2019-2020 Award Winners: High End and Specialty Projectors for Higher Education

This High End, Specialty, Large Venue category is a new one for our Education Projector report  Going forward, it will be expanded to include more full-featured “commercial” projectors, typically ones with interchangeable lens systems), and advanced networking. In addition, expect some lower powered specialty projectors such as this year’s EV105 by Epson, or other relatively uniquely purposed projectors that will find uses in education-oriented institutions.  Most, though, will be more mainstream projectors, and almost exclusively laser projectors typically starting upward of 6000 lumens.

Since four of the projectors are inherently similar, I managed two awards out of the four. The remaining projector – Epson’s Lightscene, is not a product without its own direct competition. Panasonic and others are offering projectors designed for similar spaces. But we haven’t reviewed any others yet.  Without competition, I felt that the Epson’s abilities are still impressive so gave it a Special Interest award, which is not a competition award, rather it is a “worthy” award.

It was a tough call choosing between the Optoma, Panasonic and Sony projectors – all between 5100 and 6500 lumens with interchangeable lenses, and pretty similar feature sets.  Nikki reviewed all three of those so after discussing with her, which of the three most deserved our Price/Performance award, I agreed to her choice of the Sony, so I also asked her to do the write-up (below) on why she chose the Sony.

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

High End and Specialty Projectors for Higher Education: Best Performance - Epson Powerlite L1755UNL

Powerlite 1755UNL commercial projector
The Epson L1755UNL is a beast! 15,000 lumens, WUXGA native res, interchangeable lenses, and basically dripping in features and capabilities
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In this year’s education report, Epson’s Pro L1755UNL commercial laser projector is the “beast” of our education projector field. This Epson claims 15,000 lumens, WUXGA native resolution, plus pixel shifting and support for 4K content. No, this is not a super duper bright home theater projector – the 4K capabilities do not include HDR, or BT.2020/P3 color, as a serious 4K oriented home projector will, but at this time there isn’t a whole lot of demand for HDR and P3 for commercial applications.

The L1755UNL is so bright it isn’t likely to show up in any but the very largest and brightest campus lecture halls – it is even too much projector, probably, for most such rooms with 100-200 student capacity. With 15K lumens under the hood, this Epson is more of a projector for medium and large auditoriums, giant screens in the largest multi-room hotel ballroom setups (for 1000 people plus), rock concerts, and big digital signage.

There is, however one very specific area “on campus” for this beast: Museums. Museums, and other displays, are a big part of things on many campuses. Most major museums in the US, at least, are affiliated with either large educational institutions or, like our Smithsonian Institute (the US’s largest museum by far), government controlled. Because of the close affinity between universities and museums, it is no surprise that many, if not most, manufacturers grant most museums the same education discounts offered to K-12 and universities for their classrooms.

Back to the L1755UNL. It can be ordered with a standard “mid-zoom” lens (one of three mid-zooms out of 9 total lenses available). While Phil, our high end expert and A/V engineer, is the reviewer for the L1755UNL, I managed to use it at my home for my 25th annual Superbowl party (2019, of course), in a ridiculously bright room, even if only on a small 100” screen. I mention this experience because of the lens I used, which is their ultra short throw lens. It allowed the front of the projector to be only about 30 inches from my 100” Screen Innovations ALR type screen designed specifically for ultra short throw projectors.

The package worked. It was touch and go, my room was so bright – especially late in the game when the sun was low and lit up the wall facing the screen with sunlight (ouch).  Phil commented, I should note, that this projector is so bright that in normally lit room it seems like  a bigger LCD TV and a much brighter one too. I agree. There’s plenty of light for education and commercial uses as well, naturally. The picture on the screen, even with all the light, was gorgeous. Our 30 guests were impressed, and most are regulars to our Superbowl parties.

The rest of the Pro L1755UNL’s story is that it comes loaded with features and abilities. There is only one standard HDMI which is odd, but the L1755UNL also has HDBaseT as their second HDMI (and long distance networking solution). There is also a (now old) DVI-D, which should be compatible with non-copy protected older HDMI devices (typical of commercial applications).

Add to that optional wireless networking and full advanced networking support including Crestron and Control4. Both of those (especially Crestron) provide many “advanced” networking capabilities including monitoring a fleet of projectors, pushing notifications, scheduling, presenting over IP (over the network), and plenty more skills.

One very noteworthy advantage of the L1755UNL compared to a number of similarly bright competitors – this 15,000 lumen projector will work with 110-120 volt power. Many competitors this bright need a 220-240 volt line, and that can be a deal breaker, or at least a major extra expense for many installations.

In terms of the education market, I see this L1755UNL as primarily used in museums (or similar) and also auditorium use on campus, but some will end up in the largest of lecture halls. As we didn’t have any other similarly bright (or brighter projectors to compare it against), it had no trouble winning our Best Performance award for our High-End, Specialty, Large Venue education projector category!

Bottom Line: All considered, the $33K price tag makes this a rather aggressively priced high power projector, considering it is 4K capable but not native 4K. Now, if you need native 4K… The best known powerful native 4K projector most of us are familiar with, is Sony’s VPL-VW5000ES, an even bigger beast – physically, but only 5000 lumens for $60,000. True, the Sony is ultimately sharper, but three times the brightness for half the price, makes this Epson a “steal.” If supporting 4K, but not having true native 4K is acceptable, then the Pro L1755UNL starts looking like a real bargain. The excellent color, evenness of illumination, the feature set, and full complement of lenses, including the ultra short thow lens makes the Epson L1755UNL one of the most capable projectors around, when real “horsepower” and picture quality are demanded.

Important to note – Epson does not publish their education pricing for their highest end projectors including this one. Instead, contact Epson or one of their authorized dealers. I can say that Epson offers their next most expensive laser projector, the L1505 with its $21,999 list price, for a one off education price of $13,499, almost 40% off! If the L1755UNL has similar discounts, that would bring one of these down to around $20K. Now, that is a deal!

High End and Specialty Projectors for Higher Education: Best Value - Sony VPL-FHZ61

Sony VPL-FHZ61 Front
Sony's feature laden FHZ61 laser projector is available in black or white finish. 5100 lumens, WUXGA
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The Sony VPL-FHZ61 is our award winner for Best Price/Performance in the Higher-End, Higher Education and Specialty Projectors category. This is a new category we added this year for the report. Though all of the projectors included in this class are excellent in their own way, the one that really stood out to me among the others is the FHZ61 for its superb color and black level performance.

Though it has the least-bright claim of the three I reviewed for this category at 5,100 lumens, its 3LCD technology (with as many color lumens and it has white ones) combined with its laser light engine, make this projector plenty bright for a variety of large venue applications. Lecture halls, museums, auditoriums, multi-purpose rooms, and large classroom for higher education purposes will all be suitable for this projector.

It did not meet its claim, which is pretty much typical of projectors, but it did come in at 4,325 lumens in Brightness Priority Mode. That’s when measured at mid-zoom, too, which is our normal way of measuring brightness claim – so figure another couple hundred lumens when measured at full wide angle. On the Performance Page of my review, you can see the Sony projecting in a fully darkened room and in the face of some pretty serious ambient light. Those photos were taking in the projector’s best mode, which has less lumens than Brightness Priority, and it performed admirably.

The Sony VPL-FHZ61 has some of the best color I’ve ever seen on an education projector, and absolutely the best black levels. We’re talking darker blacks than on most home entertainment projector, and even some projectors dedicated for home theater. Sony really outdid themselves with the VPL-FHZ61 – they added many of the features you see on their projector models intended for the home.

Reality Creation, one of those features, uses a pattern-matching database to optimize each pixel, so you can be sure that you are getting the absolute sharpest image the projector is capable of producing. Contrast Enhancer is what gives the projector such excellent black levels. It improves contrast by refining dark and light areas within the projected image, adjusting highlights for maximum brightness and shadows for deep, rich blacks. It also has a feature called Auto Calibration, which re-calibrates the projector’s picture to factory settings after an extended period of time, effectively taking care of the color shift problem found on all projectors after they’ve been running for a very long time.

Other features include Edge Blending and Image Warp, which are particularly useful for museum environments. Edge Blending can be used to create an extra wide image by placing two of these side, then blending the edges of the two projected images so that it creates one seamless image. Image Warp is used for projecting on convex and concave surfaces. Another feature is Side-by-Side Image, which is essentially split screen, which can be super valuable in classroom environments.

Sharpness is stellar, thanks to the projector’s WUXGA (1920 x 1200) resolution and the laser light engine. The Sony will be well suited to applications where sharpness is paramount, such as in scientific and engineering renderings.

High End/Specialty Projectors: Specialty - Special Interest Award Epson Lightscene EV100/EV105

EV100 projector
Epson Lightscene EV100 (EV105 is black finish). Specialty projector - museums, digital signage...
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Want to highlight a product on display, enhance a dining experience, or create engaging museum installation? The Epson LightScene EV-100 is a 2,000 lumen, 3LCD laser projector especially designed for digital art and signage applications. What makes the EV-100 an innovative product is that doesn’t look like a projector. Unlike the boxy design of most commercial projectors, the EV-100’s “track light” design and small form factor helps it blend seamlessly into shops, restaurants and museums.

There is more to the LightScene EV-100 then just its unique form factor. It is designed to produce a great looking picture. In order to deliver up to 20,000 hours of virtually maintenance-free operation, the EV-100 uses a laser light engine capable of delivering 2,000 lumens. Since the EV-100 is an Epson 3LCD projectors, it produces as many color lumens as it does white lumens, which ensures a bright, vibrant image in applications like restaurants, retail stores, museums and art galleys.

Epson Content Management software can be used with the EV-100 to create unique effects. For example, you can create a customized shape filter using a logo and then combine it with a video source. Use the EV100 to spotlight a product while also projecting an accompanying video. A single EV-100 can be used to replace a Gobo, spot light and projector.

In addition to Edge Blending, the LightScene EV-100 has a Geometric Correction feature which lets you correct image distortion caused by projecting an image onto a curved or right-angled surface. Install multiple synchronized LightScene EV-100 projectors, then combine Edge Blending with Projection Mapping to create dynamic experiences for digital art, commercial signage and décor applications. For ease of installation, a content playlist can be pre-loaded onto SD card. The playlist of a single or multiple EV-100 projectors can wirelessly manage via the Epson iProjection™ App.

The included bracket can be used to directly mount the EV-100 on ceiling, floors and walls. There is also an optional lighting track mount adaptor (sold separately) to attach the EV100 to a compatible lighting track. While I reviewed the white finish EV-100, there is an identical version available in black called the EV-105.

Its stealthy appearance, combined with the installation flexibility, makes the EV-100 a truly unique commercial laser projector solution. It would take several pages to cover all the different scenarios where an architect or designer could utilize the projector’s unique design and feature set. For these reasons we have awarded the Epson LightScene EV100 with the 2019 Special Interest Award.

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