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Guide to the Classroom Projector Report for K-12 Education 2

Posted on May 14, 2013 by Zachary Zanger

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.

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. This image, and the one below, provided curtesy of Epson America.

Click Image to Enlarge

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!

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