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An Introduction to DLP - Digital Light Processing

Frequently Asked Questions


Digital Light Processing was invented in 1987 by Texas Instruments. It is named for its ability to process light digitally with the aid of an optical semiconductor called a Digital Micromirror Device or DMD chip. The DMD chip is comprised of over one million mirrors. The size of each mirror is less than 1/5” the width of a human hair. Currently, over fifty manufacturers produce at least one model of a DLP television.

This article is an introduction to DLP. It is not intended to be the official word. To learn from the source, please visit Texas Instruments’ official Digital Light Processing website.

What is DLP technology?

Like digital video camcorders, DLP devices come in either one or three-chip models. One-chip DLP systems use a projection lamp to pass white light through a color wheel that sends red-green-blue colors to the DMD chip in a sequential order to create an image on-screen. Only one DMD chip is used to process the primary RGB colors.

Three-chip DLP systems use a projection lamp to send white light through a prism, which creates separate red, green, and blue light beams. Each beam is sent to their respective red, green, and blue DMD chip to process the image for display on-screen.

One-chip models are said to produce a display of over 16-million colors. Three-chip models can produce a display of over 35-trillion colors.

Should I buy a one or three-chip model?

Most consumers will only be able to purchase a one-chip DLP system, but that isn’t a bad since DLP technology is recognized for its ability to display images in great detail. Three-chip DLP systems are for high end users who need to display images onto a larger screen, like in a movie theatre or for a business seminar setting.

How much does a DLP television or home theatre system cost?

Price varies by model and manufacturer, but generally DLP televisions cost 1,500 dollars and up. They're usually priced less than LCD or Plasma screens of the same size. DLP projectors cost anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 dollars and up.

How big is a DLP television?

DLP televisions vary in size with screen sizes ranging from 44-65", and weights between 63 and 215-lbs. Most units weigh between 75 and 150-lbs. Width for DLPs range between 7 and 22", however most models can be found with a thickness of 15-20".

What features are important?

Good features to have are HD-compatibility, a DVI or HDMI connection, HDCP, and a good warranty. Features like parental controls, user-friendly menu systems, and audio quality are also good to own. Many DLP televisions are made with a digital cable card slot, which eliminates the need for a set-top box to receive cable if your provider offers that service. Most or all DLP televisions with cable card slots feature a built-in HD-tuner that decodes HD signals without the need of an additional receiver or set-top box. Regardless, a built-in tuner is a nice option to have whether or not the TV has a cable card slot.

Does DLP have burn in?

DLP doesn’t have burn in - the sensation plaguing CRT-rear projection and Plasma televisions. Burn in is a stain on the screen by leaving a static or still image on the screen for a long period of time. You can see an example of burn-in by clicking the link to go to Texas Instruments’ DLP website.

What is Rainbow Effect? How does it apply to DLP?

Rainbow Effect is to DLP what screen door effect is to LCD. It is a side effect of the refracted light, but is only seen by some of the people who watch DLP televisions. Online encyclopedia Wikipedia describes Rainbow Effect “as brief flashes of perceived red/blue/green ‘shadows’ observed most often when the projected content features bright/white objects on a mostly dark/black background (an example would be the scrolling end credits of a movie).” It is important to note that only one-chip DLP televisions are susceptible to Rainbow Effect.

How does DLP compare LCD, LCOS, and Plasma?

It is safe to argue that DLP offers the best picture of the four ‘high-end’ television types. Of all the technologies, LCOS is probably the closest to DLP, but the future for LCOS is shaky so the comparison is somewhat moot at this time. Many people feel LCD has a brighter picture, and Plasma has a reputation as being the Rolls Royce of televisions. Aside from walking into an electronics store and comparing the pictures of various models side-by-side, how do you know what picture is best for you? The bottom line is you don’t.

Where do I go from here?

If you’re in the market for a new television, it’s important to know your options. Research is vital in purchasing something as expensive as a DLP television. You can learn about various types of televisions by visiting consumer electronics stores, consumer resource websites like tv.about.com, or going to a manufacturer’s website. The important thing to understand is the choice is yours. When it comes to TV and video equipment - nobody can force you to buy any thing any time at any price.

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