Business Projectors: What Your Money Will Buy
In this article we cover:
Overview, Entry Level SVGA and XGA Projectors
The cost of projectors for business, education, and government continue to fall. In recent months the drop in prices has been quite significant, up to 20% in many catagories.
Overview: Top Brands
There are over forty "manufacturers" out there, although not all build their own product, in fact many simply relabel product from other original manufacturers or make very minor changes, and sell the products under their own names. Here is a short list of the top selling brands that actually design and build their projectors. Who is number one varies depending on the research source, but these are most of the volume leaders in no particular order:
- Epson Projectors - All are LCD projectors
- Mitsubishi Projectors - A mix of LCD and DLP projectors
- Hitachi Projectors - All LCD projectors
- InFocus Projectors - Including their Proxima brand (A mix of LCD and DLP projectors
- BenQ Projectors - All DLP projectors
- Sanyo Projectors - All DLP projectors
- Panasonic - All LCD projectors under $5000, but mostly 1 and 3 chip DLP projectors over $5000
- NEC - A mix of LCD and DLP Projectors
- Optoma - All DLP projectors
All of these listed are original manufacturers except for InFocus, who contracts out, but whose products are unique to them (and Proxima). By comparison manufacturers like Eiki and Christie offer many models built for them by third parties (in this case Sanyo, but their models are virtually identical to Sanyo's own models).
Entry Level Projectors (Performance - Not Price)
Entry Level projectors come in two flavors:
- Low Resolution - SVGA (800x600)
- Standard Resolution XGA (1024x768).
The lower resolution SVGA models can now be found for as little at $799 online, and occasionally a little less. (There are only a few models down there, most are around $1000.. XGA models start around $1300 - $1500
Quicktip: Of course almost all computers out there are now at least XGA resolution, so for clean, clear, crisp small text and graphics you should be looking to get an XGA projector, and these now start from about $1400 although you may be able do better on some closeouts, or "factory refurbished" projectors.
The lower resolution SVGA projectors comprise between 40 and 50 percent of US projector sales, however, it is my opinion that many, and possibly most, non-education purchasers of SVGA projectors, are choosing poorly, for a number of reasons (but, primarily due to a lack of good advice). The primary cause is that projectors are treated more and more as commodities, which they are. As a result expertise is hard to find. And buyers are often not aware of the practical and significant differences between the two resolutions.
In the vast majority of cases, we recommend you opt for the more expensive XGA models, in fact in most cases if you have that $1300-$1500 for an entry level XGA projector, we would strongly recommend you choose that over a similarly priced SVGA model that is brighter (more lumens).
In fact, you may seriously want to consider a specialist - mostly A/V dealers have sales people who are knowledgeable about what works best, thanks to strong backgrounds in the "projector, plasma display and LCD display" industry. They are far more likely to be able to speak intelligently, and get you where you need to be. Even if you don't want to know the details, there's a real advantage to buying from someone who knows the products and issues. BTW, onlineA/V resellers are generally known to charge about 5-7% more than the least expensive PC resellers, So an extra $50 to $100 is not a great price to pay, if it gets you into the right product, instead of a poor choice.
Long Term Compatibility SVGA vs XGA
Let's finish the SVGA vs XGA issue: Another drawback to SVGA resolution projectors is that more and more laptops are even higher than XGA resolution, or they are widescreen - which also means even higher resolution. As a result, even XGA projectors may have to "work hard" to do a good job, and SVGA models if they work at the higher resolutions at all, may produce really difficult to read small type and objects, and even large "Powerpoint" type presentations may be somewhat degraded. Many SVGA projectors will have great difficulty in handling these newer resolution products.
Quicktip: Even if you are fine for now, if you replace your computer in the next year or two, your next laptop may be more than your SVGA projector can deal with in terms of a readable, quality image.
Back to what your money will buy you.
SVGA entry level projectors mostly sold for between $899 and $1199 during 2004. Relative to today's prices expect at least $100 and perhaps as much as $200 lower prices by end of 2005. By end of 2005 I think its safe to expect a $999 XGA projector out there, if not a number of models.
What you can expect from your entry level projector:
- Anywhere from 1000 to 1600 lumens
- Most today will be at least 1200 lumens.
- Expect to get more lumens from a DLP projector compared to an LCD projector - for the same price
Quicktip: For reasons discussed elsewhere "DLP vs. LCD Projectors, Which to choose" figure you need a DLP projector to have about 30% or more lumens than an LCD projector to do a comparable job.
Physical attributes of Entry Level projectors:
Most weigh at least 5 or 6 pounds, and up to 9 pounds. (By comparison the lightest projectors are just under 2 lbs.) Rarely would a projector below 5 pounds count as entry level, as you are paying a premimum for the reduced size.
- Typically these projectors have a single computer input
- More than half of these models are LCD projectors, the rest are DLP projectors
- Typically they have two video inputs (S-video and composite) -the lowest quality
- Some will also accept component video (high quality), but watch out, usually that means connecting component through the computer input, so you can't have a computer and a component video source hooked up at the same time.
- Monitor out (to drive a computer monitor) mostly only be found on some entry level models - those targeted to the K-12 education market.
- Audio - typically a single audio input, or maybe two (one computer, one video), the exception again would be projectors designed for the school market, where you may get extra audio inputs
- Remote controls, some projectors will have credit card sized remotes, others will have "full sized". Credit card sized remotes usually offer no, or very limited "remote mousing".
Mid-Price/Performance Projectors: Moving up from Entry Level to The Sweet Spot of the Market
The hot segment for business projectors is the in the $1500 - $2000 range. It consists of XGA projectors, weighing in between 1100 and 2500 lumens. The standard today is 2000 lumens, but remember that there isn't a huge difference between 2000 lumens and 1600 on the low side, and 2400 on the high side. That's a reason why I think you will likely be better off getting, say, an XGA projector with 1500 lumens instead of perhaps a 2000 lumen SVGA projector.
Mid-Price/Performance Projector Pricing
SVGA projectors: $1100 - $1500 street price.
XGA projectors: $1500 - $2500
SVGA resolution projectors: While the largest single projector segment consists of entry level SVGA models (and schools buy a large percentage of these), you can spend a few hundred more - say $1100 - $1500 and find more full featured SVGA models, typically with 2000 to 2500 lumens. Very few SVGA projectors offer more than 2000 lumens, and there are only a handful with more than 2500.
XGA resolution projectors: The XGA segment above "entry level" is dominated by 2000 lumen projectors, although you'll find them from 1600 lumens up. Most sell for under $2000. There are DLP projectors under $2000 that offer up to 2500 lumens, but for business purposes they will perform similarly to the 2000 lumen LCD models.
There is a wide range of projectors in this segment There are extremely small projectors (as light as 2 lbs.), and projectors in this group can weigh up to 9.9 lbs., and at CES there were even a pair of "later this year" projectors that are under 1 lb., and about the size of a thick paperback (not very bright and almost certainly very expensive lumen for lumen).
If you really want small and light, there are plenty of XGA projectors today under 5 lbs. Most are DLP, and the smallest/lightest (under 2.4 lbs, are mostly 1000 lumen models - but other than the "2 lb. collection" no one builds projectors that dim (1000 lumens) anymore. Most people are demanding at least 1500, and mostly 2000 lumens these days.
Some examples of XGA projectors that fit this range: (up to 2500 lumens, under 10 lbs.)
Lower priced: Under $1600
- Panasonic LB10VU - a particularly affordable and small projector with 1600 lumens, at only 4.7 lbs.
- BenQ PB7210 - a 2200 lumen DLP projector at 5.6 lbs, with 2 computer inputs, remote mousing
- InFocus LP70+ - a 1500 lumen DLP projector , extremely small, and only 2.4 lbs - limited features
Moderately priced: $1600 - $2000
- Epson Powerlite 81p - a hefty 9 lbs, 2000 lumens, LCD, but targeted for schools - monitor out, 4 sets of audio inputs, audio out, remote mousing, loaded with features
- Panasonic LB10U - a brighter, slightly more expensive version of the "VU", with 2000 lumens, 4.7 lbs. Lots of power for a small projector at a good price. (shown)
- BenQ PB8230 - a DLP projector with a hefty 2500 lumens, separate component video input, monitor out, exceptional video quality (shown)
- Epson Powerlite 732 - Just being released, - an extremely small 2000 lumen, under 4 lb. LCD projector
- Mitsubishi XD60 - an 1800 lumen DLP projector at only 3.5 lbs, a DVI-I input supports analog (computer) component video, and digital input, remote mousing
Higher priced: Over $2000
- Epson Powerlite 745c (and 740c) the most powerful sub 4 lb. (or even sub 5 lb.) projectors - 3.8 lbs. 2500 lumens, LCD - the smallest, lightest, bright projectors. The 745c offers wireless networking (the 740c does not).
- Hitachi S420 (the only SVGA projector listed here) offers 2700 lumens, a rarity for SVGA projectors, high power and low price makes it popular for K-12 shool multi-purpose rooms, as well as church sanctuaries
- Panasonic PT-L735u - a larger projector, 9 lbs. 2600 lumens, big sound, optional wide angle lens attachment
- BenQ PB8240 and 8250 - 2500 and 3000 lumen DLP projectors pictured on the right,
Mid-High Power, Mid-High Performance Projectors
Priced from over $2500 - to $5000+ Most of these weigh in over 10 lbs (but not all), they start at 2500 lumens but mostly are 3000 lumens or more, and most offer interchangeable lenses. There are many interesting features found on some of these projectors that just don't show up on less expensive projectors.
Until recently the projectors that offered more than 2500 lumens pretty much were all over 10 lbs. and offered optional interchangeable lenses (for longer or shorter "throw" than the standard zoom lens). This is changing as the lightest projectors get more powerful. Today, you can find high power projectors without paying the price - in weight and dollars, for being able to change lenses.
Do you need the features - and the "horsepower"?
Key features found in many High Performance Projectors
- 2500 lumens or more
- Interchangeable lenses
- Optical lens shift
- Multiple computer inputs
- DVI (digital) input
- Power zoom and focus
- Auto focus (rare)
Some widely differing examples of projectors in this class:
- Panasonic L785U - 3200 lumens, 12 lbs., interchangeable lenses, wired networking
- Epson 835p - 3000 lumens, 10.4 lbs - no interchangeable lenses, auto focus, wireless, wired networking
- Hitachi X445 (brand new) 3200 lumens, only 8.4 lbs. no interchangeable lenses
- Hitachi X1250 - 4500 lumens, interchangeable lenses, lens shift, tons of inputs/outputs
- Sanyo XT16 - 3500 lumens, 17.5 lbs., LCD, interchangeable lenses. A classic projector in terms of feature set
- Mitsubishi XL5950 - LCD, 4700 lumens, interchangeable lenses, lens shift
- BenQ PB8250 - 3000 lumens, no interchangeable lenses (one of the highest power small DLP projectors)
High Performance Projectors Over $5000
Big Time Performance the highest power data and video projectors, for large venue and special applications
Most of these projectors sell for over $5000 (up to $75,000), offer at least 5000 lumens, interchangeable lenses, etc. Many offer dual lamp (or four) for redundancy and reliability. Almost all will have optical lens shift, which will also allow two projectors to be "stacked" together to virtually double the brightness. All of these below offer interchangeable lenses:
- Sanyo XF45 - the "baddest" LCD projector on the market - with 10,000 lumens, a four lamp system, 80 pounds (without lens). (Shown on right)
- Epson Powerlite 8300 - 5200 lumens in a 24 lb. package, single lamp (lower operational cost), big feature set, including optional advanced networking (can search internet, run applications like Powerpoint presentations, without computer).
- Panasonic D5500U - the highest power single DLP chip projector with 5000 lumens, a full range of interchangeable lenses, sealed light path (keeps dust out), liquid cooled, dual lamp
- Sanyo UF15 - True UXGA projector (1600x1200 native resolution), 7700 lumens, 4 lamp system
- Digital Projection Mercury HD - A 16:9 ratio, 3 chip DLP (best video) projector with 1600 lumens
- Sanyo WF10 - a 4400 lumen 16:9 ratio LCD projector
- Panasonic PT-D8600U - 7000 lumen 3 chip DLP (best video) projector
- Digital Projection Highlite 12000Dsx - 11,000 lumens, high contrast (1800:1)
If you are in need of a projector in this class, an intro article like this one isn't going to answer your questions. That means its time to start talking to some professionals, who can help you "choose wisely".
That should give you a good idea of what your investment dollars will buy, in terms of portability, power, and features. Our best advice - talk with a dealer who knows what they are talking about.
I like to use an analogy to buying a car. If you have $25K for a car, you don't want to randomly have someone, who knows nothing about your needs, pick out your vehicle. Think about it - that $25K in a car - could mean:
- A two seat sports car
- A nice mid-sized sedan
- A pretty large pickup truck with large cab
- An SUV
- A mini-van
Now one of those is definitely going to work better for you than most of the others. While projectors may not vary as much, there are still significant differences. A good sales consultant can spend 5 minutes asking you the "right questions" and guide you into a "better choice".
It's your money (or responsibility) so when it comes to purchasing a projector: Choose wisely!