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Technology 4 Min Read

What is a DLP projector?

May 16, 2024

We’re diving into what DLP technology is, how it works, and its advantages

In this piece:

At Christie, we commonly refer to many of our projectors as 1DLP® or 3DLP®. But what does that mean? In this post, we’ll dive into DLP projectors, their advantages, and the differences between 1DLP, or 1-chip, and 3DLP, or 3-chip, to help you select the right projection solution for your next project.  

What’s DLP? 

DLP stands for Digital Light Processing. Developed by Texas Instruments®, DLP projectors use chips called DMDs (Digital Micromirror Devices), which use millions of microscopic reflection mirrors — one for each pixel in an image.  

A high, front image of the Christie M 4K25 RGB pure laser projector.

The M 4K25 RGB pure laser projector uses three DMDs for each primary color of light — red, green, and blue — which
optically converge to produce a single, full-color image.

Each mirror can be individually controlled to tilt back and forth rapidly, in an on or off position. When a mirror tilts toward the light source, it reflects light onto the projection surface and creates a bright pixel. When it tilts away from the light source, it reflects light away and creates a dark pixel.  

Why DLP? 

Texas Instruments sold its first DLP chipset in the mid-1990s and has produced more than 40 million since. They're used in a myriad of technologies including projection, lighting, headlights, and 3D printers.  

There’s a reason DLP is so in demand – it’s a proven, reliable, and versatile technology. And in projection, the advantage of an all-digital system like DLP is that it consistently offers better light efficiency and color control than any other projection technology. Individual pixel control results in a smoother, cleaner image, as well as superior color uniformity and sharper imagery with their higher pixel fill factor. DLP projectors also offer higher brightness from even small units while also using less power. 

1DLP projectors 

As the name suggests, 1DLP® laser projectors use just one DLP® chip (or DMD) and a color wheel to generate colors. The white light from the projector's light source passes through a rapidly spinning color wheel that contains red, green, and blue filters. As the wheel spins, the light filters sequentially through each color segment and is directed onto the DMD chip. Rapidly modulating mirrors that synchronize with the color wheel allows DLP projectors to produce a wide spectrum of colors. 

3DLP projectors

On the other hand, 3DLP® projectors use three DMD chips: one for each primary color of light — red, green, and blue — which optically converge to produce a single, full-color image. Because each DMD is dedicated to a primary color – red, green, and blue – 3DLP projectors don’t use a color wheel.  

A close-up of a digital micromirror device.

A close-up of a DMD, which uses millions of microscopic reflection mirrors - one for each pixel in an image.

A DLP projector with Full HD resolution (1920 pixels wide x 1080 pixels high) uses either one or three DMD chips (1DLP or 3DLP) made up of 1,080 rows of mirrors, with each row containing 1,920 microscopic mirrors. At the other end of the resolution spectrum, a Native 4K projector (4096 x 2160 pixels) uses 4,096 rows of mirrors with 2,160 microscopic mirrors. 

How light sources work in DLP projectors 

DLP technology is found in projectors with different light sources, including RGB pure laser, laser phosphor, or lamp-based light source.  

RGB pure laser

RGB pure laser projectors lead the AV industry with superior color, image quality, and brightness up to 50,000 lumens. With individual red, green, and blue laser light sources, they best reproduce real-world colors – they can reach 98% of the Rec. 2020 color gamut. The wide color gamut makes content appear brighter and with greater contrast.  

A chart showing all the colors the human eye can see

A color volume comparison of Rec. 2020, DCI-P3, and Rec. 709, and where they fall on the CIE 1931 chart.
The CIE 1931 chart represents all the colors humans can see.

Laser phosphor

Laser phosphor-illuminated projectors use blue laser diodes as their primary light source, which shine onto a spinning yellow phosphor wheel. The light emitted from the wheel is separated into red and green, while the blue light passes directly through a segment in the wheel. Advanced laser phosphor projectors use a direct red laser diode to boost the low output of red and produce better overall saturation and realistic color. 


With 1DLP lamp-based projectors, which typically use mercury lamps, white light passes from the lamp through the color wheel that contains red, green, and blue filters. As the wheel spins, the light is sequentially filtered through each color segment and directed onto the DMD chip. In 3DLP lamp-based projectors, which typically use Xenon lamps, broad spectrum xenon light passes through the optical system where the "white light" is separated into red, green, and blue via dichroic filters in the prism, and recombined at the output of the prism to create a picture. Lamp-based illumination is proven reliable, has a low upfront cost, and has well-understood maintenance schedules.  

DLP projection for exceptional experiences 

3DLP offers superior image quality, but 1DLP projectors are edging closer and closer to 3DLP performance: their brightness capabilities are increasing, 4K UHD resolution is becoming more common, contrast levels are improving, and color reproduction is getting better and better.  

When you see massive projections on the side of a building, lifelike images mapped onto non-traditional canvases, or large-scale live events, this is most likely 3DLP projection in action. With 3DLP, you also typically have higher frame rate options for superior dynamic image quality.  

And when it comes to brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation, 3DLP projectors are the best in the industry.   

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