Guide to the Classroom Projector Report for K-12 Education
This is Projector Reviews fourth year of looking at the Education projector market. This report should provide some some useful information for those responsible for choosing projectors for K-12 schools, and this year, we have also descided to look at 3 larger venue projectors that are suitable for large university and college classrooms, as well as K-12 auditoriums and other large rooms. Also included this year is one Pocket projector, which will run on a battery pack - ideal for teaching/presenting in places where electricity can be unreliable, including many 'rural' areas, around the world.
We realize many professionals know most or all of our comments regarding what people at different levels should consider. But, it was a place to start.
6/15/13 - Art Feierman
Topics Covered in this Projector Guide
- What's in this Report
- Reviews section - 15 projectors this year
- Defining your expectations:
- Are you a district level AV or IT manager, tech coordinator?
- A school level AV/IT manager or network administrator?
- A teacher?
- A driver of technology at your school?
- Understanding the physical classroom environment in selecting the proper projector equipment
Once again, many will find my writing style to be long on explanations. We expect this report will be read by a lot of folks at different technological levels, and with different responsibilities. I can almost hear some groans of "that's so obvious" from time to time, from those with lots of experience, we appreciate your understanding so we don't leave high and dry on the explanations, any less projector knowledgeable folks.
What's In This Report
Please check out the Special Features page. That's where we talk about the features that you may want to be considering, and others you definitely will. Our goal is to prove a basic understanding of the value of various features.
The Overview page is the first page of this report. It further touches on some of the points covered in this Guide to the Classoom Projector Report document. It also discusses awards, but, the two key aspects of the Overview page are the links to the reviews themselves (and to the specs pages) for each of the reviewed education projectors, and what should be a very helpful section with multiple paragraphs, a short summary - Highlights - of each of the fifteen reviewed projectors! Use those short summaries (and our sortable spreadsheet), to narrow down your choices a bit. Remember, they are summaries, and do not contain near as much information as the individual projector reviews.
You will find these individual projector summaries to vary a lot. Not enough space to touch on all the important points, so, typically, I spent a couple of paragraphs on each, discussing some features on some, other features (or benefits) on different projectors. If it seems to generally fit your requirements you can link to the review.
Basically when you finish that section, you hopefully will have a pretty good understanding about the abilities of each projector that looks like it might work for you.
Winners of Our Projector Awards:
The awards are specific only to the Reviewed projectors. No awards are given out to the projectors on the section that considers dozens of projectors, most of which are related to the review projectors. Let me clarify. We might review one projector (let's say it's 2500 lumens, XGA, and lacks networking), and include it on the primary projector spreadsheet. On the larger spreadsheet, that projector's siblings are likely found.
The awards are:
Best In Classroom, Best In Classroom - Runner-up, and Special Interest awards. We issue specific awards by projector type, such as: Best In Classroom: 3D Projector, or Best In Classroom: Networking projector.
Some projectors gave also picked up our "standard" awards not specific to this report: the Hot Product and Special Interest awards .
When discussing pricing we prefer to talk about MAP pricing, or street pricing where possible. That is because MSRP "List price" can be very deceiving. Consider that it's very normal to have two projectors with an MSRP of $1999, with one selling for $1899, and the other at $1199 or $1299. Hard to compare apples to apples that way.
Prices discussed here are the usual quantity one variety. For districts, state level purchasing, and the even larger Consortiums, many manufacturers have lower prices (often quantity based), and also quite often, longer warranties. A number of projector manufacturers have educational programs with special pricing. Many have fancy names. Two such examples are Sony's Extra Credit (nice play on words) Program and Epson's Brighter Futures program. I mention all this because again, we talk in terms of quantity one. A school district can buy hundreds of projectors at a time, and one of the major consortiums can be responsible for thousands - maybe 10's of thousands of projectors. You better believe whether 100 or 1000 projectors most manufacturers will have significantly lower pricing than single quantity. If you are shopping at the school level, you might check with district, or with the state to see if there's special consortium pricing. One huge consortium is Iowa's. They negotiate pricing for all the schools in state, but, many other states piggyback onto the IECs negotiated price. That's sort of a win-win for everyone.
Schools, assume that all projector manufacturers have special educational programs, and ask abou them.
Defining Your Expectations:
Are you a district level AV or IT manager? Or perhaps you are school level AV/IT manager or network administrator? Maybe you are a teacher, and a driver of technology at your school? Or perhaps you are a Principal or other member of the administration ulitmately responsible for teaching effectiveness and budgets? Below some thoughts organized by these four types. This is the same document as in last year's report, with only minor changes.
School District Level AV or IT Manager
Ok, you've got a budget (hopefully) and some grant money for technology. You know how many projectors you'd like to add to the district this summer.
- Install all projectors - use portables, or a mix? To start, figure out what that mix looks like, in terms of feature sets, rather than specific projectors.
- Do they need to be networked?
- Is remote command and control important? Essential? Not all teachers are going to remember to turn off their projector Friday afternoon. Leaving it on for the weekend, but unused, can cost real money when that happens often. One typical projector running for 60 hours on the weekend will likely cost $3-$5 in electricity in US states that have the highest electric rates. In addition, assuming the average 3000 hour lamp life, that 60 hours will cost you about $4 to $6 a lamp. 10 projectors on each weekend, out of say 200 (5%) - is $100 a weekend. Over a school year that's about $4000 wasted. Plus you will be replacing lamps (and when used) filters, more frequently, using up expensive manpower.
- Long term vs short term costs: Do you buy a lower cost projector so you can buy more units, even if spending, say 20% more on a projector with low long term cost, would reduce you costs over 5 or 10 years, by 50% or more? Tough call. I do hear from some admins who are so starved for maintenance monies that that have a number of projectors down, simply because they can't afford the replacement lamps. Those of you doing making these decisions a will understand that those costs can put a real dent into your operational budget. In my dealer days, I had a district we sold over 400 projectors to. They literally suffered that problem, of running out of money to replace lamps, and repair out of warranty units. Even stranger, they had grant money for new projectors, but nothing to get the ones they already own, back in action... (I guess that's like infrastructure in the US, build a new bridge, there's money, find the money to fix a damaged one, good luck.)
- Different levels of overall networking and presenting - Command and control and email notification networking is a boon to all you district and school IT/AV/network types, but other features are of far greater interest to the teachers - wireless presenting and wireless networking, having a projector that can display the screen of any computer in the room at the whim of the teacher.
- Different interfacing for "display": For example, Display-Link can mean no more VGA cables, and several other benefits presenting from your computer over USB (less expensive cabling for sure). Is that important, how much is that worth? Does HDMI make sense?
- Display messaging. Is there a need to allow projectors to display streams of information coming from the network? In an emergency, theoretically someone at the district can hit a button turning on every projector in the district, and then typing in a message that will be displayed. "Tornado warning - get under your desk or seek other shelter." Or of course, they can display any other data, such as targeting a specific school's projectors to notify those students that a particular school event has been cancelled.
School Level AV or IT Manager, Administrator, or Network Admin
Like the school district level people, you're probably neck deep in deciding what projectors and where to put them, installation, and of course, having them all installed. You, though, probably do a lot more interfacing with the teachers. Some of you are "caught" between a "rock" (District Managers) and a hard place "meeting teacher demands". Hmm, glad I'm not one of you.
Besides most of the same types of decisions as the district folks have to make, (I won't repeat all those bullet points from the paragraph above), you probably have to deal more with exceptions, options... I'm talking about things such as adding wireless presenting or a remote mouse. Integrating a projector with a SmartBoard, or any number of other possible issues that don't affect all of your projectors, but some. You are probably the people responsible for keeping the projectors running. Consider cost factors, consider the room requirements.
Definitely consider labor - changing lamps, cleaning filters, etc. Oh, I have great confidence that you know your job, you should! After all, probably most of the teachers, and all the district IT/AV and budget people are all telling you how to do it. Good luck!
Teachers - Both "typical" teachers teachers who are key recommenders of technology
While today a large percentage of projectors going into schools are purchased in quanties, no one for a second, thinks that individual teachers aren't also involved, and in many cases, the only projectors in schools are there because of the teachers - buying one when the money is available. If your network and IT/AV people aren't dictating terms to you, then it's pretty much your call. Your first big question is will the projector be mounted? I suspect that a far higher percentage of individual projector purchases at schools are portable projectors in that they are not mounted, but table top, and locked away when not in use. In many cases, the projectors are shared. Check out your room lighting controls! Make sure, if you want to mount, that the projector can be mounted where it needs to be.
Do you need remote mousing? Full interactivity? What about presenting from flash drives - computer free - (only viable if you are not ceiling mounting the projector). If the projector is to be ceiling mounted, then you need to run a USB down to your work area. Close captioning - if you need it, most new projectors have it, but, make sure, there were still three of our fifeen reviewed projector that don't have it.
If you take your projector based teaching seriously, and plan to use the projector a lot, you'll probably need to pay attention to long term costs. If you will have the projector running say 25 hours a week, 40 weeks a year - on the projector with the worst lamp life, that's a couple/three hundred dollars every other year. On the best projector, you can run 25 hours a week/40, for 20 years... without a lamp change. Most fall in the middle. I've met teachers who have bought replacement lamps out of their own money for a projector owned by the school, simply because the teacher takes great advantage of the technology for teaching, and the school has run out of money for replacement lamps...
There's so much more that a teacher looking for one projector can consider, but before I forget, big choices include widescreen (wxga) or 4:3 (xga, and there are still some svga projectors out there for $400 or less).
One last thought - if you are a Mac user, with most of these brands, if you want your laptop screen live while teaching/presenting, the resolutions available may be very different from one projector to another. In most cases with XGA projectors - feeding from my MacBook Pro, I ended up with XGA (1024x768) on the screen with XGA projectors, but with two of them, only 800x600. If you have a widescreen MacBook Pro, it really can upset the resolution decisions of a few of these projectors, including widescreen projectors. If your environment is Mac, be sure to confirm that there won't be any aspect ratio issues with your projector of choice.
If you are a recommender of technology, you may be a teacher, but your issues are more like the IT/AV folks because, you've got people asking your advice, and they all want something different, in features and benefits.
Principal, Superintendent - Which projectors for you?
The buck stops here, or so they say. I don't envy you in these days of shrinking budgets. In most cases, you'll leave a lot of the technology to the experts, but you will find throughout this report a whole lot of conversation about cost of operation, long and short term.
And don't forget things such as some projectors attached to your network, can be powered up remotely by your IT guy, and you can send messages across to display on all projectors in your school (or district).
From my previous experience working with several large districts, a thought: A lot of districts - and schools - using Federal grant money, tend to buy all the same projector, for all the schools, or in one school, for all the classrooms. To me, that's a red flag. It's probably smart to buy all your projectors from the same manufacturer - it drastically simplfies support, but even if we're talking a school looking for 12 projectors, there's good reason to have two or three different models to reach different needs. Consider this example: 8 classrooms basic projectors with networking, etc, XGA resolution and 2 projectors for computer rooms that can present from any computer in the classroom. You might also have two classrooms where having a widescreen projector works better, because most of the best content/coursework for that class subject is provided for widescreen display (maybe Chemistry, or Drama, or Intro to Algebra) - could be any type of class. Or you might want widescreen, and interactivity for some classes. Widescreen projectors tend to be better for interactive environments, as their screen height is lower. Tall screens may be tough to reach with that interactive pen, especially if students are being invited up to the front to use it.
Consider that many projector manufacturers offer up huge choices of projectors. A major projector brand with less than 15 business/education projectors in their line-up is probably less likely than finding manufacturers with 25-35 suitable projectors. By our count, one major player when I looked a year or so ago, offered up more than 20 projector models all offering between 2000 and 3000 lumens, all weighing between 5 and 10 pounds. Talk about being able to choose the exact one you need...
And lets' go back to those two computer classrooms. Those are probably likely to use a lot of projector hours, if used at all. For that reason, you might want to pay more attention to lamp life and long term costs when deciding on those two projectors, than the others.
Hey, no one said it's easy. It's not, if you want to do it right.
So, when it comes to figuring out the mix of projectors that will serve your organization, "choose wisely!"
Basic Understanding Your Room Environment
Projector and Room Brightness
First and foremost: Ambient light is the enemy of all projector systems. Not a big problem these days, unless you are unfortunate enough to have a projector positioned so the sunlight hits your screen. That is always a disaster! In that case, there are few projectors that can deal with direct sunlight around - let alone on - the screen, and none of them are even relatively inexpensive.
The good news is that as long as the sunlight hits elsewhere in the room, all of these projectors are basically bright enough to do the job, with the exception of the Pocket Projectors included in this report. Excluding those, the brightest claim to be more than 2x as bright as the least bright, but that's not truly a huge difference. (If you have two light switches - each controlling half of your room's fluorescents, then turning off one drops brightness by half, right?) The room goes from bright to well lit, not to dim or dark. That's the power of a 2x increase or decrease in brightness. Sunlight is probably 5 to 20 times brighter when hitting the screen, than the fluorescents when on. Figure most 2000 to 3000 lumen projectors - the bulk of projectors on the market, can handle a typical classroom, conference room or training room that is fully lit with fluorescent lighting. At the worst, turn off half the banks. Note that 10-15 years ago the phrase most commonly associated with 2000 lumen projectors was: "auditorium capable." Now the term for 2000 lumens is "entry level" (at least in terms of brightness.
Regardless of how you look at it, brighter is better, just don't put a lot of faith in expecting to go from a 2500 to 3200 lumen projector, in terms of making a huge jump in brightness, that's a slight difference, such as going from full power to eco-power on most projectors.
With that thought in mind also to consider:
One big advantage of spending more for a brighter projector, is that you can run it in eco-mode, saving money, by increasing lamp life. Compare that to running a similar projector, say, selling for $300 less, with 2/3 to 3/4ths the overall brightness, one that is as bright at full power, as the brighter projector in eco-mode. With many lamps costing $200 to $400 a piece, and the standard life being 3000 hours (full) / 4000 hours (eco) (though many in this report last much longer), you can see how in the long run - several years - you might have to buy a 2nd and then a third lamp, possibly before you even need a second lamp for the brighter projector in eco-mode. That is, spending more up front to save far more down the road, is an option. It may be a very smart option if finding money down the road, for maintaining your projector fleet, is expected to be difficult.
This has been a problem, since schools and districts often find technology grants for buying the hardware, but money for routine maintenance is scarce.
This year schools are even more concerned with cost of operation and lifetime costs than ever before as money for schools is getting tighter and tighter.
More and more schools have skylights in classrooms to increase light, reducing the electrical bill. Knowing where that sunlight might hit at different times of the class day, might be a good thing to know.
This image, and the one below, provided curtesy of Epson America.
Teaching/Presenting without getting blinded. Ceiling mounting won't prevent you from being dazzled by the projector, some of the time when facing the class. The real trick is to go with the new crop of ultra-short throw projectors (or some very short throw models). Since most mount between a foot and 3 feet from the screen, and slightly above the screen (on a telescoping wall mount), they almost completely eliminate the problem, and those that mount extremely close (2-4 inches), like the Epson's Brightlink 485wi, and Hitachi iPJ-AW250N, solve the problem about as completely as possible while still using front projection.
But, I didn't want to just discuss brightness issues here.
Networking: Does your room support networking. Is your school or district able to take advantage of that - for emergency broadcasts or simple announcements. More and more of these projectors are Crestron Roomview compatible. That implies features like email notifications (i.e. of the projector needs servicing), remote broadcast for emergencies, monitoring, and control of the projector, such as making sure all projectors in the district are powered down every Friday afternoon at 5:45pm.
Who will install the projectors?
Internal team, dealer/integrators? I am not recommending one over the other, but some choices in projectors will raise the costs. For example a wall mounted above the screen ultra-short throw projector needs less cabling, less installation time than a traditional ceiling mount. When you are contracting with a dealer, the difference can be a lot. If you have school tech teams doing the work, then the hours change a bit, but the costs are less likely to blow out your budget.
Who will maintain them?
Virtually every LCD projector on the market has at least one filter. Most DLP projectors do not, but if they do, they are more likely higher power projectors. A few don't need filters changed for a couple thousand hours or more, some only when the lamp gets changed, but most LCD projectors will, at some point require a filter change. We even reviewed one projector that only needs a filter change out when you have gone through 3 lamps - 12,000 hours. That's a far cry from 100 and 200 hour filters back at the beginning of the "century". (That sounds like a long, long time ago.)
Maintaining your fleet of projectors
If you have a lot of projectors, filter cleaning can become a tiresome, labor intensive chore, should those filters need frequent, rather than infequent changing. For a projector or three, that's not a big deal. If you are managing 500 projectors spread across 20 schools and you have projectors that want lamps cleaned every 500 hours, you now have a logistical and cost headache. If you have to touch the filter every 2000 or 4000 hours (which these days is more typical), then it shouldn't be near as significant of a factor. In this report, one of the Epson projectors claims the filter gets changed every 5000 hours, which means just change it out when a new lamp is needed. That's ideal, since you don't have to make any extra "trips" to deal with filters. All of the projectors in this report can be ceiling (or for the ultra short throws, wall mounted), this year, that's even true for the one pocket projector in this report - an HB Opto. If you are mounting, beware of projectors that must be taken down from the mount to change the lamp, because the lamp access door is on the bottom where the projector attaches to the mount. Trust me, that's a pain, it makes lamp replacement take many times longer. Fortunately top or side lamp doors are the rule, and these days, the exceptions are few.
A fast lamp replacement, if a projector is already cool, should take 5-15 minutes and that is including: Moving chairs or desks to gain access, opening a ladder, climbing it. Using a screwdriver to remove two to six screws, removing the door (it might be hinged), removing the lamp, sliding in the new one, replacing the door and screws. Then: Clean the lens (cobwebs are common) and check the focus and image on the screen (it's easy enough to accidently change the focus or slightly change the angle of the projector...)
If you have to unmount the projector from the ceiling or wall mount, the few minutes needed above, can stretch to 20 minutes or in some cases, an hour or two, afterall, you'll probably have to realign the projector with the screen. And I can tell you, it's a real pain in the you know what!
The Interactive Projector - Big Time
Ahh something new, sort of. As a projector dealer, my old company had sold SmartBoards since the mid '90s. Smart Boards, especially in conjunction with a projector, makes a rather powerful tool. If you aren't familiar with SmartBoards and competing products, check'm out. No time to get deep into it here.
You just want to know this: Most of the core features of a combination of SmartBoard and projector, plus many additional ones, are appearing from projector manufacturers, moving into Smart's "space". This year the Epson Brightlink 436wi was most impressive, but it was one of many. For this year's report, we reviewed four interactive projectors, out of dozens on the market. Three years ago there was the only interactive projector shipping at the time of our report, an Epson, with several others announced but not available.
Interactivty was long ago, primarily the domain of one company - Smart, who makes the Smart Boards. I was selling those 20 years ago. Later on, Smart started making board overlays for plasma displays for extra capabilities, and then interfacing their Smart abilities with projectors. Many of today's interactive projectors essentially offer all the hardware capabilites of those board and projector combinations, but do it for a fraction of the price. You might want to check out a short demo of the Epson Brightlink 436Wi interactive projector, that you can find in our Projector Reviews TV section of our site, and also on YouTube.
Some of today's interactive projectors can even record an entire presentation, along with any interactive drawing and diagramming, and with sound as well. Think in terms of recording an entire class and posting it, showing all the action. A student who missed the class could catch up, watching the entire class from home, that night. Of course an entire hour of class is going to be one big file. Still these are abilities schools and districts can seriously consider. If University of Phoenix can do it, why not your school or school district.
What to Look For This Year In Education suitable Projectors, Compared to Last Year
More capabilities at lower prices. Consider:
- This year you can find 3D capable XGA resolution projectors for as little $399 (maybe less).
- There are now projectors on the market that claim lamp life in eco-mode as high as 10,000 hours, and 8000 hours. At full power there are 3000, 4000, and even some 5000 hour lamp lifes out there.
- BYOD - Bring Your Own Device: This year there are more projectors designed to work well with iOS (and Android) devices like the iPads and iPhones. Present off of them, and in some cases (see the Mitsubishi WD390U-EST info), you can be presenting in a room, holding an iPad, iPhone, etc., from a presentation sitting on a laptop or desktop thousands of miles from the projector. You can even use those devices, to annotate on screen, and control that remote computer. Filet that perhaps, under "cloud presenting."
- 500 more lumens. A year ago, 2000 to 3000 lumens was the range (mostly 2000 - 2500) of many portable / small fixed installation projectors, this year, think 2500 - 3500 lumens...
- Crestron RoomView, and other networking schemes. More network savvy projectors support RoomView or other "competing networking setups. This means more projectors can be monitored and controlled remotely, even powered on and off, diagnostics, projectors notifying the adminstrator if there's a problem or a new lamp needed. And going the other way, push notifications, great for emergencies, as well as general announcements. "2 pm classes have been canceled, everyone report to the auditorium for a ..."
- Smarter, more eco-friendly projectors. Lamp control for example is starting to get very smart on some projectors. A projector might measure the room's ambient lighting and adjust the lamp power down if it determines the projector doesn't need to run at full power.
There's plenty more. Remember the short summaries of each projector in this report are handy, but for the details, go to our full projector reviews. Also note that a number of the top performers do or will have videos. For this report - so far - three top award winners have videos that are finished, with a few more in the works: Those already posted; Mitsubishi WD390U-EST (advanced networking, can use iOS/Android to present and run presentations remotely. Epson Powerlite W16SK (passive 3D projector system - using two stacked projectors, and $3 3D glasses), and Epson's Brightlink 436wi (ultra short throw interactive projector with dual pens).
If you made it to the bottom here, you are probably very ready to get into the heart of the report. We hope you find it beneficial. If you have any great ideas or recommendations, please drop us a comment, at the end of any article, via our Facebook or other "Social" pages.
We also look forward to your questions, we try to answer most questions posed to us, as long as they aren't too vague to provide a concise, usable answer. For example "What projector should we get?" is not going to get a response. But a question such as "We plan to use 3D, do we really need a projector that can do Blu0ray 3D? Or: "Your review mentioned this projector has networking capabilities, but can this one do push notifications?" Or perhaps: We've narrowed it down to these two interactive projectors - both in budget. Why would I want this one over the other? So, fire away!