Posted on March 30, 2019 By Art Feierman and Nikki Kahl
It is projector selection time in the United States, and also many other countries, for K-12 schools who are looking for projectors for the 2019-2020 school year. By June, most will have selected the models of projectors and other technology. Bidding and general purchase is usually completed by the school year end in June. Most projectors will be installed in the summertime. Colleges and universities don’t work on as tight a schedule, but many of those schools may be buying around this time as well.
Like K-12, those universities, colleges and medical schools are also researching and shopping for the best performance and best value projectors, as well as projectors that meet specific requirements by having certain special features and capabilities.
And let’s not forget museums, which we also focus on in this report, as most are at least non-profits, and many are tied to public universities, (or even governments – consider the largest museum – by far – in the US – the Smithsonian, it is part of the US government).
Many projector manufacturers provide their education discounts and programs to many museums.
Our 2019-2020 school year Classroom Projectors Report looks at 20 new projectors launched in the past year and change. Those cover a wide selection of what is available, from the very inexpensive, value-oriented projectors, to those with advanced networking, and high-power projectors capable of handling large university classrooms and auditoriums. Most of these have families (or siblings) of similar projectors differing only in resolution, or perhaps brightness. Our largest specs spreadsheet shows not only the education projectors we reviewed, but each of their siblings as well, so you can find info on the version of the projector that best suits your requirements.
Editor’s Note: Projectors continue to improve, but many of the technologies are still maturing. As a result, projector manufacturers no longer replace most models every year. Many are now on the market for two or three years. Those lasting more than one year will typically have a price drop in the 2nd or 3rd year to keep them competitive.
For that reason: Those projectors from previous years education reports that received awards, and that still meet our requirements of remaining current models at least until the fall of 2019, have been integrated into this year’s report. We started doing that a couple of years back.
Some of the projectors we reviewed last year should certainly be considered excellent choices today, and several of our winners last year, count among the best selling projectors out there, especially to schools. Previous winners that are still current are featured in this report along with newer ones. You should consider them excellent projectors fully comparable to this year’s winners and equally worthy of consideration this year. Those that won an award last year are not eligible for a new award this year.
We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring this year’s Best Classroom Projectors report.
Our goal is to discuss a wide range of capabilities to help decision-makers understand the options, and choose wisely. Those decision-makers include IT and AV managers, tech coordinators, teachers/professors, as well as people on the business side, such as buyers. There probably close to 500 business and education projectors currently available in the US. Sounds like a lot, but consider that Epson alone has upward of 75 education and business projectors listed on their website (they have over 50% projector market share in North America per PMA – a leading AV research firm), and that’s roughly 7 times that of the next largest seller.
The projector competition out there includes many Fortune-sized companies, as well as many smaller ones. Some of the largest companies that are competing for market share include Sony, NEC, Optoma, BenQ, Casio, ViewSonic, LG, Panasonic, Canon, etc. We don’t count all those tiny pico projectors in our conversations.
Figure that likely more than half of all business or education projectors would have to be considered suitable or specifically targeted for some aspect of the Education Market.
That means no review site or other publication is capable of taking a close look – that is, review – all of those that are possible fits. Know that there are state and multi-state buying consortiums for many K-12 school districts and schools. Some of them do their own analysis of projectors. That may be a good resource for you.
We have a different purpose. Rather than categorizing hundreds of projectors and recommending many dozens, we’re trying to help you understand what good-to-great projectors that meet your needs might look like. Our winners reflect the most capable – for various reasons. Some will be ideal for your needs; others may overall be as good or better, but won’t be a good fit for your organization’s specific requirements.
The 2019-2020 Best Classroom Projectors Report covers 20 different projectors directly. The important thing to remember is that many of the projectors covered within, are part of large families of projectors with only minor variations. As a result, these 20 represent many series of projectors, with many of those projectors having 4-8 “siblings,” differing only in resolution, and perhaps brightness or networking abilities. The exceptions are UST and interactive projectors, where many companies only have a “series” of one to three related projectors.
For example, we may have reviewed and considered a particular WUXGA resolution projector in this report, but that manufacturer also offers an XGA, and WXGA version, and also a couple in the series that are brighter and cost more but otherwise almost identical. When it comes to those lower cost K-12 projectors, there might be slightly different versions – with and without networking.
As an example, consider a projector from a previous year – two years ago. It is pretty typical. The projector – the NEC NP-ME331W, is a WXGA projector with 3,300 lumens. But the ME series has 8 projectors – 4 are XGA, 4 are WXGA. They vary in some features, and in brightness. In other words, if the ME331W looks great to you, but you need an XGA because you are replacing a lower resolution 4:3 projector, then know that one of the other ME’s is probably the right one for you. If anything, that NEC series is unusual in that it only offers two resolutions, most offer three, four, or five, so some have even larger families.
Our largest spreadsheet of specs will show not only the 17 projectors but each of their sibling’s specs.
Ultra-short throw projectors, so far, are different than others, in that they typically have very small families. On occasion, it may be only a family of one. Or as in some cases, a manufacturer may have just one UST (ultra-short throw projector), and another similar one with interactivity added, for a series of two.
As a result, these fifteen projectors covered in this year’s Classroom Projectors Report represent more than 65 different models!
Often, schools will find the projector with the right feature set needed, and then choose the model with the preferred resolution, level of networking, brightness, etc.
It may well be that a school or system will buy several models in the same series. For example, some XGAs replacing older 4:3, some WXGAs, and perhaps a few WUXGA where higher resolution is needed, or perhaps a different WXGA with one or two differences, but in the same series.
Note that almost any projector these days with MHL support or wireless capabilities to work with tablets and phones has at least minimal interactivity. So, when I talk about serious interactivity, I’m talking pens, maybe finger-touch controls and more, not just control from apps.
Overall, the benefits of interactive projectors, which are typically ultra or very short throw projectors in schools, is that they can be mounted to the wall above the screen, rather than the ceiling. They are also so close to the screen that the intense projector light doesn’t get in the speaker’s eyes, so they are better positioned to not blind the teacher or student standing up by the screen.
This normally creates a less expensive, simpler installation, compared to mounting more traditional standard and short throw projectors. The other benefit to this is that it does not cast too much of a shadow on the projection surface.
Remember, this year’s report also contains previous winners of the Interactive or UST Projector category, and, of course, everything links back to our full reviews.
Again, this year, we address the advantages and disadvantages of lamp versus LED, Laser, and also hybrid projectors (LED/Laser such as the Casio line).
All of the projectors covered here are available at the time of this publication according to their manufacturers, and none are expected to be discontinued before September 30th 2019. They should all be available for schools to purchase in quantity for the upcoming K-12 school year. And, they should be around for the higher education purchasing season later summer and fall.
This year’s report includes plenty (11) high-brightness projectors suitable for those large university classrooms, (and also in K-12 auditoriums and multi-purpose rooms).
There are eight of the traditional small fixed install/portable projectors that work well in smaller classrooms.
Three of those projectors are listed in both K-12 and Higher Education sections – as they are capable for K-12 and also capable for small to medium higher education classrooms and labs.
This year we also have for the first time, a new category: Hi End and Specialty Higher Education Projectors. This is filled with extremely powerful projectors, and those especially suitable for applications such as in museums and digital signage at universities and colleges.
You will find five projectors in that group, including the least bright – a specialty projector from Epson with only 2000 lumens (many museum type applications), and a 15,000 lumen laser projector monster, the Epson L1755UNL!
If you are looking for full reviews of individual projectors, you won’t find them here. But, you will find links directly to each of the individual reviews of projectors covered in this report. The report itself contains short overviews of each and our conclusions about the projectors. Overviews, in some cases, will typically have more of a slant toward use in education environments than our full reviews.
On the next couple of pages, we provide links to those full reviews, and to the shorter overviews of each contained in this report.
I want to repeat something I touched on earlier: Projectors these days stay on the market for 2, 3 or even 4 years. As a result, we’ll also run through the award-winning projectors from last year’s report that are still on the market as of this time.
We have included those previous winners of our Best In Classroom Awards in the last group of review links.
Again, if they were good enough to win a top award last year, or even the year before, they certainly are highly competitive this year.
Another section of this report discusses and addresses issues that impact beyond the individual classroom, such as operational costs and issues, from lamp, laser, and LED light sources, to air filters, to networking and advanced networking (including compatibility with automation schemes. such as Crestron).
3D – There was some hope several years back that 3D would sweep into school curriculums and become, if not widespread, at least popular for certain classes. Studies showed that 3D immersion in the classroom heightened student interest and attention, two very desirable outcomes.
Unfortunately, the practical side of 3D seems to have relegated 3D to very few uses in the schools. Things like the cost of 3D glasses, replacing lost or stolen ones (even though they are far more affordable than even two years ago), and the cost of sterilizing them – between usage by different students – seems to have spelled doom for any significant trend, even if 3D is still likely to be successful in several school departments.
3D can be extremely beneficial in architecture, engineering (3D renderings), or biochemical and other science classes where modeling is useful. Also flight simulators,and K-12, it doesn’t seem that practical. That’s to name only a few. There are a sufficient number of projectors that are 3D capable, for those that need it for their applications.
Click below to jump ahead to our lists of winners:
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