The effect of hydrogenation on the room-temperature 1.54 μm Er3+ photoluminescent properties of erbium-doped silicon-rich silicon oxide thin films is investigated. Two samples with 7 and 1 at. % excess silicon and 0.4 at. % erbium were prepared by electron cyclotron resonance plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition of SiH4 and O2 with cosputtering of erbium and subsequent rapid thermal anneal at 900 °C. Hydrogenation by exposure to D plasma doubles the 1.54 μm Er3+ luminescence intensity from the high excess silicon content sample but halves that from the low excess silicon content sample. The lifetimes and excitation power dependence of Er+ luminescence show that hydrogenation primarily affects the active erbium fraction, increasing it in case of the high excess silicon sample but decreasing it in case of the low excess silicon content sample. With proper treatments, Er3+ luminescence lifetime of over 7 ms is obtained. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.