Projector Reviews

2017-2018 Award Winners: Classroom UST and Interactive Projectors

This year, as mentioned previously (somewhere in this report), I ended giving out three awards, out of only four projectors considered. Of our three UST projectors, two have solid state light engines, with one having the overall advantage over the other. However, the only lamp based version is otherwise at least as full featured, and not much more than half the price, so I felt both it, and the better of the two solid state projectors, should share the Best Value award.

So, enough said, let’s look at the winners of our Best In Classroom “Other Projectors” competition.

We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring this year’s Best Classroom Projectors report.

Best Performance: Epson Brightlink 696UI Interactive Projector

2017-2018_ultra-short-throw-or-interactive_best-performanceLast data I saw from industry tracking sources, showed Epson with almost 2/3 of the north american interactive projector market. They offer at least 8 different models, with variations on some of them, in terms of extras.

The Epson Brightlink 696UI is the second from the top of Epson’s line of Interactives.  It’s basically just one feature short of the 697UI, relating to electronic blackboarding.

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The 696Ui, supports using multiple interactive pens, and fingertips simultaneously.  No problem, say, having four students up at the “board” each working out problems, writing with finger or pen.

And of course, this Epson can save a session, so it can be posted online, or on a school server, so those missing the class can see all the action.

Networking is advanced, with Crestron RoomView support, and all the trimmings.

The 696UI is hardly inexpensive, still the $2099 single unit education pricing for a loaded interactive projector is pretty reasonable (if you can live without finger touch, and stick to using pens).

Unlike two of the three  UST projectors in this report, this Epson does not have a solid state light engine.  But as with other new Epson projectors, this one claims 5000 hours for the lamp at full power, and up to 10,000 hours in Eco.  As always, part of Epson keeping the cost of operation down, their edu price for replacement lamps is only $49!

Although Epson is seeing more interactive competition, their top of the line models still seem a cut above – the products to beat.  Also they have lots of color lumens, whereas most of the competition is DLP.  That means this Epson’s 3800 color and white lumens will cut through ambient light with less effort than any of the DLP interactive projectors on the market.  Warranty, is 3 years parts and labor, with 3 years of rapid replacement program, an excellent combination, if not quite the best in this report. Incredibly capable!

Best Value: Optoma ZW300UST

A tie this year for Best Value in an Ultra Short Throw Projector. The Co-Winners: Optoma ZW300UST and Epson Powerlite 680

The Optoma ZW300UST simply edged out the Casio, the other solid state UST competing in this category. There was no one single advantage.  In fact, overall, the projectors are similar in capabilities.

It really came down to this:  The Optoma’s laser light engine, seems to come across with a bit more brightness and punch than Casio’s LED/Laser combination.  But then, although the two are similar in brightness claims, the Casio fell noticeably short on delivering.  The other aspect was that the color modes looked a bit better than that Casio.

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Low maintenance is a key feature of the ZW300UST.  Even with longer life lamps on many of todays projectors up to 5000 hours at full power, and 8,000 to 10,000  hours in eco modes, the Optoma will still require less maintenance.  As they say, time is money, so if you have a whole fleet of these Optoma’s in a school, they should still require a good deal less physical support than their lamp based competition, and that, along with lower power consumption (compared to lamp projectors), helps win the Cost of Operation battle.

The real contest for supremacy in this category, however, is the Optoma vs the Epson Powerlite 680.  Laser vs. lamp.   Offsetting the Optoma’s advantage is the far lower price of the 680.  Both have superior color…

Best Value: Epson Powerlite 680

The 3LCD Epson PowerLite 680 is our other Best Value UST projector winner, along with the DLP Optoma ZW300UST

Great performance and a really aggressive price are the ingredients for the Epson’s Best Value win (ok, it’s a tie). That $910 education street price is well below the solid state competition.  Now this projector is only XGA, while the Optoma is WXGA.  No worries, if WXGA is your requirement, the Powerlite 675 fits the description, and only costs an additional $30 if you can drop down 300 lumens to “only” 3200 color and white lumens.  Or, if somehow, you have lots of budget, and prefer to go WXGA but still want the 3500 lumens, that’s the Powerlite 685 which is $1090 Brighter Futures pricing.

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Epson’s education warranty is one of the best available: 3 years parts and labor, along with 3 years of rapid replacement program.

Networking is similar to other Epson projectors – Crestron and AMX support for advanced features like push notifications, and optional wireless ($99) via a plug in dongle.  There are apps available as well as PC software to help out with networking, annotating, and all the usual MHL / phone/laptop interactive features.

The picture quality itself is great in a classroom.  Bright, but also the colors are rich, and look right, whether watching a video, looking at a pie chart, website or photos.  (And, of course, Powerpoint).

We suggest widescreen when practical, so primarily see the Powerlite 680 as a replacement model for classrooms with older 4:3 resolution projectors, although I’m sure there are plenty of districts sticking to the older aspect ratio for consistency, even if it’s not a replacement projector.  Still the Powerlite 675 or 695 are there if 16:10 widescreen is the plan.

One thing worth mentioning is that they are also doing it in a UST projector for a price that isn’t that drastically  more than the standard throw projectors.  Now that is an important trend.  Of course all UST’s have the advantage of keeping blinding light out of the teacher/student presenter when they are up front, making them inherently more desirable than longer throw, but the price has long been a compelling argument for sticking with traditional projectors.  That argument is still valid but, getting less so, each year.

Bottom Line, the 680 (and siblings) offer a lot of everything (but 3D).

Previous Winners: Best In Classroom - Interactive Projector Epson Brightlink 585Wi

2014-2015_classroom_best-performance_interactiveThe Brightlink 585Wi is the oldest still current interactive projector to win an award. It was featured four reports ago!  It is, however, the projector that defined what a great interactive projector should be able to offer.

The Brightlink 585Wi came loaded for big game, with full pen based interactivity, advanced networking, and a great picture as just the tip of the iceberg.

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But, enough said, other than lacking finger touch, the 585Wi was identical to the slightly more expensive Brightlink 595Wi, which took top honors the following year.  Epson replaced that 595WI with a 695Wi, so we don’t list the 595Wi here.

The Brightlink 585Wi sells for not much more than half of its original price, with Brighter Futures pricing now at $1399!  Here’s something odd.  When the 585Wi was their latest and greatest, they also offered a 575Wi, the same, but 2700 lumens instead of 3300.  Epson still has those as well, but sells them for the same education price.  In other words, of the two, buy the 585Wi!  Outside of Epson’s Brighter Futures pricing however, the 585Wi does sell for more, which makes sense.