Projector Reviews

How We Selected Projectors For Our 2018-2019 Classroom Projector Report

Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s true that here at Projector Reviews, choosing the projectors to be included in the Best Education / Classroom Projector Report is really more Art than Science. – Art Feierman

There are primarily two reasons for that:

  • We can’t always obtain the models of projectors we’re interested in reviewing.
  • We are limited by the number of projector reviews our modest crew of three projector reviewers can handle. Of course, I’m one of those, and I have to run the company Projector Reviews Inc., as well as doing the reviews.
  • We have typically reviewed 30 – 40+ projectors a year since inception in 2000. In recent years, we’ve been averaging close to 40. Naturally, our mix of projectors includes models targeting business, education, houses of worship, large venue, home theater and home entertainment projectors.

Our Goal

Each year, our report’s objective is to include reviews of projectors that are, in one way or another, particularly suitable for some aspect of the education market.

In our normal published reviews, we do not specifically write for the education market or classroom use, although we comment on how each would perform in those settings.

Each projector brought in is reviewed for what it is, it may be ideal for education, not so hot for business, or it could be a projector that’s very good in different environments – such as a small fixed install / portable projector that might end up in a K-12 classroom, or being carried around by a sales person, from customer to customer.

In this report, however, we look at each projector from the perspective of how it fits into and education environment, be it classroom, or other uses, but ultimately of interest to educational institutions.

I do my best to be selective in choosing projectors. Most major manufacturers have between 20 and 75 business and education projectors in their lineup (many similar but with different resolutions or brightness). The largest collection, Epson, typically has 125-150 models, with more than half aimed at the education market.

Epson has the largest market share in the industry by far (over 50%), so it’s not shocking that Epson offers over 30 models under $1,000! No, you may be right, that can sound a bit crazy, but consider this: even more “impressive” is that they have at least ten different models selling to schools that are all within a $200 price range. The more projectors in a company’s line-up, the more likely one of those will be almost exactly what you are looking for. Still, most manufacturers offer plenty of selection to choose from.

I should also mention here (as elsewhere) that we don’t have good access to some companies. Hitachi is a good example of a company with a strong presence in education, but one that doesn’t reach out to us. I normally drop by at trade shows, but between them and us, there’s been no successful follow up. It’s been a few years since we obtained a review unit from them, but, we’d be happy to review more of theirs, if offered.

We really try to avoid reviewing a lot of “me too” projectors.

As with all projectors we review, we look first, for those we consider “a cut above.”

When talking to a manufacturer about bringing in a projector for review, we are selective. I’ll routinely pass over many possible projectors, and pick ones that I hope will prove superior at what they do. That’s also the reason why we rarely publish a “bad review.”

On occasion, we’ll even bring in projector only to be decidedly unimpressed, and therefore decide not to complete the review after a quick look. That happened twice in 2017, where the projectors were not worth the time and ink. With hundreds of projectors to choose from, we do try to avoid the weakest entries and most of the mediocrity. For that reason, we believe that most of the projectors in this report are overall, very good – top performers when viewed against the hundreds of models available.

Since our goal is less about determining if there’s one projector better than all others, and more about showing you a selection of excellent, but very diverse group of projectors, don’t expect to find a whole bunch of almost identical projectors – but from different brands – something that is very doable. Better to “introduce” you to a wide range of projectors than point your attention at one specific projector that may not suit your needs. Each year, we decide what each “class” of projectors is to include, so not every year is the same. Sometimes we’ll have enough interactive projectors to make it its own “class” but more typically, we’ll mix regular and interactive UST projectors together. One year, we might bring in more projectors that are portable, or near portable, the next year, it might be a focus on solid state projectors (this year we have combined and overlapped a bit. In addition to Standard and Large Venue, we have Interactive/UST combined, and also have 4K Capable Projectors as a separate, overlapping list.

Handling 4K content isn’t likely to ever be needed for quite some time for K-12, but there will be some higher education applications such as in engineering, art, architecture, scientific renderings, etc., where projectors such as the 4K UHD DLP projectors from Casio, Dell, and Optoma might be the best solution.

The Criteria - Timing

A key criteria that matters for our Education Projector Report is that the projectors we want to include in the report should all be available for purchase in the June-September timeframe by schools, when K-12 schools purchase most of their projectors. This year, all the entries will still be current products, at least until the end of the 2018 summer.

True, much of the higher education buying is during the same timeframe, but it seems less organized, less huge purchases, and they tend to happen more all year round, especially also in the Fall. Not all of these projectors may still be available when schools let out in May-June 2017, but most will.

Why Some Brands Are Missing

There are really just a couple of factors:

First is availability. There have been times we wanted to review a projector but due to timing, it doesn’t work out. This tends to happen because many new models don’t hit until early summer. But, we have to have our reviews finished by early April at the very latest, to be of best use to those responsible for determining the best projectors for their classrooms and other areas.

In the past few years, we’ve had InFocus, Casio, and others simply not have what we are looking for, available in time.

A couple of companies don’t offer review units.

The final, and often major factor, are the companies themselves. We’re a small shop with limited resources. Some manufacturers are constantly hounding us to review their projector models (that can change from year to year, as to who is). Other companies, I’ll run into at a trade show and say, we’d love to review one of these, get in touch with me… And I never hear from them. Poor communications from their PR companies (they often handle review projectors), or their product management, (sometimes due to turn over), results in no contact, no reviews.

For example, we have reviewed many InFocus projectors over the years, but then we lost contact with them. We got re-acquainted when an old InFocus product manager returned and started working with us again. We’re back in business, with two projectors in this year’s report.

This Year's Report - Who's In It, Who's Missing

Here’s the scoop for the current report: These nine projector manufacturers (up from 8 last year) are represented based on reviews performed in the past 12 months.

They are: Dell, Casio, Epson, InFocus, NEC, Optoma, Ricoh, Sony, and ViewSonic.

Let’s start with those projector manufacturers with at least one model in this year’s report:

Dell – It’s been years since we reviewed a Dell, but were very excited to get our hands on their 4K UHD laser projector. It’s an ultra-short throw, so the only projector of its type in this year’s report that combines 4K content capability, UST, and a solid state light engine. It’s also very bright, claiming 5,000 lumens.

Casio – We normally have one, sometimes two Casio’s in each year’s education report. After all, they are the largest seller of solid state projectors (not counting those tiny picos), as all of their projectors are solid state (a hybrid LED/laser combination).  Casio focuses a lot of energy on the education market, touting the solid state advantage over lamp based projectors for their long life and no required maintenance. Thanks to their hybrid engine, they offer solid state from under $600, while others start at around $2,000.

Epson – They are by far largest manufacturer in the industry and offer up far more different projectors. This year, however, they comprised 4 of the new projectors in the report. Epson has over 50% of the total North American market and the most extensive line up, in all categories, so one might ask why only four this year? Answer – it just worked out that way.

InFocus – We’ve got two interesting InFocus projectors in this report. This year, we ended up reviewing two InFocus models, both being portable/small fixed install. Their LightCast option makes things interesting. Basically, they are small projectors that are not bright enough for Higher-Ed, but fit nicely into K-12 classrooms.

NEC – This was another good year for NEC, with 2 models in this year’s report. NEC is one of those companies that does a great job of advising us of all new models, and “harassing” us to review them. Their persistent effort pays off. Very interesting projectors this year, suitable for large venues, including the largest university lecture halls.

Optoma – They are the number 2 bestselling brand in the US, (although only Epson has more than an 8% market share). This year, there are two Optima’s in this year’s report, up from only one last year. Both of this year’s entries are rather interesting, but very different.

Sony – Just one Sony this year, down from two. Last year, one of the Sony’s was the first affordable laser projector. It, too, will be mentioned as one of last year’s winners that is still actively available. This year’s entry is a pretty classic K-12 projector.

ViewSonic – Only one in this year’s report. ViewSonic happens to be a US company – that’s a rarity right there. Most years, we have one or two in the report. This year, just one fit our criteria. Typically, we’re reviewing their models that are most suitable for K-12 classrooms, but this year we chose to run with an affordable interactive, ultra-short throw model. They didn’t have anything new to review in the traditional small fixed install (aka “hang and bang”) projector category.

Notable projector manufacturer brands that aren’t represented in this year’s report:

Panasonic – We’ve had Panasonic projectors represented in this report in most years (and they’ve won a couple of key awards), but in the past couple of years, Panasonic hasn’t seemed to be interested in sending us any projectors. A couple years back I had requested their newest laser. Last year, at first, they said they would be shipping us one, but then – no laser projector. No one had reached out to contact me from Panasonic, until recently. We have one Panasonic inbound as I write this, but not in time for this year’s education report. Panasonic, by the way, was the early leader in laser projectors under $10,000, but there are plenty of competing Sony’s, Epson’s, Barco’s, and others these days.

Hitachi – Once again, having trouble obtaining review units. I believe my last contact is no longer involved with Hitachi. I spoke to someone at Infocomm a last year, but never heard back. I’ll be discussing review units with them at Infocomm again this June and hopefully will reconnect properly, as they are considered a major player in the K-12 space.

JVC – Easy, they basically make only make home theater projectors, and some ultra-expensive (6 figures) commercial projectors such as for movie theaters.

Vivitek – Nothing in this Education report, but we’re working well with them. We’ve been reviewing their home theater projectors. I expect we’ll have one or maybe two projectors in next year’s Education Projector Report

HP, Sanyo, Mitsubishi – Quitters! They are gone. They all quit the wonderful world of projectors (well, Sanyo’s gone from planet earth too, for that matter, even though their name survives in some industries, as all their divisions were bought almost a decade ago).

Independent Reviewers

My independent contractor reviewers are the ones that review almost all the projectors in our Education report. At most, I’m good for two to three reviews, as I handle all the home theater ones. Ron is a retired engineer; he’s reviewed dozens of projectors for us. Nikki has completed her 20th projector review (and has worked with me for almost two years). She also produces all our videos, as her background is video production. Reviewing projectors is “right up her alley.”

Lyle is our newest reviewer with four projectors he reviewed being included in this report. You’ll find his full reviews have a bit more of a classroom perspective, as Lyle taught K-12 for several years.

I normally handle all the interfacing with the manufacturers, except for a typical fact checking conversation between our reviewers and the manufacturer normally shortly before, or right after publication. As a result, our reviewers have little direct access, and therefore biases for any particular brand, (and also no axes to grind).

I rely on their reviews and additional feedback in determining the awards we hand out.  Okay, you have the gist of how it works here. This is our 10th annual Best Education Projectors Report (I figure we’re gotten pretty good at it by now.)

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