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

Posted on June 3, 2015 by Art Feierman
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. We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring this year's Classroom/Education Projector Report.

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.

We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring this year's Classroom/Education Projector Report.

Basic Understanding Your Room Environment

Projector and Room Brightness

Ambient light is the enemy of all projector systems.

Certainly ambient light isn't the huge problem it was a decade ago, as today's projectors are 2-3 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 2000 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 virtually "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.

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.

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.

(Note:  This image provided curtesy of Epson America.)

Click Image to Enlarge

Networking Projectors

I'm not talking an after hours social event.

Does your school or district use networking?   Almost certainly.  Will the projectors be tied in?  Some districts yes, others no.  If yes, 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  More and more of these projectors are Crestron Roomview compatible.  If a networking projector offers that, you are starting out with at least an extremely capable networking features set.

Those promises include a host of wonderful features and accountability.  It includes capabilities such ase 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.

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.

In this report, one of the projectors that uses filters - the Panasonic, requires filter changes less frequently than most projectors lamps last.

If you are mounting projectors, 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.  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 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 - Expensive But a Great Tool

Interactive projectors are hot stuff these days!  They are also expensive.  As a projector dealer my old company sold SmartBoards since the late '90s.

Although it's true that many projectors today have at least some interactive features, often primarily when used with apps on phones and tablets, through wireless networking here were talking advanced, including typically pens, or finger touch control.  Most allow multiple users to work on the whiteboard at the same time.Although it's true that many projectors today have at least some interactive features, often primarily when used with apps on phones and tablets, through wireless networking here were talking advanced, including typically pens, or finger touch control.  Most allow multiple users to work on the whiteboard at the same time.

For those familiar with Smartboards:  Today's best interactive projectors, can accomplish as much, or even more than a SmartBoard paired with a projector, and typically for a lot less. Companies like Epson, Hitachi, etc. have also paired up with some of the same companies providing classwork and templates that helped establish Smartboards in the classroom 15 or so years ago.

You just want to know this: Most of the core features of a combination of SmartBoard and projector, plus many additional ones, are appearing on the interactive projectors from most of today's projector manufacturers.  They are definitely moving into Smart's "space". This year the Epson Brightlink Pro 1430 and 595Wi were the most impressive, but there are  many projectors with good interactive feature sets.

For this year's report, we reviewed four interactive projectors, out of dozens on the market. Four years ago there was the only interactive projector shipping at the time of our report, an Epson, with several others announced but not available.

Prices today of good interactive projectors are, I believe, typically 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.

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.

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.  If you would like to see interactive projector demos, look at those videos on the Epson's 585Wi, 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, Mitsubishi and perhaps two others.

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