Guide to the Best Education Projectors Report – Room, Interactivity, Networking

Classroom Projector Report:  Understanding Room Environment, Room/Brightness, Teaching without Getting Blinded, Networking, Installing and Maintaining the Projector Fleet, Interactive Projectors, What to Look for this Year.

Basic Understanding Your Room Environment

Projector and Room Brightness

Ambient light and today’s projector systems.

Certainly ambient light isn’t the huge problem it was a decade ago, as today’s projectors are 2-4 times as bright.  Still, it’s an important factor to consider in purchase decisions.  Of course, you definitely need to keep sunlight from hitting a screen.  That always spells disaster!

The good news is that as long as the sunlight hits elsewhere in the room, most of today’s projectors (except pico and pocket LED projectors) are basically bright enough to do the job.

Excluding those, the brightest projectors in this report claim to be more than 4x as bright as the least bright  If you have four banks of fluorescent lights in the room and go from having one bank on, to all four, that’s the same difference as quadrupling projector brightness.

Figure most 2500 to 3500 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 least on 50 to 72″ diagonal screens which are typical.  At the worst, turn off half the banks.

When I say that I tend to be thinking K-12 classroom.  When you move up to higher education classrooms – with 100 – 400 students, then it is typically time to be looking for even brighter projectors, that we, in this report refer to as “larger venue” or large venue projectors.

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”  in terms of brightness, with only LED pocket and pico projectors claiming less.

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.

Many lamps cost $200 to $400 a piece, (some companies though, have education lamp pricing from under $100).  Today,  the typical life is 2500 hours to 4000 hours at full power, and  4000 hours to 6000 hours in eco.

In the long run – several years – you might have to buy a 2nd and then a third lamp, if running at full power, before you even need a second lamp for a brighter projector running in eco-mode.

What I’m saying is you might find it less expensive in the long run with a brighter projector, if you can stick to Eco mode.  That could be a factor unless the projector is getting low usage – say less 10 hours a week, in which case today’s lamps could last longer than 10 years, in which case, it becomes a minor factor.

This may solve a different problem as schools and districts often find technology grants for buying the hardware, but money for routine maintenance is scarce.  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.

Ambient Light Rejecting Projector Screens

Also important in today’s world are the new generations of screens.  There are two types worthy of commenting on, those designed for interactive projectors (which isn’t appropriate to this section), and ALR screens – “Ambient Light Rejecting” that is.  That’s somewhat misleading, in that these screens really absorb ambient light coming from off axis horizontally and vertically.  As a result, they are far less affected by windows to the side, or lights above.  In tough rooms an ALR screen (they can be expensive) may still provide a better value than trying to buy more lumens.

Ultra Short Throw, Very Short Throw Projectors

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). 

Ultra short throw projectors, like the four reviewed for this report mount only inches back from the screen, typically on a wall mount.

Very Short Throw projectors, for a typical K-12 classroom (screens under 80″ diagonal), need to be 2 – 3.5 feet from the screen wall.  This too works for a wall mount.  Wall mounts simplify installation, save money, compared to standard ceiling placement, in most situations.

Since Ultra short throw projector’s “lenses” are typically between a foot and 2 feet from the screen, and slightly above the screen (on a telescoping wall mount), they almost completely eliminate the problem, of blinding the teacher (or student) at the board.  The very short throw projectors are further back so not as good:  Teacher beware! Still much better than projectors mounted 7-10 feet back.

Also the shorter the throw, the better a projector works as an interactive projector.  The assumption with interactivity is that you are standing close to the screen, in most cases writing on it with a pen or finger tip.  That close with a traditional throw projector means being constantly hit by the light from the projector, and also casting a large shadow on the screen.  With a true ultra-short throw projector that’s a non issue, and with a very short throw it’s doable to stay out of that bright light.

(Note:  Above image provided courtesy of Epson America.)

Click Image to Enlarge

Networking Projectors

We’re not talking a post trade-show cocktail party.

Does your school or district use networking?  Certainly!  Are all or most of the projectors tied in?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  Same is true at the university level.    If projectors are to be tied into a network, and the projectors support advanced networking it will allow your school or district able to take advantage of emergency broadcasts or simple announcements – push notifications for various purposes including maintenance notification  More and more of these projectors are Crestron Roomview compatible some are also AMX SchoolView compatible.  If a networking projector offers that, you are starting out with at the minimum a very capable networking features set.

In addition to notifications, and other such features, many projectors will allow presentations over LAN, also scheduling – thus from a district level, a schedule can turn off all projectors on a Friday afternoon, so none are accidentally left running all weekend.  Some interactive (and other projectors) can also be used over a network for collaboration with other projectors and locations.

Installing and Maintaining Your Projector Fleet

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.

Years ago, filters often had to be changed every few hundred hours.  Today though, it’s normally thousands of hours.  And in some cases, the filters are designed to last as long, or even longer than the projector lamps.

If you are mounting projectors, avoid 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.  And that is a big maintenance expense.

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 10-20 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, you probably need to add an extra 20-30 minutes to the service time.

The Interactive Projector - Expensive But a Great Tool

Interactive projectors are powerful tools! They are also expensive.

It is true that many, if not most projectors today offer at least some interactive features, typically when used with apps on phones and tablets, using wireless networking. But for our conversation here, were talking advanced interactivity, typically using pens, or finger touch control.  Most allow multiple users to work on the whiteboard at the same time.

For those familiar with SmartBoards (perhaps the first quality electronic interactive solutions in the classroom), but not interactive projectors: Today’s best interactive projectors, can accomplish as much, usually far more than a SmartBoard paired with a projector, and typically for a lot less money! Companies like Epson, Hitachi, NEC etc. have also paired up with some of the same companies providing classwork and templates that helped establish Smartboards in the classroom 15+  years ago.

In recent years the Epson Brightlink Pro 1430 and 595Wi were the most impressive, but there are  many projectors with good interactive feature sets. In this year’s report we look at two new interactive projectors – one from NEC, the other from Optoma.

Previous winning, still current interactive projectors will also be listed.

Prices today of a good interactive projectors are, I believe, typically much lower than using an LCD monitor, and smart board overlay, or SmartBoard and projector.  You might want to check out the various interactive projector demos that you can find in our Projector Reviews TV section of our site, and also on YouTube. We have such demos for the 595Wi and 1430.  By the time you get up to using interactive projectors with 90 inch to 100 inch white boards, they tend to cost drastically less than the alternatives.

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.

Equivalent Visibility Rule

The Equivalent Visibility Rule  is a recent concept looking at whether we are using large enough displays in the classroom, collaboration setting, training room or auditorium.

We recently published a blog on Equivalent Visibility, based upon a white paper released last year.  Check out our blog – and if you want to get into the more technical aspects, our blog will link you to the full white paper.

In the past, formal presentations were the rule of the day – can you say Powerpoint?  Today though, whether classroom or other environment, more and more we find ourselves working on traditional documents.  In a science or engineering classroom it might be spreadsheets of data, or detailed renderings.  It might be content from a book (remember those), or manuscript, or a white paper. Perhaps emails are projected.  In other words, no longer do we only present large type with less than 30 words per “slide”, or big pie and bar charts.  Today we project and present almost anything.

Today’s projectors are certainly capable of handling, but yesterday’s screens are just too small.

Equivalent Visibility says that a group in a classroom is no different that one person in front of their computer.  It says that the text being projected should appear as large to the viewer, as that same text would seem if they were viewing it on their desktop or laptop.

Think about that!  We are used to seeing 50 inch to 72 inch diagonal screens in most K-12 classrooms.  In a typical such classroom though, Equivalent Visibility would suggest a screen size around 100″ diagonal.

I mention that here for two reasons.  When you think more about it, the Equivalent Visibility Rule makes far more sense today than the old 4-6-8 rule that most AV/IT folks have used in the past for determining display size.  The other rule is what got us to install screens that are too small to realistically view Word documents, manuscripts web pages, etc, and expect people not in the first row to be able to read what’s on the screen.

Not only should you use the Equivalent Visibility Rule to figure out how large a screen size (and to a lesser degree – how bright a projector), but perhaps more importantly, the rule demonstrates that it really isn’t practical to use “large” LCD monitors on the wall in classrooms.  After all, anything over 70″ diagonal in an LCD monitor will cost far more than a projector installation with a 100″ screen.

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 DLP projectors for as little $399 (maybe less).
  • There are now projectors on the market that claim lamp life in eco-modes as high as 10,000 hours (but not 10,000 hours of full usage (by dimming to reduced power when content doesn’t change after a period of time).  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 plenty projectors designed to work well with iOS (and Android) devices like the iPads and iPhones.   You can even use those devices to annotate on screen, and control that remote computer.   Generally you need WiFi or MHL to work with those devices
  • Even more lumens.  A year ago, 2500 to 3500 lumens was the range many portable / small fixed installation projectors.  The range hasn’t changed, but there are less 2500 lumen models and more 3500 lumen ones, and even some pushing 4000 are low cost.
  • 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.

Remember to check out the short summaries of each projector in this report.  They are quick, but for the details, visit to our full projector reviews.

We do shoot features videos, so check out the Projector Reviews TV tab on our site.  Many of the videos of products are paid for by the manufacturer.  That is, they pay us a Permission to summarize the online review, into a video.  Too many companies are cheap though.  So the number of videos of projectors is limited, with most of the videos being of Epson or Sony models. If you would like to see interactive projector demos, look at those videos on the Epson’s 595Wi, and 1430Wi.  Those are the only videos we’ve done that show pen or finger based interactive features in action.  There are other videos showing using Apps with some projectors, to do limited interactivity (including Epson.  Also one from Mitsubishi (who has since quit the projector biz), and perhaps a couple others.

News And Comments

  • Carl Banks

    A word of caution from a former customer: Never buy an Epson. They sell but abandons the customer. Even buying anything difficult. I am a visiting professor briefly in Korea seeking to purchase for the local university here but they never pick up their phone for any of the phone prompts. I’ve had problems with them with printers, and now even across the pacific, I see more systemic problems with this company. They don’t have any contact information for reporting local sales issues. The headquarters probably don’t know how bad things are in Korea. They don’t know how to sell.