2018-2019 Award Winners: Standard Classroom Projectors

Posted on April 16, 2018 by Art Feierman

Standard projectors have typically been the largest category of projectors suitable for K-12 school use. Although, as even the least expensive school projectors get brighter and brighter, year after year, even some very low cost projectors can now often be used in larger university classrooms and lecture halls. As a result, this year we have adapted our report to keep it realistic.

That is, for the first time, we are allowing the same projector, if suitably capable, to be considered in both Standard, and Large Venue Classes.

This year we only have six of these “Standard” projectors – those suited for K-12 classrooms, and similar spaces – of very differing abilities. Please note: Their families of projectors – similar models with different resolutions, and slightly varying feature sets, of these six projectors, likely number over forty total models. We try to mix up XGA, WXGA and even WUXGA projectors in this group when choosing projectors to review.

While the industry trend has been a shift to widescreen – WXGA, 1080p, or WUXGA, there are two key reasons XGA models still have large market share:

One: XGA projectors cost slightly less than WXGA.

Two (and the more important reason): Because many XGA resolution projectors are bought as replacements for older VGA, SVGA, and XGA projectors. That means a new XGA projector can utilize the same screen, and typically the same mount. Bottom line: Sticking to XGA may mean significant or even dramatic savings when replacing outdated projectors. If doing mass replacements across a school or school district, the savings can add up to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the extra expense being primarily labor and new screens.

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

Standard Classroom: Best Value Proposition - Sony VPL-EW435

Sony VPL-EW435
2018-2019 Best in Classroom Standard Projector Best Value

The Sony VPL-EW435 fits the bill as a value choice, despite not being the lowest price option out there, thanks to several key strengths. At 3,100 lumens claimed, it does color better than any of the DLP projectors we reviewed, or rather; some of those DLPs can also put up great color when they have to, but typically with brightness 40-60% below maximum brightness, far more of a drop than this Sony.

The EW435's Presentation mode with about 2,350 lumens is usable for most presentations. It has a bit too much green yellow push if you need great color, but even so, reds and yellows look pretty good – not the very dark reds and murky/mustardy yellows that most DLP's display in brightest modes. Drop down to Dynamic mode (over 2,100 lumens) and color improves significantly as far as the yellow green push going away. Still, the very best modes around 1,500 lumens or so have downright excellent color, slightly better than Dynamic. Very few educators will need to drop down below the 2,100+ lumen Dynamic mode for that slight additional improvement. That makes this projector a good deal brighter with good color then either InFocus projector considered.

Even the much-brighter-claiming Optoma W460 barely holds its own with a respectable Presentation mode that isn't quite as good (especially on reds and yellows) as the Sony's Dynamic mode, that's about 2,800 lumens or so, but to beat Dynamic at color, the Optoma drops down to about 1,900 lumens. The Optoma, which is a very nice projector in its own right, might have been a contender for this Award, but it just comes in at a price point that's too high to be considered a better value.

That's just the color/brightness part of the story.

This Sony offers advanced wired networking (although is not Crestron Roomview certified), and if desired, adding wireless uses a $79.99 list price module that plugs into one of the USB ports. It allows interfacing with four wireless devices at one time allowing up to four users to present at once, that is, having the content from four devices displaying in four quadrants of the image projected by the VPL-EW435. The Sony also has a built in media player. Having the player is a plus, although we would have liked to see a more capable one that can directly handle Microsoft office files without converting to still images. Sony's player is the traditional image type player, which works with jpegs and some additional formats.

Lamp life is excellent, claiming 4,000 hours at full power and 10,000 in Eco mode. Not the longest claims out there, but definitely a good bit better than most, for lower long term cost of operation. Nikki was also impressed with the 16 watt speaker, which she felt can handle medium and larger classrooms better than most of the competition.

True, placement flexibility isn't the greatest with a 1.3:1 zoom, while a 1.5:1, or 1.6:1 (about as much as any education projector would have), might just make a difference is certain installations, 1.3:1 should serve most organizations nicely.

To get into a lower price point that this VPL-EW435, typically one would most likely end up without wired networking, which more and more, is a demand item for schools.  Nicely done.

Standard Classroom: Best Value Replacement - Epson PowerLite 108

Epson PowerLite 108

The Epson PowerLite 108 is a "classic" Epson design that is very similar to others in its series, and also the 9x and 9xx series (including the PowerLite 990U, which also won an Award).

Epson's PL108 is loaded with everything from very good placement flexibility to advanced networking with Crestron RoomView support and more, plus plenty of brightness – claiming 3,700 white, and 3,700 color lumens, XGA resolution, and a very long lamp life (6000 hours at full power)!

The 16 watt speaker throws about as much sound into the room as you will find on almost any speaker system built into a projector, and it does it without sounding as tinny as some of the competition (still, no real bass of course!).

With both a good feature set and very good to excellent color, without losing too much brightness, the PowerLite 108 is well rounded and capable, and no doubt Epson will sell plenty of these into schools looking for new non-widescreen installations.

But I see the biggest value of the PowerLite 108 as an ideal replacement projector for older 4:3 projectors that were installed anytime from 2000-2013.

By comparison, the PL108 has networking which most of those earlier installations may lack. Since today's schools are mostly networked, tying projectors into the district network is something that wouldn't have been done half a decade ago or longer in many districts. So it's great that this projector offers full wired networking (including presenting over IP), so it can be added to the network, something the projectors it's replacing may not have been capable of.

Thanks to the zoom lens with lots of range and the 4:3 aspect ratio, this projector should be pretty much plug and play into any previous installation, still using the old ceiling mount (without having to move it, the old screen, etc., to keep installation costs down to a minimum).

After all, that's the primary reason for replacing a 4:3 aspect ratio projector with another. Switching to widescreen would require a new screen, and quite possibly, moving the projector installation to a different distance from the screen.

Standard Classroom: Best Performance - Epson Powerlite 990U

Powerlite 990 stock photo
2018-2019 Best in Classroom Standard Projector Best Performance

This Epson PowerLite 990U is another high performance education projector. We've had several previous winners in this class, from Epson's 9x series, and now the first 9xx Epson be featured in this report.

Let me start off to say this is one of the most expensive models K-12's might consider, because of its WUXGA (slightly higher than 1080p) resolution. K-12 mostly sticks to the lower WXGA resolution, but over time, schools, like businesses, move to higher resolutions, as the prices come down. Mind you, with Epson's published education program (Brighter Futures), schools that sign up can obtain this projector for only $825, and with that Epson provides a 3rd year of parts and labor warranty with rapid replacement program!

While still higher priced than a comparable WXGA projector, this price is not unreasonable at all for K-12 schools looking to buy a projector they won't have to replace for a decade or so.

Color is, as typical of Epson and most 3LCD projectors, from good to excellent depending on modes. Even the brightest mode – Dynamic, offers color better than some other projectors putting out half the brightness of the 990U. Presentation mode, the second brightest, should be fine for all classroom work that doesn't require extremely accurate color, just "really good" color.

As is the case with all Epson 9x and 9xx series projectors, advanced networking is built in, including support for Crestron RoomView and other protocols. With that, you get a whole host of advanced networking features like push notifications, presenting over IP, and plenty more.

Need wireless? Epson's usual $99 wireless LAN dongle plugs in. Split screen, sharing content from 50 computers, all in a day's work.

Brightness is also not an issue. 3,700+ measured lumens in its brightest mode, where color wasn't great, but usable when there's just too much ambient light. The PowerLite 990U's strength is Presentation mode, which combines just a few lumens more than 3,000 with some pretty impressive color. Add it all up – the higher resolution, bright with really good color, one of the best warranty/replacement programs in the industry – and you've got quite the winner.

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Previous Winners in the Standard Projector Class

Best Value Standard:


3LCD, WXGA, Networking, Lamp

Best Performance Standard:
Casio XJ-F210WN

Casio XJ-F210WN Projector

DLP, WXGA, Networking, LED/Laser

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