Posted on April 16, 2018 By Art Feierman
It is projector selection time for US (and many other countries) K-12 schools who are looking for projectors for the 2018-2019 school year.
In addition, many universities, colleges and medical schools are also on the hunt for the best performance and best value projectors, as well as projectors that meet specific requirements by having various special features and capabilities.
This year’s Classroom Projectors Report looks at 16 new projectors launched in the past year and change that cover a wide spectrum of what is available, from very inexpensive, value-oriented projectors, to those with advanced networking, and high-power projectors capable of handling large university classrooms and small auditoriums. It includes two fully interactive projectors, both of which are ultra-short throw projectors that typically mount above the screen surface – a whiteboard-type screen. In some cases, the projector will be set on a table or credenza, right below the screen, although in most education settings, mounting above provides greater security.
Editor’s Note: Projectors continue to improve, but many of the technologies are still maturing. As a result, projector manufacturers no longer replace most models every year. Many are now on the market for two or three years. Those lasting more than one year will typically have a price drop in the 2nd or 3rd year to keep them competitive. For that reason: Those projectors from previous years reports that received awards, and that still meet our requirements of remaining current models at least until the fall of 2018, have been integrated into this year’s report. We started doing that with last year’s report.
Some of the projectors we reviewed last year are still excellent choices and remain top sellers to schools. Previous winners that are still current are featured in this report along with newer ones. You should consider them excellent projectors fully comparable to this year’s winners and equally worthy of consideration this year. Those that won an award last year are not eligible for a new award this year.
We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring this year’s Best Classroom Projectors report.
Our goal is to discuss a wide range of capabilities to help decision-makers understand the options, and choose wisely. Those decision-makers include IT and AV managers, tech coordinators, teachers/professors, as well as people on the business side, such as buyers. There probably close to 500 business and education projectors currently available in the US. Sounds like a lot, but consider that Epson alone has upward of 75 education and business projectors listed on their website (they have over 50% projector market share in North America per PMA – a leading AV research firm), and that’s roughly 7 times that of the next largest seller.
The projector competition out there includes many Fortune-sized companies, as well as many smaller ones. Some of the largest companies that are competing for market share include Sony, NEC, Optoma, BenQ, Casio, ViewSonic, LG, Panasonic, Canon, etc. We don’t count all those tiny pico projectors in our conversations.
Figure that likely more than half of all business or education projectors would have to be considered suitable or specifically targeted for some aspect of the Education Market.
That means no review site or other publication is capable of taking a close look – that is, review – all of those that are possible fits. There are single state, and even multi-state consortiums buying projectors for K-12, a couple of those do a lot of their own analysis, bring in products to compare, etc., and ultimately cross reference a huge number of projectors.
Our goal is different. Rather than categorizing hundreds of projectors and recommending many dozens, we’re trying to help you understand what good-to-great projectors that meet your needs might look like. Our winners reflect the most capable – for different reasons. Some will be ideal for your needs; others may overall be as good or better, but won’t be a good fit for your organization’s requirements.
The 2018-2019 Best Classroom Projectors Report covers 16 projectors directly. The important thing to remember is that many of the projectors covered are part of large families of projectors with only minor variations. As a result, these 15 represent 7 series of projectors, with many of them having 4-8 “siblings,” differing only in resolution, and perhaps brightness or networking abilities. The exceptions are UST and interactive projectors, where many companies only have a “series” of one to three related projectors.
For example, we may have reviewed and are considering a particular WXGA resolution projector in this report, but that manufacturer likely also offers an XGA, SVGA and quite likely a WUXGA or 1080p model that is otherwise almost identical. They also might offer slightly different versions with and without networking, and in some cases, even a brighter, and less bright version otherwise the same model.
As an example, consider last year. One NEC projector – the NP-ME331W, is a WXGA projector with 3,300 lumens. But the ME series has 8 projectors – 4 are XGA, 4 are WXGA. They vary in some features, and in brightness. In other words, if the ME331W looks great to you, but you need an XGA because you are replacing a lower resolution 4:3 projector, then know that one of the other ME’s is probably the right one for you. If anything, that NEC series is unusual in that it only offers two resolutions, most offer four or five, so some have even larger families.
Ultra-short throw projectors, so far, are different than others, in that they typically have very small families. On occasion, it may be only a family of one. Or as in some cases, a manufacturer may have just one UST (ultra-short throw projector), and another similar one with interactivity added, for a series of two.
As a result, these fifteen projectors covered in this year’s Classroom Projectors Report represent more than 65 different models!
Often, schools can find the projector with the right feature set, and then choose the preferred resolution or level of networking.
It may well be that a school or system will buy several models in the same series. For example, some XGAs replacing older 4:3, some WXGAs, and perhaps a few WUXGA where higher resolution is needed, or perhaps a different WXGA with one or two differences, but in the same series.
Two years ago, we lacked enough serious interactive or UST projectors to have a category focused on them. Last year, and again this year, however, we have five projectors that are UST, or UST with interactivity, so it’s enough for us to look at the group and give out awards again. Perhaps next year we’ll have 5 or more projectors that are fully interactive, so we can pick winners without considering those that lack interactivity. We shall see.
Note that almost any projector these days with MHL support or wireless capabilities to work with tablets and phones has at least minimal interactivity. So, when I talk about serious interactivity, I’m talking pens, maybe finger-touch controls and more, not just control from apps.
Overall, the benefits of interactive projectors, which are typically ultra or very short throw projectors in schools, is that they can be mounted to the wall above the screen, rather than the ceiling. They are also so close to the screen that the intense projector light doesn’t get in the speaker’s eyes, so they are better positioned to not blind the teacher or student standing up by the screen.
This normally creates a less expensive, simpler installation, compared to mounting more traditional standard and short throw projectors. The other benefit to this is that it does not cast too much of a shadow on the projection surface.
Remember, this year’s report also contains previous winners of the Interactive or UST Projector category, and, of course, everything links back to our full reviews.
Again, this year, we address the advantages and disadvantages of lamp versus LED, Laser, and also hybrid projectors (LED/Laser such as the Casio line).
All of the projectors covered here are available at the time of this publication according to their manufacturers, and none are expected to be discontinued before September 30th 2018. They should, therefore, all be available for schools to purchase in quantity for the upcoming K-12 school year. And, they should be around for the higher education purchasing season this coming Fall.
This year’s report includes plenty (five) high-brightness projectors suitable for those large university classrooms, and also in K-12 auditoriums and multi-purpose rooms.
There are six of the traditional small fixed install/portable projectors that work well in smaller classrooms.
If you are looking for full reviews of individual projectors, you won’t find them here. Only links directly to those individual reviews. The report itself contains short overviews of each and our conclusions about the projectors. Overviews, in some cases, will typically have more of a slant toward use in education environments than our full reviews.
On the next couple of pages, we provide links to those full reviews, and to the shorter overviews of each contained in this report.
I want to repeat something I touched on earlier: Projectors these days stay on the market for 2, 3 or even 4 years. As a result, we’ll also run through the award winning projectors from last year’s report that are still on the market as of this time.
We have included those previous winners of our Best In Classroom Awards in the last group of review links.
Again, if they were good enough to win a top award last year, or even the year before, they certainly are highly competitive this year.
Another section of this report discusses and addresses issues that impact beyond the individual classroom, such as operational costs and issues, from lamp, laser, and LED light sources, to air filters, to networking and advanced networking (including compatibility with automation schemes. such as Crestron).
3D – There was some hope several years back that 3D would sweep into school curriculums and become, if not widespread, at least popular for certain classes. Studies showed that 3D immersion in the classroom heightened student interest and attention.
Sadly, the practical side of 3D seems to have put the kibosh on any significant implementations. Things like the cost of 3D glasses, replacing lost or stolen ones (even though they are far more affordable than even two years ago), and the cost of sterilizing them – between usage by different students – seems to have spelled doom for any significant trend, even if 3D is likely to be successful in several vertical markets. Yes, 3D just might be handy in an architecture or engineering, or biochemical modeling class, though for K-12, it doesn’t seem that practical. There are plenty of projectors that can do 3D, for those that need it for their applications.
Click below to jump ahead to our lists of winners:
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