when it comes to the debate of DLP vs 3LCD projector in full detail.

  • The Future of 3LCD and How It Competes with DLP: At present, 40 projector brands all around the world make use of this tech. Back in 2009, about 51 percent of the digital projector market is composed of 3LCD projectors. 3LCD is the reason why a 1960s tech remains alive and kicking up until the 2020s (and beyond). 3LCD uses 3 LCD panel chips (hence the name) responsible for its image generation system that can rival even a three-chip DLP projector. LCD projectors are the affordable
  • 3LCD Is The Brighter Projector for the Wattage: With a 3LCD projector, you get a brighter projector for the given lamp output or wattage. Additionally, if you’re displaying 3D content, a 3LCD projector produces much brighter displays compared to what the DLP is capable of. However, you have to worry about the screen door effect when you look at the image up close when you’re dealing with a lower pixel fill factor. If you’re getting a cheaper model, you’ll end up with a poorer native contrast. What this means, for HD, you get 720p instead of 1080p or for 4K you instead get 1080p upscaled.
  • Single-Chip DLP versus three-chip DLP: A single-chip DLP projector depends more on a color wheel than three-chip RGB, which has chips that designate colors to form a single color image. This makes it more susceptible to the rainbow effect or artifacting, with the image looking like it has a rainbow filter over it and every video movement has colorful afterimages after it. On the other hand, single-chip DLPs have better contrast than 3LCDs until you’re dealing with 2K or 4K resolution video. There’s a simpler light path to DLP too, so it’s less prone to internal dust or optical misalignment in comparison to the 3LCD.
  • The LED and DLP Combo Is Recommended: LED DLP projectors are easier to handle because LED tech last longer than traditional lamps. Also, DLP gets more brightness per wattage from the cost-efficient LED compared to lamps. Lamps can last from 1,000 to 5,000 hours or if they’re ultra-high performance lamps, up until 8,000 hours. An LED projection lamp, like a laser, can last for 20,000 hours. LED saves you more time and money because it’s more long-lasting and it doesn’t require replacement as often as ordinary halogen or metal halide lamps. Then again, LED can be used on LCD projectors too, but LCD projectors are brighter by default compared to any DLP.

Read more: Your Guide to DLP vs. LED Projector

  • The Drawbacks of DLP versus 3LCD: A single-chip DLP projector has a moving, spinning color wheel that can fail because any moving part will get worn down over time. That’s just the facts of life. Moreover, it uses sequential color illumination, which a percentage of people can detect as the rainbow effect but most will instead see a normal color image (through the persistence of vision). These colored shadows that chase the action in high-contrast scenes can get psychedelic for some. For a given lamp wattage or output, DLP has a lower light output versus its 3LCD counterpart, which is also comparatively cheaper.
  • The Drawbacks of 3LCD versus DLP: 3LCDs or LCDs, in general, are projectors that are more prone to internal dust that destroys its image projection. Its light path is also more complex, which can lead to optical misalignment. DLPs have become the popular choice for home theaters as well due to the fact that all LCDs require filter cleaning or replacement as time passes by on top of lamp replacement unless you’re using an LED as the light source. If you’ve used the projector for more than 9,000 hours, even with an LED light source, the polarizer on the blue light path will degrade, leading to a bad image.

Where Do You Go From Here?

As a rule of thumb, the 3LCD projector is the superior entry-level display device for rooms with ambient light you can’t control or turn off. For more controllable ambient light, DLP has more benefits compared to any LCD projector.

If the light output is more important to you than contrast, then 3LCD is the projector for you instead of the similarly priced single-chip DLP or the far more expensive three-chip DLP. DLP is still the superior entry-level projector for more dedicated home cinemas or theater rooms. Neither projector can provide OLED-level black levels but DLP has better black levels over LCDs in general. Sony and JVC projectors with Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) tech is superior to both but only because it’s more expensive and combines the best of both worlds (LCoS is a hybrid LCD and DLP tech). 

References:

  1. Solomon Poretsky, “3LCD vs. DLP Projector“, Small Business Chron, February 14, 2013
  2. 3LCD vs DLP“, Reddit.com Projectors Subreddit, July 15, 2018
  3. Moe Long, “DLP vs. LCD vs. LED vs. LCoS vs. Laser: Shedding Light on Projector Technology“, ElectroPages.com, June 25, 2019
  4. 3LCD“, Wikipedia, Retrieved November 16, 2020
James Core
I write dozens of helpful informational articles based on topics that I have identified again and again throughout my research and work experience. I am here to help you find the right projector.

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