Posted on April 16, 2018 By Art Feierman and Nikki Kahl
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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.
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.
As long as the sunlight (should you have to deal with uncovered windows) hits elsewhere in the room, most of today’s projectors (except pico and pocket LED projectors) are should be bright enough to do the job.
There are fifteen projectors in this year’s report, the least bright claims 3,000 lumens! Figure most 3,500 to 4,500 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 of lights.
That’s for typical K-12 classrooms and small university ones. When you move up to larger higher education classrooms – those lecture halls – with 100 to 400 students, brighter projectors are called for, but not all that brighter. A top rated 4,000 lumen projector with high color lumen output should be enough for that typical lecture hall, but in the largest, 5,000 to 8,000 lumens might be nice. In this report, we’ll refer to the brighter more capable ones typically with one or more of these terms: larger venue or large venue projectors, or even higher education projectors.
I repeat this every year: Basically, 10-15 years ago the phrase most commonly associated with 2,000 lumen projectors was “auditorium projector.” Now, the term for 2,000 lumens might just be “below entry level” in terms of brightness, with only LED pocket and pico projectors claiming less (a lightweight 2,000 lumen projector back in 2001 would be 35 to 50 pounds. Today, a lightweight 3,000 lumen projector might be 3.5 pounds.
Regardless of how you look at it, brighter is better, just don’t put a lot of faith in expecting to go from a 2,500 to 3,200 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 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 3/4 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 now $49, a lamp for certain Epson projectors (last year it was $79!). Today, the typical life is 2,500 hours to 4,000 hours at full power, and 4,000 hours to 8,000 hours in eco (the lower lamp hour claims tend to be for lamps for bright, large venue projectors, but also in some portables). With most under $1,000 projectors, expect lamp prices to range from that rock bottom $49 to between $99 and $199. Of course, there are exceptions.
In the long run – several years – you might have to buy a second 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. That said, few teachers will use their projector heavily enough to require a lamp change in the first 2-3 years.
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.
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 whiteboards. 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 whiteboards, because those screens are engineered not to have a giant “hot spot” in the middle, typical of whiteboards.
Teaching/Presenting Without Getting Blinded
Ceiling mounting won’t prevent you from being dazzled by the projector, at least 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 also 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 fingertip. Being 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. 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 has 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 (.i.e. the corners, vs. the center).
(Note: Above image provided courtesy of Epson America.)
There’s networking (a bunch of business people schmoozing over drinks), and digital networking. We’re discussing the latter.
Now, in 2018, it would be surprising to find any school in the US that isn’t running a network. But, are all or most of the projectors tied in? Perhaps, perhaps not. The trend is definitely more projectors being tied in to school and district networks. It helps that we now see networking capabilities on many of the projectors in the $500 – $1,000 range. That wasn’t the case 3-4 years ago.
Universities and colleges are probably way ahead of K-12 in tying their projectors into their networks, and so enjoy the many benefits. If projectors are to be tied into a network, and the projectors support advanced networking (like Crestron), it will allow your school or district to be 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, and 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, and also scheduling. Consider, the team at the district location can tell 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.
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 and 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, ultra-short throws and interactive projectors will still save installation money, but likely not as much.
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.)
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 infrequent 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”?).
When looking at projectors with filters, you should be asking what to expect before a filter cleaning or change is needed. Many companies won’t quote a spec for that on their data sheets, and many simply tell you when they need a filter change (via advanced networking). That makes sense because some rooms are dustier than others and might need a more frequent cleaning or changing of a filter.
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.
Fortunately, today’s projectors are almost all designed to allow a lamp change (or filter cleaning/change) without having to unmount the projector.
Interactive projectors are powerful tools! Still pricey but getting better!
Many, if not most projectors today, offer at least some interactive features. That’s the case when used with apps on phones and tablets, via wireless networking. But, for our conversation here, were talking advanced interactivity, using either pens, or finger touch control. Most allow multiple users to work on the whiteboard at the same time.
For those familiar with SmartBoards (interactive white boards in the classroom), but not interactive projectors, today’s best interactive projectors can accomplish as much and 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 17+ years ago.
In recent years, the Epson BrightLink Pro 1430 (targeting business) and similar BrightLink 595Wi were the most impressive. This year, Epson’s BrightLink 710Ui – a laser powered UST interactive projector, tops the list, but there are many projectors with good interactive feature sets out there. In this year’s report, we also feature a ViewSonic and a Ricoh interactive projector. Two more UST projectors in this report (an Epson and the Dell laser projector), only offer interactivity via apps and networking. No pens or finger touch – so definitely not apples to apples!
Prices today of 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, which is why I mentioned them. By the time you get up to using interactive projectors with 90 inch to 100 inch whiteboards, they tend to cost drastically less than the alternatives.
Some of today’s interactive projectors can even record an entire presentation, such as the BrightLink 710Ui, 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?
4K UHD and 4K capable pixel shifters are most suitable for the higher education market, as they tend to be even more expensive than those interactive projectors. For example, the Casio XJ-L8300HN featured in this report has 4K UHD resolution (3840×2160) and costs $12,000! Yikes! It is an impressively sharp laser projector intended for use in a university lecture hall, auditorium, etc., and definitely not for the K-12 crowd.
There are three other 4K capable projectors in this report: the 4K UHD Optoma UHZ65, the ultra-short throw, 4K UHD Dell S718QL, and the NEC NP-PA653UL, which is a WUXGA (1920×1200) pixel shifter. That means that it has a native resolution of 1920 by 1200 pixels, then “pixel shifts” by taking that same 1920×1200 image and shifting it upward, diagonally, to overlap these pixels, creating an inherently sharper image. Both of these projectors are several thousands of dollars more than some of the most expensive interactive projectors out there.
So what are these projectors best used for? They’re used for applications that require a high resolution and stellar sharpness. Such applications might include architectural designs, engineering schematics and renderings, or graphic designs. For your typical K-12 classroom needs, WUXGA, WXGA, and, for those replacing XGA projectors, these lower resolutions will be just fine.
But do we really need 4K content, and projectors that can project that data?
Mostly the answer is no. But, even when we’re talking the types of content – medical films, displaying scientific data, etc., how does that help?
Having higher resolution (data and a device to display it), is only valuable if those viewing the presentation of the data, can see the difference compared to lower resolution data, and displays.
In other words, having a 4K capable projector, and 4K data, isn’t going to do anything for the student sitting 16 rows back from a 120″ screen in a lecture hall. But someone sitting in the first couple of rows will be able to see more detail, than with lower res content and display.
So, moving to 4K content – and 4K displays may not be a good use of money and resources, in many cases, where rooms are larger, and even in smaller ones.
4K content, with the various display resolution options (1080p pixel shifting x 2, x 4, 2716x1528x2, and 3840×2400 x1 (true 4K), will not provide additional benefit in those larger spaces, but will be viable in smaller rooms, huddle spaces, rooms where everyone sits around the display, rather than theater type seating.
Cost is a factor, of course. Reasonable cost is the big strength of WUXGA pixel shifters and the 4K UHD projectors – they don’t cost dramatically more than standard WUXGA, but provide improved detail and sharpness, when fed 4K content. Rationalizing a true 4K projector, on the other hand, means considering projectors costing at least double – but typically several times the price of these other options.
Bottom line: having 4K content, and a display that can show it (show it better than a simple WUXGA projector can), only makes sense when those viewing are close enough to see the differences, but also, with that in mind, future compatibility. If a projector is expected to be used in that environment for say 10 years, by then 4K content may well be considered “entry level” by then.
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 have published a blog on Equivalent Visibility, based upon a white paper released within the last couple of years. 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.
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 than 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 2018, 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!
More capabilities at lower prices. Consider:
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.
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). Sadly, too many companies are cheap. The number of such videos that we offer is limited, You might want 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. There is also a video on the importance of Color Lumens.
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