2018-2019 Award Winners: Large Venue Projectors for the Classroom

Posted on April 16, 2018 by Art Feierman

Larger Venue projectors are a key part of the overall education projector market. Look for them in those large and largest college/university classroom/lecture halls and labs, and even affiliated museums. But these more powerful projectors, although unlikely to be used in K-12 classrooms, may end up in K-12 school auditoriums or large multi-purpose spaces.

Lower powered, and often less featured education projectors, typically can’t handle the job in those really large classrooms and K-12 auditoriums. But, all of these can. Winners in this Class should have no problem handling a typical university classroom or lecture hall with a hundred, even two hundred, with the brightest of them tackling four hundred seat lecture halls as well. We assume, of course, that the rooms have some reasonable control over ambient lighting.

Until recently, most sufficiently high-powered projectors were also extremely expensive and incredibly capable, featuring expensive interchangeable lenses, and often other features. This year, we’ve seen more segregation in the market. The high-priced, feature laden projectors are still the majority, but companies are bringing out more high-power projectors that are leaving out expensive features such as interchangeable lenses, lens shift, edge blending, etc., and other such features that aren’t needed in most large classrooms. True, though, that some of those large rooms are best served by mounting projectors where a standard zoom lens my not be practical, so that's when you need a projector with multiple lens options.

This group of five projectors, including one that is also in the Standard Class, is a mix of projectors with and without interchangeable lenses. This year, more we have two solid state projectors in the mix – the Casio XJ-L8300HN, and the Optoma UHZ60 (a 4K UHD resolution). Three of these projectors are WUXGA – 1920x1080. True, all of them have "siblings" with different resolutions, including lower cost WXGA models. Not every university and college classroom needs WUXGA, especially if budgets are tight.

Two of our entries are 4K UHD models: The Casio and Optoma. Two differences of note between those: The Casio claims 5,000 lumens vs the Optoma's 3,000, and that the Casio's light engine is a hybrid LED/Laser phosphor, while the Optoma is the more traditional laser phosphor type. I should mention that there's a third laser projector in this report – the Dell S718QL, and it's even 4K UHD as well (and 5,000 lumens), but it is an ultra-short design, so more directly "competes" with other UST projectors.

Normally, I wouldn't drop a 3,000 lumen projector into the larger venue class, however, because of the laser engine; it will hold its brightness with little loss for years, not months. Also "all else being equal," laser light engine projectors seem to have more punch than lamp based projectors with the same lumen counts. They seem brighter. I am thinking that, so far, there isn't that much demand for 4K UHD projectors in higher education. The exceptions are most likely to be in the sciences, engineering, architecture, and some other majors where either resolution or overall picture quality demands are higher than most, such as film. As a result, I suspect that the demand for 4K UHD (which of course is not native 4K) might be more limited into smaller, advanced classes, where the Optoma can get the job done.

If you do not need WUXGA or 4K UHD, consider that the feature sets between a WUXGA projector and a WXGA projector from the same series are typically almost identical. Our comments and our Awards would hold true if, instead, we had reviewed a different projector in the same family. That is, of course, one assumes that pricing will also be relatively consistent. Virtually any series (other than UST types) that offers a WUXGA projector will have a WXGA version.

If you need lens options for your installation, in this year's batch only one – the NEC PA653UL, and that's also why it’s an especially expensive model.

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

Large Venue: Best Value Proposition - NEC NP-P474U

NEC NP-P474U Front Angled
2018-2019 Best in Classroom Large Venue Projector Best Value

Selecting the NP-P474U as a great value projector wasn't too difficult. First of all, it's got the brightness, combined with very good color, for all but the largest education classrooms that you will find at your favorite public or private university. With typical good lecture hall lighting control, this projector should be able to handle a 150" diagonal screen, while the room remains reasonably bright.

Nikki, when reviewing the P474U, was also impressed with the amount of placement flexibility provided for a projector that does not offer interchangeable lenses. There's plenty of lens shift and a 1.6:1 zoom, and of course, lots of keystone correction.

The back panel of this NEC projector is just dripping in connectors. HDMIs, LAN networking, with Crestron RoomView support, and HDBaseT for running HDMI and command and control over long distances of wire at low cost. There's a powerful 20 watt speaker, but also variable audio out, plenty more, too.

About the only thing that's missing is wireless networking, but that's because NEC, like Epson and a couple of others, now offer wireless in a dongle that plugs usually into a USB port. That way, it's relatively inexpensive and can be upgraded easily as wireless standards improve.

The device to do that is NEC’s Multi-Presenter Stick, which allows up to 16 devices to connect simultaneously. Educators can get special pricing through NEC’s discount program, called Star Students. NEC, like Epson and few others, publishes an education pricing schedule. The program discounts the NEC NP-P474U to $1,539 from $1,849. A pretty comprehensive feature set, bright with good color, plus the excellent 3-year parts and labor warranty with InstaCare (their replacement program), makes the projector a higher education Best In Classroom – Best Value winner.

Large Venue: Best Performance - NEC NP-PA653UL

2018-2019 Best in Classroom Large Venue Projector Best Performance

This isn't the first time that a company has won both our Performance and Best Value award in a category, so you shouldn't be surprised. Consider this NP-PA653UL; it's a magnitude beyond the much lower cost P474U, and for good reason. Sporting a list price of $7,779, that's more than four times the price of our Best Value Winner. For that, you get a long-life laser light engine, plenty of lumens – 6,500 capable of almost anything a university can through at a projector in a proper large lecture hall, especially since laser projectors inherently seem brighter, and slowly lose brightness over years, not months, with lamp based projectors.

This projector is that next step above WUXGA – it's a WUXGA pixel shifter, for improved detail and perceived sharpness (it makes a difference). And for mostly future requirements, since you have to figure a 10 year or so life expectancy in a university environment – it processes 4K content.

The combination of 4K content with a good WUXGA pixel shifter gets you part way to the sharpness of a true native 4K projector, and a small fraction of the price. Consider that Sony's 5,000 lumen, true laser 4K projector, is $60,000.

Interchangeable lenses cover the spectrum. Add in a healthy amount of lens shift (and keystone correction), and there are few installations it can't handle.

The PA653UL sports advanced networking including Crestron RoomView support, so you get all the feature trimmings like push notifications, presenting over IP, and more.  HDBaseT simplifies wiring into a network far, far, away (in the building).

For the largest displays, this NEC is equipped to do Edge Blending and Projection Mapping, with multiple projectors creating a single large image, each handling one part of the screen, with no visible seam, and consistent color, brightness, etc., so you can't tell it's multiple projectors. That might be good for a museum display that's 10 feet tall and 30 feet long.

Of course, all of the above isn't worth much if the picture isn't up to snuff. As you would expect, there are multiple modes, but it boils down to this: If you need brightest mode, that's almost 6,200 lumens, and with surprisingly good color for a brightest mode, and the next mode down, Presentation, still puts 5,795 lumens on the screen.  Its best picture/color modes both produce about 4,600, while an sRGB mode does almost 5,000 lumens. I should mention there is a DICOM SIM mode for projecting medical images such as MRIs CT scans, etc. Nikki reported that overall, color from this projector was highly competitive.

On the small feature set side, there's an on board media player – one that handles 4K content. Impressive! The PA653UL seems to serve up almost everything you could want.

The NP-PA653UL is a lot of projector for its price point, and performance. Of course, if you need one of the longer or shorter throw lenses, that will run up the price, but that's true for all setups that can't get by with a "standard zoom" lens. Our Best In Classroom Performance Award is well deserved.

Previous Winners in the Large Venue Projector Class

Best Value Large Venue:
Epson PowerLite 2265U

Epson Powerlite 2265U glamor pic

3LCD, WUXGA, Networking, Lamp

Best Value Large Venue:
Epson G7905


3LCD, WUXGA, Networking, Lamp, Interchangeable Lenses

Best Value Large Venue:


3LCD, WXGA, Networking, Laser

Best Performance Large Venue:
Sony VPL-PHZ10

VPL-PHZ10 laser projector

3LCD, WUXGA, Networking, Laser

Best Performance Large Venue:
Panasonic PT-RZ670U


3LCD, WUXGA, Networking, Laser

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