End of an era for home theater fans – new EU regulations spell lights out for lamp-based projectors

home theater room with beige seating and purple-lit walls
(Image credit: Shutterstock / alexandre zveiger)

Do you have a lamp-based projector in your home theater? If so, now will be a perfect time to stock up on replacement bulbs, as regulations prohibiting the manufacture and sale of products containing mercury, the lamps used in projectors included, will soon kick in.

As reported in flatpanelshd (via rehders.de), EU regulation 2023/2049, which comes into effect on January 1, 2026, prohibits the manufacture and importation of mercury-containing products. And while the new law is mainly targeting light bulbs used in domestic and commercial settings, it also applies to Ultra High-Performance (UHP) projector lamps. Projectors that use UHP lamps will no longer be offered for sale in the EU once the regulations are enacted, and owners won’t be able to buy replacement bulbs for their lamp-based projectors.

Many of the best 4K projectors that have come out over the past few years use a laser or LED-based light source. An advantage these have over UHP lamps is they last for 20,000-plus hours, which is the typical lifespan for a projector. UHP lamps, in contrast, need to be replaced every 2,000-4,000 hours on average in order to maintain the projector’s standard brightness level.

A number of manufacturers such as Epson, BenQ, and Optoma still offer traditional lamp-based projectors in their lineups, and that’s mainly because UHP lamps can provide high brightness at an affordable price. Lamp-based projectors are also widely used in business and educational environments for the same reason. Higher-end home theater offerings from projector brands such as Sony and JVC, on the other hand, have mostly transitioned to laser-based light engines, which can also be found in the best ultra-short throw projectors.

Although the forthcoming regulations on mercury-based products are limited to the EU, it’s likely that projector manufacturers will cease producing new lamp-based projectors as the market for those models will effectively shrink. And that same situation will apply to UHP lamp makers, who will no longer be able to sell replacement lamps in EU countries.

Analysis: Do the new EU regulations mean doom for lamp-based projectors? 

With the new regulations scheduled to soon take effect, it’s hard to imagine projector manufacturers moving forward with the production of new lamp-based models. The ban on UHP lamps may be limited to the EU, but there have also been global conventions advocating for an international ban on products with mercury, which is used in fluorescent lighting.

In the U.S., Vermont and California have already enacted bans on CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) and a number of other states are considering the same. Clearly, it’s lights out going forward for mercury-based lighting – an increasing health hazard owing to improper disposal of fluorescent lamps, which frequently end up in landfills.

Unfortunately, any ban on projector lamps will mean another item ending up in landfills: projectors. Home theater projectors have been steadily transitioning to laser-based light engines, while portable models, including some cheap projectors, typically use eco-friendly LED lamps. If you’ve bought a projector over the last five years, there’s a good chance it uses one of those technologies.

Home theater projectors manufactured before 2020 are likely to use UHP lamps, however, and any regulations banning the sale of replacement bulbs will effectively make those models doorstops. Lamp-based projectors can be found in many boardrooms and universities, and those projectors will all need to be replaced.

There’s no question that the removal of hazardous materials like mercury from the environment is a positive development for public health and that we all stand to benefit from it. Nevertheless, if you live in the EU and own an expensive lamp-based home theater projector, you might understandably be annoyed – and looking to stock up on replacement bulbs.

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Al Griffin
Senior Editor Home Entertainment, US

Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine. 

When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.