Projector advice

Dear Lazyweb, I think I need a new video projector. What should I get? And what should I do with the old one?

I have this Panasonic PT-D5500U 5000 lumen DLP projector that I bought for $7200 in 2005. Which is an insane amount of money, but that's what 5000 lumens cost back then. Previous projectors hadn't lasted longer than a couple of years, so I thought I will buy an expensive one so that I never have to deal with this shit again. Six years doesn't count as "working out as planned".

To make a long and very irritating story somewhat shorter:

My lamps were at end-of-life, so I ordered two new ones. At least one of those arrived broken. I got a refund and they sent me two new ones. At this point I had three new, working lamps. None of them would light up when placed in socket 2 in my projector, but they all worked in socket 1. This says "socket 2 is bad".

I found the one guy in the entire Bay Area who will repair these projectors, short of me having to mail this 40lb behemoth off to Panasonic and wait who-knows-how-many months, and his crackerjack diagnosis was, "I think you have a bad lamp."

I told him about how I tested this, and he stuck to his story. And added, "Oh, don't buy the $400 lamp pair, you need the $800 official Panasonic lamp pair."

So that trip to Mountain View cost me two weeks and a hundred bucks for absolutely nothing.

I was back to running on one lamp again, when that one stopped working too! I bought two new lamps (the double-priced, official ones this time), which took another week, and they didn't work either, and neither do any of the old lamps.

So this says to me that both sockets are dead.

Repair guy said, "Well, I can replace the ballasts. Those are $400 each, but it's rare for them to go bad at the same time."

So basically, I got my projector back from this guy in worse shape than when I took it in, and his proposal is that I pay him another thousand bucks to try the next random thing. His diagnostic approach seems to be, "replace everything from the lamps back, in order, until something works."

Thanks for nothing, dude.

If this projector is really only $1k from working again, then that's the economical thing to do, but that sounds like an expensive crap shoot.

I guess the thing to do is just buy a new projector, and in the mean time, ship this one off to Panasonic, then when they send it back to me in six months, try to sell it.

Unless you have a better idea?

Also, what projector should I get?

I need 5000 lumens throwing a 120"-ish image 17-ish feet. 1024x768 is fine, though higher rez might be nice. Quiet is nice. Being able to power it on/off from the web is nice.

Why is the ViewSonic Pro8500 half the price of comparable projectors? It's around $1300 but I see a lot of projectors with almost identical specs and worse lamp life for $4000+. Is it shit?

Update: I decided to buy a used PT-D5500U from eBay, since there was one there for $900. This is the cheap route, since I'm sitting on like $1500 worth of lamps for that model which may actually work... A used projector sounds like a better gamble than letting this repair guy wave his chicken at it again. We'll see...

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28 Responses:

  1. Tor says:

    I think this just affirms the notion; price, quality, reliability: you can only ever choose two out of those three. Pick the ones that you want the most.

  2. bronson says:

    Ugh, projectors are so 1990s. Low res, bad blacks, light bleed, need a dark room, ... Can you just get a giant flatscreen? Too fragile?

    • jwz says:

      It looks like you forgot to include the link in your comment.

      The link where you show me where I can find a 120" flat screen for less than $70,000.

      • tkil says:

        I don't know how objectionable the seams would be, but it looks like 120"-class video walls (using LCD panels with full-array LED backlight) can be had for about half that amount (2x2 60" panels @8.5k$ each, plus mounting and control).

        For that matter, if you wanted to make the seams a *feature*, you could get a brace of consumer 60-65" panels for 2.5k$ each. Add in another 2-3k$ for a computer on the back end, have it cycle between splitting the display across all panels or replicating same image in each (or even more arcane effects). That might look pretty.

        Either of those would give you a *lot* more pixels (the 60" panels are 720p, the consumer ones are 1080p) and a *lot* more brightness.

        On the other hand, it sounds like you could buy a handful of those ViewSonics and dozens of replacement bulbs for the same money as the cheaper option, so...

    • LafinJack says:

      Why do the blacks have to be bad, huh?

  3. DFB says:

    After spending about 20 minutes consulting various review sites, recommendation oracles, and specification listings, I would say go with the ViewSonic Pro8500, but I doubt the bulb life claims.

  4. Lloyd says:

    Can't you just use a normal computer monitor and admit the need to wear glasses?

  5. Andrew lewis says:

    Doesn't anyone test components? If the LRG wants to replace a ballast, fine, but JWZ should only be on the hook if said ballast replacement fixes the problem or at least can be shown to produce a different result than the existing components. Otherwise the new parts go back in the box, old ballasts back into the projector, and LRG keeps digging.

    • moof says:

      People not testing components is a long held-precedent. The canonical DIGITAL field service jokes:

      Q: How can you recognize a field circus engineer with a flat tire?
      A: He's changing one tire at a time to see which one is flat.

      Q: How can you recognize a field circus engineer who is out of gas?
      A: He's changing one tire at a time to see which one is flat.

      Q: How can you tell it's your field circus engineer?
      A: The spare is flat, too.

  6. Will says:

    My takeaway from scanning forums, looking for fixes for my flaky Panasonic (Coincidence? I think not) was - get an Epson. The Powerlite 4300 seems to meet your specs, and has some additional niceties like 3 LCDs, and lens shift. Your 5000 lumen requirement sure does limit you, though.

  7. Aaron says:

    Barco and Christie are the only two manufacturers I would trust in this space. We have used several of their projectors in the past and, while more expensive than the so-called "major" brands, are much more reliable and higher quality.

  8. How about buying a used PT-D5500U off eBay that may still work - - and maybe replace the aged lamps in the used projector with the replacement ones you bought?

    If you can get a working PT-D5500U used for $1,000 ... it might be worth it?

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, that's not a bad idea, since I'm sitting on like $1500 worth of lamps that work only in projector already! Which may or may not work... Certainly buying a used projector of the same model is a better gamble than letting this repair guy wave his chicken at it again.

      • And, the upside is after buying the second projector, IT stops working, you might have enough working parts between the two units to Frankenstein (repair) them into one working unit, again.

        That's how I got my iPod Touch - I bought 6 or so "broken" ones off eBay, used the parts to repair a few iPod Touches for friends, and with the remaining spare parts, was able to put together one last working Touch for myself, for "free" (since everyone I repaired for paid for their repairs - my parts and labor).

        Good luck, Jamie.

  9. Giles says:

    I think projectors are priced printer-style... if the printer looks zanily cheap, it's because the ink/toner is going to cost more than pharmaceutical heroin.

    I had an inFocus projector, lamp blew - I THOUGHT - and after paying hundreds for a new lamp I discovered it wasn't the lamp. And all this time I've got no video games and I'm getting grumpier and grumpier.

    I wound up switching to Epson... which is probably an awful idea since the projector I have now is very businessy and probably not very good at all for games and movies, but their lamps are cheaper and they cross-shipped me a replacement when a fan blew, and it makes me just as motion sick as the inFocus for less money.

  10. I too live in a giant SOMA loft with giant ceiling to nearly floor windows as does a friend who also resides in a similar yuppy hutch round the corner.

    We've both got Epson 8350s - it's cheap(ish) at ~$1300 and despite being only 2000 Lumens seems to work well for both of us. I haven't got blackout blinds and it's watchable during the daytime although not ideal.

    I previously had a Panasonic AE1000u which developed problems with a sticking iris (apparently common) - this is better.

  11. May I suggest Eiki projectors?

    Unless you want to go with Barco or Christie, but those might be out of the price range you are looking for

  12. julian says:

    LED Casio XJ-A240V

    It's what the university here chose to use after much reflection.

  13. DFB says:

    I find it hard to seriously motivate myself to try to recommend any projector which can not be mounted on one;s head these days.