Special Projector Features
The 2013 Classroom Projector Report is sponsored by:
In this part of the 2013-2014 Classroom Education Report we consider a number of special features found on the various projectors in this report, and try to define their significance and importance. I should point out that we'll also discuss some very basic items such as brightness, and how much is enough...
In some cases we'll be explaining features found on only a few projectors, sometimes only on very expensive projectors, but many of these are found on a good percentage of the projectors out there. Examples of that might include: Wireless Networking, or Interactive functions, 3D, or perhaps an Ultra-short throw lens.
April 28th, 2013
Ultra-short throw lens
Until the last couple of years, ultra-short throw projectors were rare, and expensive. Also, there were a number of projectors calling themselves ultra-short throw, that really weren't.
An ultra-short throw projector is one that has an optical system allowing the projector to be placed extremely close to the screen. For a respectable sized screen in a conference room or classroom environment, say 72 inches diagonal (if using a 4:3 ratio projector), ultra-short throw would typically have the closest part of the projector anywhere from an inch, to as far back as three feet from the screen. That's a huge difference due to some unusual technologies.
One key purpose of having ultra-short throw capability is to place the projector so close that it is between the presenter or teacher, and the screen. That way no one gets blinded, plus annotating and other interactive functions becomes far less challenging.
The images to the right are: Mitsubishi WD390U, an ultra short throw that sits typically 2-3 feet from the screen wall, and below it, the Epson Brightlink 485Wi with its wall mount, which places it only a couple of inches from the wall.
An ultra short throw like this Epson, can be placed inches from the screen can sit on tables or credenzas right below the screen or can be wall mounted right above. Of the projectors reviewed here, this year, none of the ultras short throws sit only inches from the screen. This year, we reviewed a few ultra short throw projectors, that sit or mount 2-3 feet back. Last year we did look at ultra short throws that mount inches away such as the Epson shown here, and a Hitachi. Generally, they have more trouble providing edge to edge sharpness, but the best of those are still reasonably sharp.
Most of the ultra-short throw projectors that are more of the 2 to 3 feet back (measured to the lens) rather than several inches, are also designed to work with a telescoping wall mount. That mount would typically be anchored to the wall, right above the top of the screen (centered of course). The telescoping pole would likely allow placement from less than a foot away, to as much as 4 feet, based on the mounts I normally see at trade shows, and the specifics of the projectors. Projectors that typically mount 3-5 feet back are more often called "very short throw" projectors. Some of the manufacturers with ultra-short throw projectors also sell such mounts, but, that's not critical, since most of the major ceiling mount manufacturers also offer wall mount solutions for these projectors.
In this report you will encounter several ultra-short throw projectors, and discover that they vary quite a bit in their "throw" abilities. Ultra short throw projectors often have interactive features. Afterall, if you are going to be standing by the screen/white board, and writing on it, you don't want to be blinded.
Monitor Out (also known as VGA out)
Not everyone presents or teaches from a laptop. Schools in particular, tend to rely more on desktops in the classroom, than laptops. With your laptop, if you hook up a projector, you can still see your work on the laptop screen. With a desktop computer though, you disconnect your monitor to hook up a projector. Since it's often desirable not to have to look at the projected image, but view the computer instead when speaking, the solution is to split the signal - one for the projector one for the local monitor.
To accomplish that, you either buy a VGA splitter, or, buy a projector that has a VGA out or Monitor out (whatever you wish to call it). The alternative is to use a projector that provides the monitor out.
For that reason, monitor out has long been an important feature considered when buying for school installations. Running the extra cable (from the monitor out on the projector, to the input on a monitor), does add a slight labor cost to an installation, and a few dollars of cabling, but is going to cost less in most cases than buying a splitter.
In case you missed my point, monitor out is a potentially big thing if you are working on a desktop. If you are shopping for a school district, though, where all the teachers are using laptops, then, you don't require this feature, or you might use a different solution such as HDMI or USB Display..
HDMI or DVI Input
As long as we're out back looking at the input panel, let's talk briefly about HDMI. Some of the projectors we looked at in this report do not offer HDMI or DVI inputs. That means no pure digital abilities. The future is digital (how "last year" is that line?) But, in a K-12 environment, there are considerations. First, projectors sporting HDMI are probably $50 to $100 more than a similar model without, when such a comparison exists. Secondly, HDMI cabling is expensive, and it can be flaky at long lengths. Still there are high quality cables, and there are extender systems good for hundreds of feet, even 1000+, if needed. (Most extenders take the signal, convert it, and send it out over CAT5 or CAT6 networking cable, and convert back at the projector end.)
If you should be working at the school district level, then certainly considering HDMI / DVI - digital should have been part of previous considerations. I don't know what percentage of schools or districts are now going digital, but it has to be growing. It would be very foolish for any AV or IT manager responsible for projectors (and computers?), to not review each year, what type of digital strategy makes sense, and when (if ever) to start integrating projectors digitally.
I'm not saying all schools and districts should be digital, or should be in 5 years. There are any number of considerations in terms of bandwidth, type of content, future compatibility, that must come into play. The point is, digital is becoming more common (if still a small percentage) in the classrooms. The free advice (we know what that's worth): Stay on top of it.
We're pleased that, this year 14 of the 15 projectors in this report do offer HDMI or DVI connectors and compatibility. The only one that lacks is InFocus'es IN114, and if you like that projector otherwise, there are three other InFocus projectors in the same series that do offer HDMI. Note, only two of the under $2000 projectors in this report, most notably the Epson W16SK, offers HDMI 1.4a which is essentially necessary for Blu-ray 3D. Interestingly the other is the very low cost widescreen Viewsonic PJD5533W.
Keep in mind when shopping for your next school projectors, most likely any projectors you are buying today, will likely be asked to last about a decade, and unless school budgets start improving again, perhaps even longer.
If you are replacing older projectors, or doing projector implementations in classrooms or other locations, you will want to consider sticking with analog, or moving to digital. Since most projectors today have digital, it's a cost of implementing issue.
USB can replace your analog VGA port, or HDMI. DisplayLink or USB Display seems to continue to gain popularity. Instead of using vga cables, or HDMI to feed content to the projector, more and more projectors also allow DisplayLink type protocol to replace those older methods. What that means is that if your projector supports DisplayLink or USB Display and so does your computer, USB can now be used to handle the display. For that matter, it can also drive your regular monitor as well, if compatible.
It should be noted, that DisplayLink can support multiple displays.
Although brightness isn't truly a "special feature", there are some points worth covering. Certainly brightness is a key consideration for most people when choosing projectors. Back in 2000, the popular, large, "rental and staging" projectors - used for meetings in hotel ballrooms, small auditoriums, and large multi-purpose rooms, were typically about 50 or more pounds, and output a "blinding" 2000 lumens. Today most entry level projectors put out at least 1500 lumens in 4 and 6 pound boxes. Most of the projectors in this report are 2500 - 3500 lumens, and well under 10 pounds. We used to say, 2000 lumens is fine for a presentation to 250-400 people. Of course we assummed a nearly fully darkened room.
From a practical standpoint, 2000 lumens in a classroom-sized environment can handle pretty much anything but sunlight hitting the screen. Screen sizes in classrooms tend to stay fairly small - from 60 inch diagonal to 80 inch diagonal. On those sized screens, a solid 2000 lumen projector should be able to do a respectable job even with full fluorescent lighting on. OK, if the lights are only a foot or two in front of the screen, it might wash out a bit, but the point is, today's entry level projectors have plenty of horsepower for the classroom.
So, why buy a 3500 lumen classroom projector? Depends what you are doing. Showing videos is always a good excuse for wanting a lot more lumens, as normal "presentations" tend to be high contrast, and work well, even with a healthy amount of ambient light, but video can often be medium bright, or even dark. That's when you want more lumens.
If you are looking for projectors for, say a larger, multi-purpose room, then definitely consider the brighter projectors. Remember, you need a projector with four times the lumens, to maintain the same brightness on a screen that's twice as large width.
Generally everyone needs decent color, but whether you need highly accurate color, very good color, or just decent, will have an impact on your projector selection. There is a wide range of abilities in our fifteen projectors, in terms of how good their color is. Some projectors will work great if you must be able to perfectly match the color of, say a company logo, or the blue of an American flag. Others, can be especially poor. One thing we've noticed, is that a number of the DLP projectors in this report still can't do really good yellows and bright reds, (yellows can come out mustardy yellow-green, and bright reds, more like a dark merlot wine). Some of today's DLP projectors though, are far better at it than others, and the LCD projectors in this report, are typically a little better than the best of the DLP projectors. There's a new standard: Color Lumens, which helps explain the differences. We created a video including a demonstration of the value of having high color lumens. If you care to invest five plus minutes, click to check out our video on Color Light Output, to learn the advantages of having lots of color lumens and white lumens, compared to a projector with comparable white lumens, but dramatically less color ones. It really does make a very visible difference.
Should you need accurate color, for whatever purpose - even for viewing photos and video, there will be wide variation in how good some of these projectors do. Note that even the worst of them start looking pretty good in their Video or Movie mode, but, then typically many projector's brightness is down around 50% or more, and the color still isn't that good on several of them. Yet there are other projectors that might offer very good color in it's second brightest mode rather than its dimmest.
"What?" you say? I said Audio. In the past, portable projectors (under 10 pounds) mostly have been skimpy in terms of sound. You'll notice today, that almost all of the projectors in this report are under 10 pounds - thus technically portables. Still many of today's portables really are designed as portable/or/fixed projectors.
Usually a couple of 0.5 watt, or 1 watt, or maybe a 2 watt speaker, is all you find in most projectors. That gives the average portable projector a bit more sound than a typical laptop, but less than the typical pair of small, cheap speakers that come with most desktop computers.
One or two of those tiny speakers isn't going to carry in a classroom over two or three dozen students. It's just not going to cut it.
And, for that reason, over the last 7-8 years we've been seeing more and more projectors with healthy sound generating abilities, as the manufacturers have come to realize that schools are the largest viable market for projectors. Now, at least for those projectors targeting the K-12 and university classrooms, at least a single 5 watt system. Other common "louder" projectors have a single 7 or 10 watt speaker, one projector I've encountered even has 4 five watt speakers but that one's not in the report.
In days gone by, AV and IT co-ordinators knew the tiny speakers in most projectors wouldn't do the job, so they would also have installed at least one more powerful speaker, and run power to it from (most likely) the same computer and video player that feed the projector. Some projectors have an audio output, which would work fine to feed that extra (powered) speaker system. That's simpler than running additional wires from the equipment, but life is still simpler, and lower cost, if the projector has enough sound that it doesn't need any help.
For that reason, when we're considering projectors for education, expect to find that most all the projectors we've reviewed have 5 watts or more of sound, and should be fine in a typical classroom, assuming the teacher has any control at all, over his/her students. One more thing. Please don't expect any serious bass out of these projectors. They weren't designed for the 1812 Overture. This year, however we do have a few projectors with "small sound." That includes our one Pocket projector, and a couple of the most lightweight/portable of the rest.
Edge Blending and Color Blending
These are features typically found on more expensive projectors than those found in most classrooms, but using such features is more likely to occur at the university level in large classrooms and other areas.
There may be times when the traditional widescreen projector just doesn't project a near wide enough image for a special application.
If you have two or more projectors with edge blending, they can seemlessly display that much wider (or taller) image, so that you cannot detect where one projector's image stops and the next one begins. Once a technology that relied mostly on expensive outboard processors, and cameras for alignment, edge blending is showing up in more and more larger fixed install projectors, including some costing less than $5000.
Color Blending, as you would expect, is built on the same content. Let's say we're showing an 8 foot high, 30 foot wide image of an architectural rendering of a bridge. It's great that you can seemlessly see the entire bridge, but it would be sort of dissappointing of you could easily spot color shifts where one projector ends and the next begins. And color shifting is exactly what you could expect.
With color blending, the color is analyzed and adjusted so that in conjunction with edge blending, a viewer likely couldn't even spot where one projector stops and the next one starts up. These features are appearing in museums, art galleries, art and architecture projects and likely in some scientific and engineering areas as well. With the cost of edge and color blending becoming relatively small, when a project already calls for a high power, high image quality projector, expect the use of edge blending to continue to come down to even less expensive projectors.
Active 3D Projectors
The vast majority of commercial projectors (including education projectors some of which sell for less than $500, that offer 3D. Activ 3D also includes some incredibly expensive home theater projectors with 3D. Active systems use LCD shutter glasses. The way it works is that projector feeds 3D data alternately to one eye, and then the other. To make this work, a system is needed so that the left eye doesn't "see" the image that was intended for the right eye. To accomplish this, active 3D glasses sync to the image. The glasses left lens is virtually clear when it is time for that eye to see the "left" image". Then, the shutter makes the left lens opaque when it's time for the right eye to see the "right" image. At that point the right lens is clear. This all happens very quickly typically with the projector shooting 120 frames per second - 60 for each eye.
There are basically two drawbacks to active 3D setups. First, some folks find active 3D harder to view than passive systems (passive is what you'll find in most 3D movie theaters - at least in the US, with low cost non-active, polarized glasses. The other drawback, which is a potential "killer" in the classroom, is the cost of the glasses. Most manufacturers price their active glasses around $100 a pair, perhaps +/- $30.
The good news is that 3rd party 3D glasses tend to sell for a lot less. A quick scan of the internet shows the least expensive, brand X glasses at under $30, while there is a good selection of "universal" glasses in the $40 - $60 range. (Universal doesn't mean they work with all projectors, it means they work with a group of projectors that are compatible with "universal projectors". A good example are DLP-Link glasses. Most DLP projectors with 3D use these. They get their syncing signal transmitted with the image. Other systems use RF, even Bluetooth, I believe.
The cost however, deserves more attention here. As pointed out many times in this report, the high cost of glasses, is murder on school budgets.
Even if a school needs 35 pair for one classroom, and they are a very affordable (for active glasses) $40, that's $1400 for glasses, perhaps going with a $500 or $800 projector. Ouch. Worse, we're talking schools here. Does anyone really believe that a number of pair of these glasses will NOT dissappear or be broken over time? If a school is thinking the projector will last just 5 years, they probably are also thinking they just might need 50 or even 100 pair to get through those 5 years, even if class size never exceeds 35 students. That makes glasses costs in the $2000 to $4000 range.
For this reason, there has been interest in a 3D solution that uses passive 3D instead, because glasses cost only a few dollars each, solving the long term loss problem.
Passive 3D Projectors
Of the 10 projectors in this year's education report that are 3D capable, only one offers Passive 3D. And we were sufficiently impressed that it won this year's Best In Classroom - 3D Projector award, whooping all 9 of the active systems. Let's consider first, though, how they work.
Ultimately, the distinct advantage in the classroom, or the movie theater, is the low cost of glasses compared to active glasses, but before we cover that:
With Passive 3D, a polarizer is normally used, instead of shutters. This can be accomplished by using a polarizing device. We reviewed the Lightspeed DepthQ system a couple of years ago, that can be used with many projectors for passive 3D (expensive devices, the Depth-Q started around $5000, just add a compatible projector - which could be almost any 3D active capable projector). A single polarizing device requires that you are still alternating from one eye to the other, using an interlacing type of method, half of the vertical resoltuion is polarized one way, the alternate lines, the other. But there's another way. That is using a two projector method. That's also the way Runco does extreme high end 3D, with a projector with two lenses!
But let's stick to commercial applications, such as the classroom.
To make passive 3D work with two projectors, each projector will need to have a polarizing filter in front of its lens. One filter will polarize the image in a circular fashion in one direction, while the filter on the other projector polarizes it in the opposite direction. Since both projectors can present their image to the respective eye (left or right) at the same time, both eyes are "working" all the time, not on off, and that tends to be "easier on the eyes" or rather, easier on the brain. Consider that fact alone to be a plus.
But it also means that with two projectors you've got more brightness as well. And since an active system usually, effectively gives up about 75% of brightness (compared to 2D brightness) that's a very important consideration. Passive setups inherently do get more lumens to your eyes, consider that passive systems can approach 50% of the brightness of 2D. If you have two projectors working, each about the same brightness as one projector doing active, then expect to get a drastically brighter image. Figure the number could approach being 4 times as bright, but we'll settle for an arbitrary 3 times as bright for the sake of this conversation.
From a practical standpoint in this year's educational report, the one passive system produces 3D with a brightness approaching most equivalent 2D projectors. Of course that system has two 3000 lumen projectors, whereas most competing projectors are 2500 to 3500 lumens.
The trick to successful dual projector setup is to have the projectors perfectly aligned with each other. Ideally lens shift is the way to stack projectors, but, lens shift is an uncommon feature in lower cost projectors. Keystone or corner correction, by comparison are digital solutions that cause cause some softening of the image. Lens shift does it optically with net superior result. None-the-less, Epson proves it is viable to do, with their W16SK projector. I would expect to start seeing more stacked projectors for 3D use, if the Epson systeom catches on.
Cloud Projectors / Cloud Presenting
Cloud computing is more of a new spin on an existing capability. Essentially, a Cloud projector is capable of running presentations off of a remote server (or a local one). A cloud projector, can of course be standard, short or ultra short throw, it can have all the usual tributes found on projectors, it can be a fully interactive projector.
A recently reviewed projector with cloud capabilities, the Mitsubishi WD390U-EST (an ultra short throw projector), could do all of these things:
- plug in a keyboard and mouse into a projector, and then use them to navigate around a connected server, running various documents including pdfs, docx, txt, jpg, and ppt files
- Project from a remote computer, connected via network
- Be able to take run that computer and it's presentation using an iOS or Android device, such as an iPad
- Run PC free presentations and files from one of its USB ports
Consider a cloud projector to be one with good networking skills.
PC Free Presenting
Some projectors have built in "Players" so that you don't need to bring along a computer, only the computer files you want to show. These players are essentially a small computer designed to display files such as txt, gif (geek trivia: gif is pronounced with a soft "g" like the peanut butter - according to the inventor of the file format, and contrary to how most pronounce it), pdf, doc/docx, jpg, gif, and ppt. Different players may support different file types. Some support video others do not.
Essentially a user places files they wish to present onto a USB thumb drive, and place it in the appropriate USB port. Typically on projectors so equipped, select the USB source, and the player will normally start up, and show you a directory of what's on the USB drive. Often it will start off by giving you a menu to choose what type of files you are looking for, such as: Video, Images, Documents, PDFs. And then it will show you the files of the type that you selected. Generally such players are straight forward to use with old style file directory systems, but often could be more user friendly.
There are limits to what is done on different, PC Free capable projectors, in terms of viewing capability. Some projectors might have an impressive set of transitions, even the Ken Burns effect built in for viewing images, multiple timers, and many other special effects. Others are pretty bare bone. (Ken Burns zooms in or out slowly and slightly shifts each picture. It is widely used on websites, and in presentations of all types where images in etc.) The same might be true of document readers, with some having zoom capabilities, and even basic annotating, others may be very simple.
In this day, and age, a signifiant, perhaps the majority of projectors have at least one interactive feature. If you have the ability, for example to go from one powerpoint slide to the next from the projector's remote control, that's interactivity. Remote mousing is also interactive - having the projector's remote doing what a mouse can do, but remotely.
That said, when we're talking about Interactive projectors we're going well beyond basic mouse functions, and we do not include these simpler interactive features as qualifying a projector to be called Interactive.
Most typically, today's serious interactive projectors have a pen or alternative device. With it you can write on walls (no ink), white boards, even projector screens (be careful). You not only have all those basic remote mousing functions, but lots more, such as using the pen to type on a projected keyboard. You can highlight and edit, and drag. In conjunction with a computer being used, in some cases you can even record the entire session, including what is projected from a source, as well as what you have added with the pen. It should be noted, that there are now a number of companies who's pens don't even have to be near the screen to work. With many you can stand 5 or 20 feet from the screen and underline, and highlight, etc. (The further away, the coarser your accuracy will be.)
A growing alternative, or in addition to the pen, is using a mobile device. We've reviewed several projectors with the ability to perform significant interactive functions using an iPhone, iPad or Android device.
Still other projectors will present directly from your mobile devices. How about using an iPhone to control an iPad that can present on a projector. Technically one could argue that the projector is almost incidental to that type of interactivity, (it's more the software app provided by the projector manufacturer and likely it will allow full control of the projector's functions as well.
Interactive projectors are consider to be of major benefit in teaching situations. Both for use by the instructor, to educate and captivate. (use that pen to slide in another page, or toss one away - quickly). These projectors may not be up to the interactive technology in the latest James Bond movies, but they aren't completely without serious skills, given well designed content, and great onboard tools.
The higher prices create a tough choice for a school planners - do we equip 25 classrooms with more basic projectors, or only equip 10 or 15 with interactive projectors?
BYOD - Bring Your Own Device.
Thanks to a number of projector apps out there currently, presenting is no longer limited to content on computers and video players. Android and iOS devices are now able to work with a large number of projectors, with more and more projector manufacturers producing such apps.
Controlling Presentations from iOS/Android Devices
With some of today's projectors, you can use a mobile device - iOS or Android, to remotely control a computer, thus being able to run a presentation, and with the use of additional software (app), do interactive features, such as annotating. The Mitsubishi WD390U, reviewed spring 2013 is one that can use on of those mobile device to control the computer that's presenting through the projector. With my iPad, for example, I can annotate, load images and programs, run videos, close documents, edit them, and draw over them, as long as the app is well designed and the computer's matching program is too, as that Mitsubishi demonstrated. We even created a video that included a demonstration of controlling a computer at the other end of a server network. If you are curious check that out. The WD390U video contains a demo of these features, that starts X minutes and seconds into the video.
LISA, we need to get the link in here, and the time where the demo starts. ..............................................................
When discussing wireless networking, we are often talking about one or multiple computers talking directly to a projector that has wireless networking built into it.
No, we're not talking sexual orientation of a projector, I'm not even sure how to tell the sex of a projector.
In this case we're talking about the physical orientation of the projector. Can it be used rotated, say pointing straight down, or on a side angle, so that perhaps the image is at a 45 degree angle.
There was a time when basically every projector had to be oriented horizontally. You could set it on a table, or mount it. Whether right side up, on a table, or inverted on a ceiling or wall mount, those were your choices. Today, however, mostly with medium to large "install projectors" we are starting to more projectors that can be placed vertically - essentially turned on their side. There are some that can be pointed down or up 45 or 60, or some other number of degrees. Mitsubishi, as one example, has a whole series that can work from virtually any angle.
Again, like with edge blending, this extra positioning flexibility - orientation - is most likely to be needed in unusual situations. Again museums, digital signage, and special projects would be where this ability might be needed, not in a normal classroom or auditorium, although such a feature might help out in an auditorium where the projector cannot be mounted where it would otherwise be most traditional.
Having an assortment of interchangeable lenses is feature rarely found on projectors weighing less than 10 pounds and rarely inexpensive. Certainly, though you can find projectors with lens options starting at under $3000. Traditional small projectors typically setup or mount easily in typical room. But in some cases projectors have to be way way in the back of a large room, or be very or ultra short throw to be used in a rear screen setup. Most of the lower cost projectors that do have multiple lenses tend to have just three, maybe four. As you get into higher end models there might be six or eight or more lenses. Generally though the basic lens set XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX ZZZZZZZZ
Classroom Projector Lamp Life and Cost of Replacements
Long lamp life is a feature, the benefit is lower cost of operation. One thing that never changes, and that's that most school districts don't have near enough money for technology as they would like. Hopefully for all the IT and AV managers at the schools and districts, there won't be any significant hit to federal funds used for school technology purposes, at least not beyond the Sequester. I know that when I owned a dealership, a large chunk of the money being used by districts buying high volumes of projectors from us, was coming from Federal programs. Well, so far, no one has accused the Obama administration of slashing spending, so for everyone's sake (yep, even the students), there's money for some more projectors this summer.
With things as tight as ever, it's smarter than ever to look at the longer term costs associated with projector purchases. Consider, it might be nice to save $100 a projector up front, but it wouldn't be smart, to go with that projector, if it's going to end up costing you $600 more to operate it for 5 years.
When projectors are getting lots of use (and many people realize that while a projector can get tons of use in many classrooms, the reality is many other teachers don't use them much at all, and some, not at all).
That just makes the math trickier, but the fundamentals are unchanged.
Let's consider a projector as having a 10 year life (what school doesn't try to get at least 10 years out of a projector)? Let's say we have two projectors. One costs $800, the other costs $1000. We'll also assume they are similar in all ways but lamp life and cost.
LISA Let's create a basic Cost Benefit chart of some sort...or some other suitable graphic to illustrate. In a hard core powerpoint world you'd have a school tech sitting at a table with 3 projectors each with a pile of bulbs based on how many it would take to last 10 years at x hours per week. The less the lamp life and the more the replacement bulb costs, the smaller the pile of remaining cash...
I would like you to cook up something good, but not now. But PLEASE make a note, and get it done before we leave, K?
Projector A: $800 cost. Lamp life is 3000 hours in low power mode. We'll assume today's projectors are bright enough that low power can be selected to extend lamp life, save money. Replacement lamp cost is $300
Projector B: $1000 cost. Lamp life is 5000 hours in low power mode. Replacement lamp cost is $200
Let's see how they stack up in cost, over a decade. We'll use three examples, 8 hours a week, 12 hours a week, and 30 hours a week.
Scenario 1 calls for 8 hours a week, Projector A needs a new lamp at 3000 hours, since 8 hours a week is about 300 hours a year (remember, we're talking a teaching year). That means at the end of 10 years, the first lamp needs replacing. Well, if the life of the projector is only 10 years, then there's no impact.
The same would be true of Projector B.
Scenario 2, however, has Projector A requiring a replacement lamp around year 7, at a cost of $300. That brings the projector's total cost to $800 + $300 = $1100.
Projector B with its longer life lamp, still has no need for a lamp at the 10 year point, so the total cost is $1000.(OK, we're not factoring in the Present Value of money, adjusting for inflation, etc., but you get the idea).
Scenario 3, is an eye opener: At 30 hours a week, that's about 1100 hours a year. For projector A, to get all the way through year 10, you will need to purchase a total of 4 $300 lamps. That makes the total $800 + $1200 = $2000
For Projector B, though only one $200 lamp is needed. The math: $1000+ $200 = $1200.
That sure makes you want to consider lamp life and cost, as a key part of selecting projectors.
Now let's take a spin at the cost issues for projectors with digital light sources: Laser, LED, or Laser/LED combinations. Most of these are rated 10,000 to 20,000 (mostly 15,000+) hours for their light sources. Like lamps they too lose brightness over time, but since the time is so long, it should take years before one notices a non-lamp projector has dropped brightness noticeably.
Figuring out the long term advantages of digital light sources, from strictly a cost standpoint, is challenging. That's because it's hard to quantify how much one is paying extra for that light source. All considered, on typical classroom projectors (not some extremely bright high end ones), figure you are paying $600 to $1200 more for such a projector.
In our most extreme example above - Scenario 3, we're looking at about 11,000 hours of use over a decade. Almost all digital light source projectors can therefore make it through a decade without any extra expense.
Where does that leave you in the decision process? The digital light source - LED projectors, Laser Projectors will not need any extra expense to make it through a decade of 30 hours a week (for a typical school year). That should place them still being significantly more expensive than those projectors with low cost traditional UHP lamps that are very long life, and, less expensive in the long run compared to those with more expensive lamps, and not exceptionally long lamp life. Consider a typical Epson projector suitable for education. Their Education pricing for lamps is typically $79 or $99 each. They are all rated at least 4000 hours at full power, most of their lamps 5000 or 6000 if running in eco mode. For most, 10 years of 30 hours would require only $160 in extra lamps.
Just remember there are other costs. It takes labor to change out a lamp, and if you are responsible for a school district with 500 projectors, even if most only need a new lamp every 5 years, that's still 100 projectors a year getting new lamps. Considering they are scattered around, that's probably about 1/4 person year of labor. If that's $15,000 in labor, then you better figure the real cost of replacing a lamp labor wise is probably over $100. So a projector that needs two lamp replacements over a decade, has a definite additional cost component.
Here's a bizarre comparison - or rather a look at another parts vs. labor comparison. At a school or college, there are many custodial engineers (we used to call them janitors - not sure what the official description is today). Which costs more, paying all those engineers to change the toilet paper in the bathrooms, or the cost of the toilet paper. I'll let you stew on that question. The point is, the shorter the lamp life, assuming the projector will be used for many years, the greater the labor cost as well.
Other Costs of Operation
You thought you were going to get out of math class that easily? Sorry, still a couple more points for me to make.
What else affects long term cost of operation?
1) Repairs, and warranty duration as it relates to any needed repairs
2) Installation related costs (cabling, accessories, mounts, extra speakers if needed, etc.)
3) Routine maintenance costs (changing filters, lamps, etc.)
While it's really difficult to predict which products will prove to be the most reliable, some brands do have better reputations than others, for reliability. Support also varies a good deal. And should a projector break under warranty, is there a replacement, a loaner, or do you ship yours into a repair facility? Who pays the freight?
We can only help you with some of these questions, and they will be addressed on the Warranty page.
Still, if all else is equal, you want a projector with a longer warranty. A replacement program is great, for it normally means that the user is down only 24-48 hours. A loaner program is similar. Some districts prefer loaner programs to replacement ones because they use asset tags to track all their, well, "assets" including projectors. That means if a projector is replaced (not repaired), it means a bunch of paperwork to change all the asset tracking, and to afix a new asset tag on the replacement projector. On the other hand, other districts could care less, and are just happy to get the teacher back up and running in 48 hours or less.
Time, as they say, is money! While even over a decade, most projectors would not see more than one or two lamp changes, there are more frequent sources of maintanence.
Air Filters And Changing them
There are basically four levels of filter maintenance: No filter to change, A filter to change infrequently, say every 1000 hours, A filter that needs changing frequently (say every 200 hours of operation), and finally, since this feature now exists, filters that get replaced only when the lamp gets changed. In most of the last type, it's a projector with a "rolling" filter - one that simply rolls forward a clean segment of filter, every so often.
Obviously the first and fourth types require no extra maintenance, and even the infrequent filter change is a relatively modest amount of work. But a filter than needs to be changed every 200 hours would be an operational nightmare if for 200 of these projectors, scattered over 20 schools. On average, assuming the short filter life, most projectors will need from one to three filter cleanings or changings a year, even allowing that you don't quite maintain the recommended level of maintanence.
Two hundred projectors - let's say 2 changes a year each. You've got to figure that's about a man year worth of filter changes. That's two a day (based on a not quite realistic 200 days per school year). Considering the logistics of multiple schools, etc., inconvenient access, one man year of labor isn't wholly unreasonable, maybe rather low.
If you can buy a projector requiring none of that, it's a huge savings, but truth is, almost all of the projectors today have minimal maintanence. The old 100 hour standard is long dead and buried. There may still be a few projectors around still requiring that type of frequency, but they're not likely to be targeted at schools. 1000 hours plus is more normal if a projector has a filter at all.
DLP projectors are almost alway filterless claiming a sealed optical system. LCD projectors are not sealed due to the different technology type. Overall, DLP projectors aren't perfectly sealed, but there's never been a problem to my knowledge about dust in the lightpath.
On the other hand, many of us have seen the inside of an 3 or 5 year old desktop computer, or an old piece of stereo gear, or an old TV, at some time in our lives. We've seen the incredible pile up of dust and dirt inside those PCs. It can't be good. That causes devices to run hotter, which in turn shortens component life. So being completely filter free isn't as perfect as it sounds.
Generally I would say that as long as any filter cleanings or replacements are really infrequent, its not an issue to have any real concern about. In some cases, I should note, filters will be replaced with the lamp is replaced. We even recently reviewed a projector who's filter will outlast 3 lamps. (12,000 hours!)
We're really talking about two separate things here, in some cases. Some projectors can take a flash drive through their USB port, and present from it. In normal cases, that means the projector has at least a basic image player, and can make a presentation out of a series of JPG images. There's nothing new about that, and Powerpoint, for example can be outputted as JPG images for such a purpose.
The other aspect is DisplayLink and the ability to interface with a computer via USB instead of standard VGA type inputs. DisplayLink was already covered above.
Lasers and Pointers with Projectors
Several projectors reviewed have a laser pointer on the remote. It should be considered whether students will be running the projector from the remote, and therefore if there should be concerns about those laser pointers. Out here in California, (not school related) there's even proposed legislation, to limit or ban the sale of laser pointers.
Years ago, I'd say a lot most projector remotes did have lasers. Why the dramatic decrease (especially since the costs have dropped a lot)? Easy, Students! Putting a laser pointer in the hands of a student may open up all kinds of potential liability issues. I don't know whether a school needs to really worry about it, but it's apparently convinced several major players to remove laser pointers from their remotes in recent years. The vast majority of projectors mentioned in this report, do not have laser pointers on board. I'm probably over-reacting, but wanted you to be aware of a potential liability. I certainly would not recommend eliminating any projector because it has a laser on the remote. At the very worst, cover the lens with some tape or marker, or anything that blocks the laser, if you are concerned.
Pointers are a whole different story. Epson, for example favors a pointer over using a laser. With their pointer, you can put up any of several styles of pointers (arrows, a "laser dot", fingers pointing.) You move them around using the remote's navigaton. That's not as fast as a laser pointer, of course, but it gets the job done with no liability issue. This year most non-interactive projectors had neither laser nor pointer, but at least 4 or 5 did.
Of course all interactive projectors are at the minimum pointing systems.
We are not networking people here, and don't dare evaluate performance. But we can comment on the general usage. One purpose is command and control - that the projector can be remotely operated,by the teacher (via computer), or, be shut off, automatically at 5pm every Friday from a remote server at district office or by the school's IT manager.
From Projector to Network: Many networking projectors offer email notification through the network. That means the projector can email an adminstrator (or several) if a lamp blows, a filter needs changing, or to report a malfunction (assuming the problem doesn't affect the networking).
Adding projectors to your network, can, per the examples above, save money. Leaving a projector on all weekend will use a couple bucks of electricity, and waste lamp life. Email notifications can help with management and efficiency, and probably improve uptime slightly. Remember, some projectors will shut down when lamps reach their full life. An early reminder can prevent a panic, and down time.
More and more projectors support protocols such as Crestron's RoomView which can allow messages to be pushed out over the network and displayed on the projectors all over the school, or district. That same network person could power up all the projectors and send out special announcements, etc. Very handy in emergency circumstances.
No doubt there are schools using wireless networking for handling presentations, but it is certainly is relatively scarce in the classroom, compared to say wired networking. It can certainly be a convenience, allowing a teacher to move their computer around the room while still using the projector to teach. In a properly controlled environment, perhaps a computer lab, wireless offers some interesting abilities. As an example, Panasonic had a projector that could support either 16 or 32 wireless computers, allowing switching between them, so that an instructor could have any one student's computer screen routed through the projector.
Wireless networking is definitely favored more when laptops rather than desktop computers are around, at least in the US.
That's worthy of some thought, one thing I've learned, is that we have a huge amount of old wiring in the US. Many countries, newer to technology than we are, in many cases, are reducing infrastructure costs by skipping the wire, and going wireless. In many countries now, cell phones rule, there aren't land lines. Are we too focused on using wire? Can wireless reduce costs? Not my call. You'd have to figure that out for your location.
Preseenting and Teaching - Controlling Presentations with iOS, Android Devices
Remote mousing, by definition, in terms of projectors, means you can control the same aspects of your computer from your projector's remote control, as you could from the computer's own mouse or touchpad.
That would be moving the cursor around the screen, clicking on items, pointing to items, even turning pages in Powerpoint and other presentation software.
Interactive projectors, are inherently offering full remote mousing, and additional capabilities as well. Of non-interactive projectors that offer remote mousing there are two basic feature types.
Less common today, but easier for use, is a mini-joystick, or button that allows you to move in any direction. More and more, instead, projector manufacturers stick to navigating using their arrow keys. That's not as fast, or as elegant, but usually means the manufacturer doesn't need a custom remote for the projectors that offer remote mousing.
If you consider remote mousing to be an important feature, (and I'm sure many teachers using interactive software - not necessarily interactive projectors, do consider it important), remember, that you can always go to the aftermarket for some excellent 3rd party remote mousing devices. Look to companies like Logitech, Gyration, etc, for such products. Many work even better than the ones standard on projectors. I personally favor radio frequency, instead of the infra-red, always used on projector remotes. They are less intrusive to the presenter, as you don't really have to point them at the projector, or a sensor. As a business presenter for years I have always been a fan of the Gyration Presenter (history). Their Air Mouse and AirMouse Go plus (operates as an in-air mouse with full features, or can work like a conventional mouse), or the Air Mouse Elite, should be considered as excellent value added remote mousing solutions for any projector (or anytime you need to leave your mouse behind).
This year in the report, most of the DLP projectors are 3D capable, but we have for the first time in our annual education reports, an LCD projector with 3D. , and none of the others, which are all LCD projectors. Again we ask the question; ready for what exactly? Those projectors sporting the 3D Ready, the presumption is that they have 120fps abilities. Technically you can get by with 60fps and it's been done that way for a while, just not mainstream.
Most of what is going on with the DLP projectors calls for the electronic shutter glasses. That poses an immediate problem for school situations. The $100 or more per pair price, isn't practical at the school level. In a year perhaps more likely two, there will be sufficient volume to drive the prices to $15-$30 a pair. That may make a difference. At least some are now down below the $99 mark.
The technology LCD projectors will probably go with, is stacking two projectors, and using passive glasses. I've seen an Hitachi stack, that still wasn't ready for "production" with a few too many minor artifacts, etc., at the time, however, it was also noticeably brighter than the 3D active solutions from DLP.
Unless you have specific projects in mind that call for 3D, this year's shopping season may still be one season too soon to be serious about any general 3D implementation.
With that in mind, however, the extra cost it seems for 3D ready on DLP projectors is minor (other than the big bucks for glasses), so I would recommend, that if you want to keep your optiones open.
In other words, consider 3D as a future item, at least.
Content, as they say is king, and there is more and more coming, especially for education. In the sciences, and history, but it can show up in language software, and just about anyplace else.
With a daughter now in college, I've watched the technology experience as she's gone from elementry, through high school. Not everything is coursework, which means not everything that may be highly desirable to view in 3D in the classroom, may not be designed, or even intended for classroom.
For this reason, we are concerned with compatibility across 3D, including whether these projectors that are 3D ready, can actually view Blu-ray 3D content (none of them can), as well as coursework. Also, of the four 3D ready projectors I directly worked with, only one, for example, could work with 3D off of DirecTV. Now there's a lot of interesting 3D content showing up on DirecTV and, I assume, cable as well.
There's a lot of music performances in 3D, there are documentaries (a recent one on China I enjoyed), especially travel related. There's a new documentary about the Civil War, that I think is starting production, or just released... The point is, class work has always been supplemented with movies, TV news, field trips, and many other things, not purely "coursework". I believe that plenty of the 3D content (non-movie) reaching the light of day may have some use in the classroom, so compatibility beyond 3D from the computer, could be important down the road.
You may be able to add that capability later! Consider, of the first crop of 3D lower resolution projectors more than a year ago, and the same for probably all the non-home theater 3D ready projectors right now (4/2012):
Last year Optoma announced their 3D-XL accessory. They understood that Blu-ray 3D specs call for HDMI 1.4, which even most home theater projectors don't have yet. So that their consumers buying game and general 3D ready projectors for home use, weren't immediately limited by l the lack of HDMI 1.4, they brought out the 3D-XL, which as of this moment is already shipping in the EU, but not yet here in the US.
The 3D-XL (which we hoped to have for this report), is HDMI 1.4 compatible, can accept the Blu-ray 3D output from Blu-ray 3D compatible player, and convert the signal, so that it will work on a 720p 3D ready projector without HDMI 1.4.
The education technology world probably needs an accessory like the 3D-XL, compatible with 3D ready projectors of all resolutions, so that you know whatever 3D projector you buy, can later be accessorized to handle Blu-ray 3D. Whether these same devices also address the problem of some 3D using "optional" standards, instead of one of the core group of 3D standards. This has been the problem with most of the DirecTV content in 3D, except that coming from their ESPN 3D channel, which so far has stuck with a major standard method. Yes, even ESPN content, could be useful in the classroom, to varsity (and non-varsity) teams, to News in the classroom (be it the Olympics), contemporary politics, disasters around the world, etc.
As the critical mass of 3D continutes to rise, 3D content will become a major way some deliverers of information will set themselves apart form the competition. Remember those Tsumami images from Japan? As tragic and devastating as those images were, I can pretty much guaranty they would have had even more emotional and real impact if they were in 3D and viewed in same.
Expect all kinds of content to come to 3D, and a good deal of it, that was never intended for the classroom will show up in classrooms as tools for learning.
NEXT: Features and Specs Chart