SSI, SOS? The Lamp vs. Lamp-free Projector Debate Explained

When first embarking on a shopping trip to satisfy your school’s AV and projector needs, it might seem like a first step should be a simple price check. In this day of budget trimming and politics entering district boards’ arena, offering the most cost efficient option would be a logical winner. But “cost efficient” and true “price” don’t necessarily add up to the sticker sporting the lowest number.

The Convenience Factor

The lamp-based projectors we have long used in schools worked by heating a thin filament with electricity inside a bulb’s inert gas atmosphere to produce the full red-to-violet spectrum of light. These traditional projectors need a bulky reflector to catch and focus the emitted light. This can create a larger appliance and slightly more complicated mounting or housing needs. You might need to schedule a specialist or the school-based IT manager to install the projector or buy a special cart for its use.

When the lamps dim or burn out, or a filter needs replacing, they might need to be called back. The lamps offer an average life expectancy, but that is an average and can’t be counted on for accurate reordering, so teachers would occasionally have their lessons disrupted by blown bulbs.

Lamp-free or LED/Laser SSI (Solid State Illumination) Projectors’ specific red, blue and green wavelengths are mixed internally, can be adjusted automatically with software, allowing a clear picture to be projected directly onto the viewing area. New Short Throw or Ultra Short Throw styles can be set within inches of the wall or screen, allowing for an image unmarred by shadows as a teacher instructs or uninterrupted background for a theatre or arts performance. Compact versions can even be set upon a desk for use, or toted from room to room, for little to no installation hassles.

The Efficiency Factor

Lamp-based projectors by nature generate high heat requiring slow starts and slower shut downs to maintain the health of the machine. These extra warming up/cooling off prep periods add up to lost teaching time. Lamp-free laser, LED or hybrid SSI projectors flip on and off for instant use, without need for manual adjustment to focus the image or video. The image quality on an SSI will stay constant through its life, while that of the traditional projector will dim as the bulb ages. (The “life” of a bulb is considered the time in which is maintains at least 50% of its original brightness.)

The Eco Factor

Lamp-based projectors tend to have a higher energy use, partially due to the higher heat created in projecting the entire color spectrum and (often noisy) fans needed for cooling. This adds to both financial and environmental costs. Traditional lamp-based projectors once used high performance bulbs containing mercury, which required extra care while changing and special handling upon disposal to avoid contamination, though many new models use mercury-free bulbs. The lighting element on an SSI projector can last ten times that of a traditional projector. They also often feature eco-mode with decreased brightness.

The Cost Factor

Flipping through a catalog or scanning the online warehouses offers a wildly different price point for different styles of projectors. Lamp-based Projectors are often quite a bit easier on the budget for initial expenses, offering savings up to 30%. If the immediate need outweighs making a heftier investment, a school could cover more classrooms and teaching spaces by opting for the traditional projectors. However, there are involved costs to replacement bulbs (and perhaps filters) that need to be factored in.

To get to true numbers, many projector companies offer a comparison calculator to help you understand and analyze the true TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of different models. Casio’s TCO Calculator ( also analyzes number of projectors needed, power consumption, and usage costs to offer an accurate look at your potential Energy Cost Savings.

Sascha Zuger

Sascha has nearly two decades of experience as a freelance journalist writing for national magazines, including The Washington Post, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic Traveler, and others. She writes about education, travel and culinary topics.