Brightness degradation

Brightness degradation shines a clear light on projector cost and performance


Brightness degradation represents one of the key components of projector lifetime.

Cinema projectors are available in a wide range of brightness – from 6,000 to 60,000 lumens – to serve the entire market. From intimate boutique cinemas to multiplexes with premium large-format screens, brightness is a critical factor in the visual performance of a projector. When selecting the correct brightness for your cinema, you’ll need to understand how brightness affects the performance and longevity of your investment.

Currently Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) require 14ft-L (+/-3ft-L) of brightness at the center of a cinema screen to show cinema content. This means you need a projector that’s capable of producing enough brightness across the entire screen with enough headroom to account for both extended lifetime and brightness loss associated with the entire system.

The level of screen brightness that is reflected from the screen to the eyes of the audience is measured in foot Lamberts (fL) using a light meter.


How to slow brightness degradation and maintain required brightness

Brightness degradation refers to the gradual decrease in the projector’s light output over time. As a projector is used, no matter the type of illumination, its light source deteriorates due to aging, heat, and usage. This can result in reduced brightness, image quality, and color accuracy.

However, modern cinema projectors offer nearly a decade of quality performance if you follow best practices. Let’s look at the factors that affect brightness degradation, and the steps you can take to extend the life of your investment.

Headroom is the extra brightness the projector has above the brightness you need for your cinema. Running projectors at 100% brightness increases the rate of brightness degradation and excess wear and tear in the same way car engines break faster if they are constantly run hard at maximum power. The operational longevity of a projector and its brightness lifetime will increase when driven at a lower power, while still maintaining the correct level of brightness needed on screen. Best practices suggest starting out a new projector by running it at less than full power leaving available headroom to use as the system ages.

When it comes to brightness, we need to consider environmental conditions such as heat, humidity, dust, and airflow. Heat and humidity can cause reduced performance and even damage projectors. Keeping your projection booth at less than 80% humidity and 77 F (25 C) provides the best environment to help your cinema projector last longer – and in turn, slow the rate of brightness degradation. As with most electronics, a cool, clean airflow allows for a healthier system.

Although modern projectors include fully sealed light sources to prevent dust ingress, a dusty environment can contribute to brightness degradation in your projector. Regularly replacing the filters in your projector helps prevent dust and other particles from entering the projector. Dirty clogged filters reduce airflow and cause dust to accumulate on internal optical components obstructing the path of light, which reduces brightness output. Over time, dust accumulation can also cause the projector’s internal components to overheat, which can further degrade brightness output and performance. Regular maintenance, such as replacing filters or cleaning washable filters, and maintaining the projection booth air quality can help your projector perform optimally and slow brightness degradation over time.



Brightness degradation in Xenon, laser phosphor, and RGB pure laser projection

Each illumination type has a different brightness degradation rate. If you follow best practices, you can safely rely on your investment for tens of thousands of hours. Light drop-off is gradual, but once it falls below the lumen output needed to maintain DCI standards, manufacturer service or even a replacement projector will be required. Thanks to advancements in technology, quality projectors can maintain standard brightness for 8-10 years. There’s a lot you can do to keep your projector running optimally and help slow brightness degradation over time!


  • Xenon lamps lose roughly 30% to 40% of their brightness over the warranty lifetime of 3000 hours if operated at 100% power.
  • Xenon lamps are designed to be easy-to-replace and affordable, which maintains the projector’s efficiency, brightness, image quality, and overall performance.
  • A properly spec’d xenon projector with ample brightness headroom can operate at lower power greatly reducing brightness drop-off and extending the lifetime of the lamp.

Laser Phosphor

  • RB-laser phosphor projectors lose 20% brightness over 30,000 hours if operated at 100% power.
  • Laser phosphor components can be replaced by the manufacturer to achieve necessary brightness levels if they drop below DCI-standards.
  • If the light source isn’t serviced, the projector wears faster as it attempts to maintain brightness by increasing power and reducing headroom further reducing brightness.

RGB pure laser

  • RGB pure laser is a solid-state illumination source that loses 20% brightness over 50,000 hours if operated at 100% power.
  • These projectors use dedicated red, green, and blue lasers to produce color in the projected image, which never need to be replaced.
  • The best RGB pure laser projectors feature automatic brightness adjustment technology that maintains consistent image quality over time.