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

2017-2018 Classroom Projector Report:

Topics on this page include:
  • Understanding Room Environment
  • Room/Brightness
  • Teaching without Getting Blinded
  • Networking
  • Installing and Maintaining the Projector Fleet
  • Interactive Projectors
  • What to Look for this Year.
If you are not familiar with the concept of Equivalent Visibility, definitely visit that section below.  It is becoming an important decision item, as schools consider projector vs LCD monitors for their installations.  Here’s a clue – Equivalent Visibility, would indicate that in most cases, using LCD monitors in classrooms is either a poor teaching idea, or an extremely expensive one.  True they have some advantages, but, well, go read that section below.

Basic Understanding Your Room Environment

Projectors and Room Brightness

Ambient light and today’s projector systems.

Certainly ambient light isn’t the huge problem it was a decade ago, as most of today’s projectors are 2-5 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! Technically, there’s even an exception to that, with certain specialized light absorbing screens, but, even with those, you really do not want sunlight hitting your screen.

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.

Of the fifteen projectors in this year’s report, only one, (with an LED light source) has less than 2400 lumens – that’s a BenQ with 1000.  Other than those two, all are 3000 to 6000 lumens.  (Not included in the main comparisons, is a 12,000 lumen laser projector we’ll discuss later).

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 larger 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, or even higher education projectors.

Note that 10-15 years ago the phrase most commonly associated with 2000 lumen projectors was:  “auditorium projector.”  Now the term for 2000 lumens might just be “below 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 only 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.

Most lamps cost $150 to $400 a piece retail, with the lamps for the highest powered projectors typically costing more. Some companies though, have education lamp pricing from under $100.  The lowest education price we’ve seen to date is $79 a lamp for certain Epson projectors.  Today,  the typical life is 2500 hours to 4000 hours at full power, and 4000 hours to 8000 hours in eco (again, the lower lamp hour claims tend to be for lamps for bright, large venue projectors).  When one looks at the less powerful/less expensive of these projectors, though, replacement lamps most likely (for education buyers) will sell for $79 to $199, but there are plenty of pricier exceptions.

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 way, you would have quieter operation too). But, there are no guarantees.  That could be a factor unless the projector is getting low usage – say less than 10 hours a week, in which case today’s lamps could last longer than 10 years making lamp replacement costs a total non-factor!

Spending a bit more for a brighter option (all else equal) may solve a different problem for K-12 schools and districts.  They often find plenty of money for technology grants for buying the hardware, but money for routine maintenance, including replacement lamps, is scarce. Another factor in your calculations:  More and more schools have skylights in classrooms to increase light, reducing the electrical bill, but that could also mean a brighter room when using a projector.  Knowing where that sunlight might hit at different times of the class day, might be a good thing to know and compensate for.

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, 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/or 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.  Screens for interactive projectors are a different beast – think white boards.  That’s because you need a rigid screen that can handle someone writing/pressing on it with a digital pen.

Those screens designed for interactivity, however, are superior to standard white boards, because those screens are engineered not to have a giant “hot spot” in the middle, typical of white boards.

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.  These tend to cost less.

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 7-12 feet back.

When it comes to using an interactive projector, the shorter the throw, the better.  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 both become non issues, and with a very short throw it’s doable to stay out of that bright light.

We’re seeing more UST projectors from more manufacturers.  I do believe this is in part because they are mastering the optical challenges of ultra short throw.  All of this year’s crop have very respectable focus across the image (not perfect, by any means, but competent).  A few years back we “dumped” on several projectors for being noticeably out of focus on one part of the screen while sharp on another (.ie. the corners, vs. the center).

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

Click Image to Enlarge

Networking Projectors

There’s networking (a bunch of business people schmoozing over drinks), and digital networking.  We’re discussing the latter.

Does your school or district use networking?  Of course!

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 one of those standards, 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.  Consider, the team at the district location, can all projectors to power down late 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 similar projectors at the same, or even distant locations.

Installing and Maintaining The Projector Fleet

Who will install the projectors?

Some schools and districts have their own teams for handling installations.  Others rely on dealers/integrators to do the “heavy lifting.”  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, USTs and interactive projectors will still save installation money, but likely not as much.

Filters?

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.  But these days, often the frequency of changing a filter is likely to be about the same as lamp life.  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 sure 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, and expensive 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 filters cleaned every 500 hours, you now have a logistical and cost headache. If you have to touch the filter every 2000 or 5000 hours (which these days is more typical), then it shouldn’t be near as significant of a factor.  And of course, many of the single chip DLP projectors are filter free.  On the downside for those, they will typically accumulate a lot of dust inside – ever look at the inside of an old PC – with the dust “an inch thick?”

In some cases, the filters are designed to last as long, or even longer than the projector lamps, although that’s usually on the larger venue models.  Some laser projectors have self cleaning filters than need no maintenance!

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 a whole lot longer.  And that is a big maintenance expense.

Fortunately top or side lamp doors are the rule, and these days, the exceptions are rare. 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 a minimum of an extra 20-30 minutes to the service time.

The Interactive Projector - Expensive But a Great Tool

Interactive projectors are powerful tools!  And they are pricy.

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 (targeting business)  and similar BrightLink 595Wi were the most impressive, but there are  many projectors with good interactive feature sets. In this year’s report we look at the newest interactive projector from Epson. The other three in the category are USTs with only interactivity available via apps and networking.  No pens, or finger touch – so definitely not apples to apples!

Prices today of a good interactive projectors are, I believe, typically much less expensive 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 done interactive demos for the 595Wi and Pro 1430 videos which is why I mentioned them.  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.

I consider this concept very important – it should at least be considered seriously, by any IT or AV folks responsible for choosing or buying displays.

It is a real departure in terms of how we determine how large a screen/image is needed for a room, compared to the past.

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.

What’s this all about?

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 – or larger!

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.  That other rule is what “instructed” 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, at least until the prices for 75, 80, 90 and 100 inch LCD monitors plummet.

Consider:  In 2017 Anything over 70″ diagonal in an LCD monitor will cost far more than a projector installation with a 100″ screen.  You can probably install 20 rooms with projectors and screens for far less than a single 100″ LCD display, they are still that expensive!

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 – rather, by dimming to reduced power (about 30%) 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:  Again this year there, many of these projectors are 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.  A number of the projectors looked at in this report, either have wireless built in, or have an affordable add on module available.
  • Even more lumens.  Two years ago, 2500 to 3500 lumens was the range many portable / small fixed installation projectors.  The range hasn’t changed much, but there are fewer 2500 lumen models and more 3500-4000 lumen ones with still relatively low costs.  Generally today, I’d say most of the standard classroom projectors have between 3000 – 4000 lumens.
  • Crestron RoomView, and other networking schemes such as AMX Discovery.  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.  And of course we’re seeing more and more solid state projectors entering the mainstream, consisting of a mix of LED, LED/Laser, and Laser projectors.  As a fringe eco benefit, projector lamps contain mercury (just like those horrible CFL light bulbs for your homes). You won’t find mercury in an LED or laser projector’s light source. That’s a small “eco” thing, but a good one.
  • More laser projectors, and new levels of affordability. The 2017-2018 school year should see a dramatic increase in the implementation of laser projectors, although still primarily into higher education.  Note: Only Casio’s LED/Laser hybrid engine projectors  are generally affordable enough for K-12 at this time. But today’s lowest cost true laser projectors now have street prices under $2000.

Remember to check out the short summaries of each projector in this report.  They are quick, but remember, when you want all the details, visit the full written, online reviews of the respective projectors.

Our Videos:

We do shoot some features videos, so check out the Projector Videos tab on our site.  Many of the videos of projectors are paid for by the manufacturer.

Here’s how that works:  A manufacturer pays us a Permission to summarize the online review into a pair of videos (short and longer).  Too many companies are cheap though.  The number of such videos that we offer is limited, Japanese manufacturers (i.e. Sony, Epson, NEC), are far more likely to have us make videos than the Taiwanese manufacturers – i.e. BenQ, Optoma, Vivitek, etc.  That’s to a large degree due to the different marketing strategies typical of companies from those two countries.  Finally, another reminder to check out those older Epson interactive projector links above, to see pen or finger touch interactivity in action.   There are other videos showing using Apps with some projectors, to do limited interactivity, as well.  Even one on the importance of Color lumens.

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