Projector Reviews

Projectors Considered: Standard Classroom Projectors

This group of projectors includes six relatively small, fixed install / portable projectors that represent the “standard” type of projector that gets installed in today’s K-12 classrooms and some small college classrooms as well (and conference rooms in the business world). Some are small and light enough to be good portable solutions if needed, others are a bit bigger/heavier, making them someone mobile (anything under 10 pounds we consider to be at least somewhat portable).

This year’s collection of six “standard” projectors truly are traditional projectors. In some years we have a “pocket” projector, or two, in the report, mostly because we know there are a few environments where a teacher may be traveling from school to school, and needs something really small and light, and often something that can run a couple of hours on batteries. This year, though, none of those made it into this report. So, call these traditional or standard K-12 projectors. All six, therefore are lamp based projectors, although in the past we’ve had Casio’s which use LED/Laser hybrid light engines, in this class of projector. This year, however, the only Casio competes in the Higher Ed/Large Venue “Class.”

The projectors are presented here in alphabetical order.

Standard Classroom Projectors Considered

Projector Model

Overview

Review

Specs

Epson Powerlite 990U

Epson PowerLite 990U

3LCD, WUXGA, Networking, Lamp

Epson PowerLite 108

Epson PowerLite 108

3LCD, XGA, Networking, Lamp, Great for replacing older projectors

InFocus IN116xa

InFocus-IN116xa-Series-Hero

DLP, WXGA, Lamp, many legacy inputs

InFocus IN2128HDx

InFocus IN2128HDx

DLP, 1080p, Networking, Portable

Optoma W460

Optoma W460

DLP, WXGA, Networking, Lamp, Wireless

Sony VPL-EW435

Sony VPL-EW435

3LCD, WXGA, Networking, Lamp

Epson PowerLite 990U

Epson PowerLite 108

Epson’s PowerLite 990U is one of our Award winners in this report, so I’ll keep this paragraph short, since there’s far more info on the description found on the page describing the winners.

Thanks to its 3LCD design, this WUXGA Epson puts a whole lot of very good quality color (and sharpness) on the screen, thanks to 3,800 white and 3,800 color lumens. It’s loaded with features, has a great warranty for educators, and overall is powerful enough to be considered viable not just for K-12, but also many higher education classrooms – just not the biggest. It also offers an exceptional amount of lamp life, and the lowest cost lamp replacements ($49), in order to provide a very low total cost of operation for a WUXGA projector!

Epson PowerLite 108

Epson PowerLite 108

The Epson PowerLite 108 serves two education markets very nicely. It’s a full featured projector with XGA (1024×768) resolution, once the highest res found in K-12. Today, though, wide screen projectors (WXGA) have become more popular. Still, there’s demand for a highly capable XGA projector for those schools where they still wish to go 4:3 aspect ratio. No doubt plenty of new installations still go this way, as XGA is still slightly less expensive – do you go XGA to buy 6 projectors for six rooms, for example, when going WXGA projectors for the same budget would only allow purchase of 5, for 5 classrooms?

But, I suspect that the larger market for projectors like the PowerLite 108 is the replacement market. The vast majority of projectors installed into school classrooms from pre-2000 until, say, 2010, were 4:3 aspect ratio, mostly VGA and SVGA, but also XGA. Those aging projectors are mostly long overdue for replacement. Consider that most of those got only 500-1,500 hours off a lamp at full power, and lamps cost several hundred dollars. This PowerLite 108 has 5,000 hours claimed at full power, it’s far, far brighter, has way more features (including networking which was lacking on most projectors back then), the list goes on.

But what really makes a great replacement projector is being able to replace its predecessor, with minimal extra expense! 

Because this PowerLite 108 has lots of zoom lens range (1.6:1), plenty of keystone correction, and more importantly because it is 4:3 aspect ratio, it can usually just replace the older projector using the same mount, the same distance from the same old screen. Switch to WXGA, and a new screen is needed, and quite possibly moving the ceiling mount and wires.

So, here’s the PowerLite 108, loaded with everything and more, than those it will replace. While schools were rarely networking projectors a decade or more ago, now most do, so it makes sense to replace older projectors with those that offer full, advanced networking capabilities like this Epson does. More about the PL108 on the winners’ page, as this Epson also picked up an award.

InFocus IN116xa

InFocus-IN116xa-Series-Hero

The InFocus IN116xa is one of the two most portable projectors we’ve looked at, weighing in at 5.5 pounds. It should serve as either a fixed installation projector, or a portable suitable for placement on a rolling AV cart, or even carried from classroom to classroom, or school to school.

A key feature is its rock bottom price point – only $425 list, so for schools, with additional discounts, this is about as inexpensive as a WXGA resolution projector will get.

This InFocus model supports the latest version of InFocus’ LightShow, the 4 DB+. Use this external wireless device and its dongle to add wireless capabilities, including presenting over wireless network, support for mobile devices, and ability to share content from up to four devices on the screen at once, in different windows (and more). On the downside, while LightShow can be shared, it costs as much as the projector itself – with a $449 list price. The feature set becomes greatly enhanced, but the total cost now exceeds similar capabilities from other projectors that don’t need an expensive external device to add those features.

If a lot of brightness is needed, you might want to take a closer look at the IN116xa (or its siblings).

It more resembles a true portable, in that like most of those, it lacks wired networking. Also, its speaker, which for its relatively limited 3 watt output does pretty well, but still isn’t as capable of filling a room as many of the other projectors covered in this report, having 10 or more watts, or even dual speaker systems. InFocus offers their very interesting.

Hindering the IN116XA as a competitor in this report was its overall brightness combined with good color. Like almost any DLP that doesn’t use an RGBRGB color wheel (which is almost every  DLP sold for business or education use), it has relatively low color lumen output, so that to get some really good color, measured output is less than half of maximum. This InFocus, and the one immediately below, produced by far the least brightness with good color. For K-12 rooms with good lighting control, however, and where networking isn’t needed, the rock bottom price might make this a real winner.

InFocus IN2128HDx

InFocus IN2128HDx

The IN2128HDx is a mostly different animal than the IN116xa covered in the paragraphs above. But, let’s start with the similarities. The IN2128HDx is small and light enough to serve as a portable projector. In fact, despite the more powerful 10 watt speaker that does sound a good bit better and louder, the IN2128HDx weighs just over 5 pounds, which is a little less than the other InFocus.

The IN2128HDx has wired networking that the other InFocus lacks, a real plus for most schools and districts today. The real story though, that explains the pretty high pricing, is that this is a WUXGA, one of two in this K-12 “Class” (the other being the Epson 990U).

It wouldn’t be fair to not mention the InFocus LightCast as an option for this projector. LightCast is another product, in some ways similar to their Light Show, but is a dongle that plugs into the IN2128HDx.

InFocus’s LightCast option adds some impressive capabilities, including interactive features and a web browser, not to mention compatibility with Miracast and Apple Play, which makes the projector a lot more interesting and capable. But keep in mind that the LightCast sells for about half that of this projector itself, with street pricing over $200, so, one needs to look at the IN2128HDx + LightCast, as a more expensive projector system, although since the IN2128HDx is already pretty expensive, the extra cost might not be a deal breaker. On the other hand, it is a pricey add-on to some of the lower resolution models in this series.

Feature wise, the IN2128HDx looked very promising, and overall, but for one critical area, it measured up as a very viable and competitive product. When it came to awards, however, this was the deal breaker: Brightness with good color.

We expect single chip DLP projectors to have to sacrifice a higher percent of measured brightness to get good color (compared to 3LCD), so no surprise about that. But the IN2128HDx also measured poorly. It measured lower than the InFocus IN116xa, which is 500 lumens less bright. With a claim of 4,000 lumens, our results came up with the projector’s modes with good color producing less than 1,000 lumens, even if it measured about 2,700 lumens in its brightest mode, which (like almost every projector) has expectedly poor color.

I will note that there is the possibility that the lamp or the projector itself was in part defective. I have spoken with InFocus’s projector product manager, who is going to have their engineers take a close look at this projector when it returns home to them.

This was one of the last two projectors we managed to review before the report was closed to additional reviews. I will update as needed if they find a serious problem with this specific unit, and in that case, we’d bring in another to re-measure, and update as needed.

Overall, the feature set is a good one, so, for example if another one of these IN2128’s arrived and was measuring, say, 1,500 lumens in a best mode, that would change our opinion a good bit.

Previous Winners in the Standard Projector Class

Best Value Standard:
NEC ME331W

nec-me331w

3LCD, WXGA, Networking, Lamp

Best Performance Standard:
Casio XJ-F210WN

Casio XJ-F210WN Projector

3LCD, WXGA, Networking, LED/Laser