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What should I know before buying a laser

Just like every other area, there are lot of things you should know before starting with making laser shows. In this article I’ll try to gather information I would have liked to have before I started working with lasers.

Introduction

This is quite simple, you’ll need a laser projector (which is also called laser system sometimes) and a controller. The problem comes when you try to choose which laser to use. There are more than 100 laser system producers. It’s like choosing an automobile – you can drive fast expensive car which costs a lot or some cheaper one which might do the job, but without the extra joy.

What is inside of a laser projector?

There are two main parts of the laser projector – scanners and lasers. Lasers create laser beam, which is reflected by scanners. They move so fast they create an image.

Nowadays colorful laser projectors are used the most. They are usually made by connecting 3 lasers (red, green and blue) into one laser beam. The control electronics are able to control brightness of every laser separately. This allows you to mix RGB colors with different intensities (just like on a computer screen). This is also called analog modulation, sometimes.

Some cheaper lasers can’t do analog modulation. They can only turn the lasers on or off. This way you can mix only 7 colors. This is called TTL modulation.

laser

The red, green and blue beams are connected into one white beam using filters. They reflect one color and let the others pass through.

When you transport the laser projector often the filters might move a bit. That’s why there are adjusting screws in most of common laser systems. More advanced laser systems use electrical filter adjustments, so you don’t have to open your laser to adjust the filters by hand.

9 things what should I definitely check before buying a laser projector?

The problem with lasers is also you can’t find so many tests as e.g. by cars. And there are many systems, which are definitely not good enough.

What you need to figure out first, is what kind of laser show you plan to do. If it’s just a small venue for e.g. 500 people, laser systems up to 3-5W (W for Watts) are sufficient. But if you’ll need to do laser shows outside, you’ll definitely need more than 10W lasers. Of course, the more power you need, the higher the price.

How would I choose? Well I would definitely visit an exhibition where I could see the products in action. That way you can compare the performance and quality. What I would check/ask:

  1. Quality of the scanners. The image should not shake or flicker too much. If you display a logo, it should look good.
  2. Quality of the colors. Let the seller show you white, yellow, cyan or magenta colors. If the laser is not good enough, the white color will not be properly balanced (it’ll be more red or green).
  3. Quality of the fade. Let the seller show you the brightness change of some white picture. If the laser is not calibrated well, usually some of the color turns off sooner (e.g. at 50% of the intensity you can see the color is not white anymore but more red or green, etc.).
  4. Quality of the mechanics. It should not be hard to see if the quality of the laser system panels is good or pure.
  5. The way of adjusting filters. If the producer doesn’t actually have a lot of experience the filters may be stored inside the laser and you would have to dismantle a lot of the laser to get to them. The best option is if the laser allows you to align the filters electronically.
  6. Integrated laser show controller. The higher quality laser systems usually integrate some laser show controller directly into the laser. You should check how hard it is to create and upload new images or animations to the controller. Also you can tell that the controller is more advanced if you are able to control it over DMX or ArtNET.
  7. Integrated safety card in case of scanner failure should turn off the laser.
  8. Internal wiring. Reliable laser system producer should not have a problem to show you interior of the laser. If it’s a mess, it’s probably not the best option.
  9. ILDA input. We may not like the ILDA cables, but the fact is that the ILDA cable is the standard.

Of course these are quite simple recommendations. Professional users will be more interested in a lot of more complicated details (like pps, analog modulation speed, ...). I’ll try to talk about some important characteristics and other important terms in the next blog post.

And of course it’s not possible to provide absolutely all the information and detail you should know. But I hope this can help you a bit with getting started.

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