Solid-state illumination can reduce the total cost of ownership for projectors, advocates say—while saving the environment as well
When the Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona was looking to install projectors in every classroom within its 16 schools, district officials wanted a solution that would be easy to maintain.
Working with ImmediaEDU , an Arizona company that specializes in AV integration for schools, they chose Casio XJ-M250 projectors that run on a hybrid laser-LED light source instead of a traditional mercury lamp—providing an estimated 20,000 hours of use, or about 18 school years.
“Lamps are very expensive,” said Alexis Christensen, vice president of educational partnerships at ImmediaEdu. “If you have 50 classrooms, and the lamps are all failing at once, that’s a big unplanned expense.”
It’s also very time-consuming for staff to replace the bulbs—and properly disposing of mercury lamps isn’t easy, either.
For these reasons and more, a growing number of schools and other organizations are choosing lamp-free options when buying projectors.
(Next page: A look at the market for lamp-free projectors; plus, how schools can win a new lamp-free projector unit)
So far this year, sales of lamp-free projectors with 500 lumens or higher have grown 20 percent over last year, says projector market analyst firm PMA Research . “By 2016, we expect annual shipments of lamp-free units to more than triple from 2013,” said Linda Norton, vice president of PMA.
Lamp-free projectors, which use solid-state illumination (SSI) instead of traditional mercury lamps, include LED-only projectors, laser-only projectors, and hybrid projectors that use LEDs and lasers. Since Casio brought the first hybrid projectors to market  in 2010, a number of other manufacturers have launched SSI models in different segments of the projector market.
For mobile presentations or small-group settings, there are two- to three-pound LED-based models from the likes of Acer, BenQ, Canon, Dell, InFocus, LG, NEC, Optoma, ViewSonic, and Vivitek. In the mainstream and high-end segments, which encompasses K-12 and higher education, lamp-free projectors are primarily hybrid models from Casio and Panasonic, PMA says—as well as Sony’s laser-lit model, which the company introduced last year .
Meanwhile, new SSI models continue to appear. This spring, Casio unveiled its first ultra short-throw projector  running on a hybrid LED-laser light engine, the XJ-UT310WN. This newest model enables schools to project an 80-inch image from just 18 inches away, eliminating shadows.
Although SSI projectors currently account for less than 5 percent of the U.S. market for projectors with 500 lumens or higher, that figure is expected to reach nearly 15 percent by 2016, PMA says.
PMA’s surveys of projector owners and shoppers have confirmed the bright outlook for lamp-free projectors. In 2011, PMA’s survey showed that 65 percent of respondents felt hybrid or LED illumination was “very important” or an “absolute must.” In the research firm’s 2013 survey, this figure jumped to 92 percent.
“This reflects the growing desire to go green, as well as reduce the overall cost of ownership of projectors,” Norton said.
Traditional projector lamps contain mercury, which is harmful to humans and the environment. To emphasize the dangers of mercury lamps, Casio has launched a grant program  in which it will give away its latest lamp-free projector to one school in each state.
To apply, schools must educate their students about the hazards that mercury poses, then have students write an essay about what they’ve learned. The schools whose essays receive the most votes on Casio’s website will win.
For Don Fournier, IT manager for the Phoenix Union High School District, it wasn’t just the composition of the light source that mattered.
The lamp-free projectors “operate cooler, use significantly less power than traditional bulb projectors, and are bright enough to be used in a fully lit room with the window shades open,” he said. He expects to save about $25,000 per year in electricity costs by running the new projectors.