2019-2020 Award Winners: Higher Education Projectors

Higher Education Projectors are a vital piece of the overall education projector market. These large venue projectors can be found in large college and university classrooms, university lecture halls and labs, auditoriums, and museums affiliated with higher education. Though these powerful projectors are unlikely to end up in a K-12 classroom, they may be found in K-12 auditoriums and large multi-purpose rooms.

Those lower powered and less feature-laden projectors included in our K-12 category aren’t equipped to meet the needs of large classrooms and K-12 auditoriums. The projectors included in this category, Higher Education Projectors, can. The winners in this Class are well suited to the conditions and needs of a typical university classroom or lecture hall with one hundred to two hundred students, with the brightest of them able to handle four hundred seat lecture halls. We assume, of course, that the rooms have some reasonable control over ambient lighting.

Until recent years, suitably high-powered projectors were far more expensive. Most featured the extra expense of interchangeable lens systems, and expensive lenses.  Plus, most have had other features that added to the cost, such as edge blending, and projection mapping. Now, there’s more segregation in the market. These high-priced, feature-laden projectors still are a large portion of the projectors heading to the higher education institutions, but many manufacturers Are now offering lower-cost, high-powered projectors without the lens systems, or other expenses. They may not be suitable for installing in some spaces, but reduce cost signficantly where they can be utilized. This category focuses on these highly capable but not as well endowed projectors.

This group of eleven projectors, includes four that are also in the K-12 Classroom Projector category, is a mix of projectors with varying resolutions – WXGA and WUXGA are the leading resolutions this time around, and even that XGA projector from the K-12 Class snuck in here. Not every university and college classroom needs WUXGA, especially if budgets are tight. 

If your applications do not call for WUXGA (1920 x 1200), consider that the feature sets between a WUXGA projector and a WXGA projector from the same series are typically almost identical. Our comments and our Awards would likely remain the same if we had reviewed a different projector in the same family instead. That is assuming that pricing will also be relatively consistent. Usually, any series that offers a WUXGA projector will have a WXGA version.

If you need lens options for your installation, check out our High End and Specialty Projectors for Higher Education Class.

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

Higher Education: Best Performance - BenQ LK953ST

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The BenQ LK953ST is one of the last projectors to arrive for review and inclusion in our education report. I hooked it up and worked with it for about 6 hours and change, looking at presentations, video clips, and web browsing to assess picture quality. I even watched parts of a couple of movies to judge skin tones, including Black Panther in 4K HDR. Soon, it is heading to Nikki to complete the full review, which will be live within two weeks of publishing this Education report.

The LK953ST is a powerful laser projector. It claims 5,000 lumens, but based on my viewing (Nikki will do full measurements as part of her completing the review), I would guess that, unlike a lot of projectors, this one will probably beat its claim. I was first and foremost impressed by the overall color and picture quality. While I tend to favor 3LCD (all else being equal – which is rare), it is because 3LCD usually produces really good color without sacrificing too much brightness.

No problem here. I had the BenQ projecting up to a 160” diagonal screen while watching Black Panther – just watching the center of the image, because the image – where I placed the projector, literally went from inches above the floor, to being on the ceiling – an image more than 7 feet tall (50” tall is a 16:9 image for a 100” diagonal screen). Plenty bright, even at that size, 3X the square footage of a 100” screen. And that with very good color.

For a “business and education” projector, the LK953ST is really also a “cross-over” suitable for home use as well. I wouldn’t really pick it over a dedicated HT projector for movie viewing in a dedicated theater, but, I think, thanks to the color and respectable black levels, this would also make a killer media room player for watching sports and general TV, even with a healthy amount of ambient light.

And that means that this projector will also be great for projecting videos of all types, or tackling digital signage, and some museum work as well.

This projector comes finished in black. It is just dripping in inputs. Kudos – three HDMI inputs, and an HDMI out as well. I have spent years trying to convince manufacturers (as others have) to go with three HDMIs. Plus, today, HDMI out is perhaps the best way to pull audio to send to large room sound systems.

This BenQ projector, they call a short throw, but it is close to a very short throw. It sits close enough to the screen that if you have a 6 foot diagonal screen in a classroom, the projector should be able to be wall mounted directly above the screen. Go much larger, though, and the wall mounts won’t telescope enough, so back to ceiling mounting (or table top). The short throw means less blinding of the teacher/presenter, always a plus. There’s plenty of advanced networking capabilities, and a whole lot more.

Bottom line: The BenQ LK953ST is a 4K UHD DLP projector. It is very bright, has a great short throw design, real support for HDR and P3 color, and excellent picture overall especially for a commercial projector. Complaint? Only one: I do see some rainbows, so the color wheel could be a little faster, but that’s more of an issue in the home market, besides only a very small portion of the population is rainbow sensitive (RBE).

This, as a well-thought-out package, and even better equipped, earning in the highest award in our Higher Education “class” in this report – Best In Classroom: Higher Education – Best Performance!

Very Impressive!

Higher Education: Best Performance Runner-Up - NEC P525UL

NEC P525UL laser projector
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Two years ago, we were impressed by NEC’s P502 series. Now, two years later, their brand new P525 series blows the older NECs away. The P525UL was another of the late arrivals. The full review will post in the first half of April, a week or so, after this report goes live. Preliminary viewing by Phil, who is doing the review, proved very impressive. Deciding on the award the NEC P525UL it would win has been a challenge. As it turns out, we’re giving it our Best Performance: Runner-Up Award in the Higher Education category.

At first, I was primarily looking at this P525UL vs the noticeably less expensive Epson PowerLite L400U – which also picked up an award (see the blurb below this one). In most ways, they are similar. True, this NEC claims 5,000 lumens – an extra 500 lumens over the Epson, but the projectors are same resolution, similar in size and weight, both have great warranties (but NEC’s is 5 years, vs Epson’s 3 years). This NEC however, is a good deal quieter. It is so quiet, that it can be used in museum applications where most other projectors may just be too noisy!

The NEC has some advantages, including being a 3LCD projector with a sealed light path to keep dust out. The Epson can’t match that ability. There were a couple of other minor advantages, before I finally figured out what made sense: Besides brightness and other relatively small differences, there’s one bigger one. The NEC can handle 4K content at 30hz. The Epson is strictly WUXGA, and would not know what to do with a 4K/30hz signal.

That, folks, in my mind, in terms of future proofing over the years, gives the NEC a real advantage – not really now, but as we start seeing more 4K content coming into the classroom, that will be an advantage, not requiring some extra image processing gear. And while this NEC is not a pixel shifter, its Accublend image processing has been around for about two decades and has proven better and better over the years. It won’t match a pixel shifter for ultimate sharpness with 4K content, but, then, in a lecture hall with 4K content showing, most people will be too far back to tell the difference vs a pixel shifter, including 4K UHD DLPs.

There will be some education and commercial applications, in smaller rooms, where everyone is sitting close. In that case, this NEC being fed 4K, should appear sharper than a standard WUXGA like that Epson L400U. For that reason, I included it in the top award – Best Performance, but as the Runner-Up. The winner for Best Performance, as you have just seen, is a BenQ DLP laser projector, which is a true 4K UHD DLP (not native 4K), and one that also supports HDR and P3 color which this NEC cannot do. So, from that we learn that the NEC is useful for 4K content, but not so much a 4K UHD movie with HDR.

For a 3LCD projector, the P525UL performs in all the major areas: Great color, plenty

Bright, Laser – no lamps to change, sealed light path, to minimize maintenance, and an aggressive price for a 4K capable projector. No doubt about it, the NEC is one capable projector. This P525UL deserves our Best Performance, Runner-Up Award, for Higher Education.

Higher Education: Best Price/Performance - Epson PowerLite L400U

Epson L400U Glamour Shot
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Our Best In Classroom – Higher Education: Price/Performance Award goes to this exceptionally affordable and very bright WUXGA laser projector. The highlight numbers are 4,500 lumens claimed (which this projector easily beat), $2,499 list price and their Education program (Brighter Futures) has a quantity 1 price for schools of only $2,099.

People, $2,099 for a bright WUXGA laser projector is pretty much a breakthrough price. Perhaps some of the other laser projectors that are 1080p or WUXGA are as low priced, for single quantity education pricing, but I can’t think of any at this point that I would expect to sell for lower than the L400U. Epson’s warranty for education, it should be noted, is 3 years parts and labor, but if there is a warranty issue during the 3 years, Epson will ship out a replacement projector (same or newer model) at no cost to you. Just drop your “busted” one into the box the replacement came in. Epson even pays the freight back. (NEC has a similar program, for 5 years – making it the best warranty I can think of in this industry! If that impresses, Epson sells extra years, for very reasonable extra cost.)

A 1.60:1 zoom ratio is about as good as things get on commercial projectors that do not offer interchangeable lenses, when it comes to placement flexibility. The laser engine Epson rates at 20,000 hours at full power, and up to 30,000 hours in Extended mode. 30,000 hours equals 40 hours a week for 15 years. Or, let’s say in a digital signage or museum type education setup, the projector might run continuously, or nearly so. At 18 hours a day, 365 days a year, in extended mode (30K hours of life) we’re talking 4.5 years! Sweet!

Color, right out of the box is overall very good to excellent in all modes but Dynamic, the brightest. That has the usual green cast, and is a mode best avoided as is the case on most projectors. Epson claims 4,500 white, and 4,500 color lumens. And that gets the job done. Even our top winner in this category (class), the BenQ, claiming 5,000 lumens, produces a bit less brightness than this Epson when both are putting really excellent color on the screen (but the BenQ is a 4K UHD projector)!

I also had a hard time with the awards for this projector, starting not with how it stacked up to the NEC above, but how it positioned compared to Epson’s L610W projector. More about that in my write-up of the L610W. By the way, the L610W isn’t as high resolution – WXGA not WUXGA, but for almost the identical price you get 6,000 lumens.

I think this Epson and its brighter, lower resolution sibling, for a pricing difference of $100, will provide decision makers a simple, clear choice: More lumens (and only WXGA resolution) or more res, and less brightness. For most rooms IT/AV managers and teachers and tech coordinators, etc. should be able to make a quick, clear choice, depending on the needs of that classroom.

Epson provides advanced networking – including support for Crestron, Control4 and others, and that allows for plenty of advanced features, such as push notifications, monitoring reliability, controlling the projector remotely, in some cases, presenting over IP and much more.

4,500 lumens and WUXGA resolution, a sharp picture, pretty accurate colors right out of the box (for a biz/edu projector), Epson’s great warranty and reputation for reliability and quality control, all combine to make this perhaps the best laser projector value on the market for schools or business. The $500 education discount at quantity one, in addition to the rest, is, of course, why this projector should be a top seller to higher education, and is certainly why I has received our Best In Classroom – Higher Education: Best Price/Performance Award! It could just as easily received our Value award, but that, it turns out, goes to its brighter, but lower resolution sibling, the L610W! This level of features and performance of the L400U is what most manufacturers strive for in a mainstream laser projector (one lacking interchangeable lenses, other specialty features like projection mapping). Highly recommended!

Higher Education: Best Value - Epson PowerLite L610W

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When it came to deciding which projectors deserved which awards this year, no two projectors caused me as much confusion as having both this L610W and the L400U considered in the same Higher Education category. First, no question both are excellent projectors – as are our other award winners, but what awards do they each deserve.

As you saw in my L400U comments for winning an award, it received our Best Price Performance Award. But that just as easily could have been given to this L610W with its 6,000 lumens, laser light engine, and WXGA resolution. Both projectors sell within $100 of each other, so it is a direct trade off – higher resolution on the L400 vs 1,500 more lumens on the WXGA L610W.

I opted for the awards as published, figuring that high brightness and lower resolution, was the more “value” combination, while the still very bright, but higher resolution projector seems more “Price/Performance” oriented. The reality is that these are similar enough projectors that if you don’t need the higher resolution, you’ll choose the 6,000 lumen laser projector, but if you do want/need the WUXGA, then sacrificing 1,500 lumens isn’t a bad price to pay in exchange.

It is hard not to be truly impressed with a laser projector that schools can purchase (at quantity 1, never mind high volume pricing), for only $2,199, that beat its 6,000 lumen claim! This is a projector easily capable of handling almost all university lecture halls, let’s say in most cases with up to 400 seats! In that environment, for most coursework, WXGA is more than likely to be sufficient. Certainly, the students sitting up near the top/back of the room, will be much too far away to tell the difference between the L610W’s WXGA, and the L400U’s WUXGA resolutions.

Beyond that, there are other things to like about the L610W, of course, including having as many color as white lumens, which allows for being better able to deal with more than a little ambient light. Also, the networking is standard Epson – all the usual hardwired LAN abilities including Crestron and Control4 support, which allows for all types of advanced networking features. Speaking of networking, the L610W has HDBaseT built-in. This allows the L610W to plug into a network with the ability to push HDMI and networking data, up to football field long distances, using low cost CAT6 cable. Obviously, this is a real plus in large room environments such as lecture halls and auditoriums.

The L610W offers some very fine looking color, even in its second brightest mode: Presentation mode, with 4,500 measured lumens! This Epson, per our measurements, did not hit its 6,000 lumen claim (a rarity for Epson projectors, common though for many brands). But it did come close at 5,947 lumens, within 1%. Works for us. That it can put 4,500 lumens with really good color on the screen is even more important. Many projectors, primarily DLP’s that utilize a large clear (white) slice on their color wheels, lose 1/3 to almost 50% of brightness before color becomes really good. In fairness, DLP manufacturers tend to charge less per white lumen than 3LCD projector manufacturers do.

Bottom Line: The L610W wins our Best In Classroom: Higher Education – Best Value Award for the combination of massive brightness, great color, HDBaseT, advanced networking and a great three-year warranty with rapid replacement program for all three years.

A last thought – I had considered also choosing a less expensive, lamp based projector, as a second Value winner in this “class” but ultimately decided that the L610W provided more value, and lower long term cost of ownership than any of the lamp based projectors, despite the lower upfront costs of lamp based projectors!

Higher Education: Best Price/Performance Runner-Up - Dell Advanced Projector P519HL

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The P519HL is a strong single chip DLP entry suitable for most college and university classrooms, but probably not the larger lecture halls on campus. When Nikki recently reviewed the P519HL, she was impressed, especially with the color in the better picture modes. We are pleased to give the P519HL our Price/Performance Runner-Up Award. True, it came in behind the Epson L400U, overall.

When it comes to the P519HL’s strengths, especially when comparing to that Epson, the Dell has the advantage of being less expensive. The Dell is available online for right around $1,500 currently on Dell’s own site. The Epson, as noted, sets their basic education price at $2,099, so expect the Epson to definitely be more expensive enough to be a factor. That price difference can add up if you don’t need the extra brightness, etc.

The Dell claims 4,000 lumens, although at brightest, it measured 3,312 lumens in Bright Mode.  Surprisingly, Bright Mode has pretty respectable color, something pretty rare. Reds aren’t near as dark and wine colored in brightest mode, whereas that is typical for other DLP projectors. Presentation Mode, though, is even better. At the usual mid-zoom (that we measure) Presentation put out 2,061 lumens (for comparison though, the more expensive L610W in its second best mode – also called presentation, measured 2,920 lumens, so over 1/3 brighter).

Like most of today’s projectors, it relies on its pair of HDMI inputs as the primaries. That said, it also has two USBs, and an analog computer input – would like to have seen a matching computer output, and for that matter, one of those rare (so far) HDMI outputs. It does, however, have a handy stereo audio out. Warranty is very good, but not exceptional: 2 years with replacement program both years (extended warranties are available through Dell). I was unable to learn (in time for this report) if Dell provides a longer warranty as part of an Education program. By comparison, though, among the other winners in this category, NEC provides schools with 5 years with replacement, and Epson 3 years with replacement, so there is some room for “improvement”, although that’s still a better than typical warranty that Dell provides.

When Nikki reviewed this Dell projector, she was perhaps most impressed though with the color and how overall good the Dell looked on different types of projected content, both static and video. You will have to admit the images in the full Dell review, are unusually impressive, in how sharp and clean they look.

The Bottom Line: We have here a sub-$2,000 1080p laser projector suitable for small and medium-sized classrooms, or even larger ones with very good lighting control. Normally, I would say this projector tops out at a 100 seat lecture hall, and an 8-10 foot screen. While there may be plenty of larger classrooms out there, that may call for a more powerful projector, there are plenty of suitable classrooms to keep Dell very busy churning out P519HL projectors, for the next year or two!

Great color, good brightness and a competent feature set including a 1.60:1 zoom (although no lens shift) adds up to some really good price performance for this Dell projector. A 1080p laser projector for under $1,499 obviously is flexing its price/performance muscle. Although we did not list the Dell in the K-12 category (it was considered), expect it to be successful there as well, for schools with budgets for projectors with solid state light engines. Nice job Dell, this projector has what it needs, for the right price.

This group of projectors includes seven, 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).

This year’s collection of six “standard” projectors has one large “pocket projector” using a solid state light engine. That projector, the BenQ CH100 is significantly smaller, lighter, and more portable than the others, which consist of a four lamp based and one other solid state projectors.  The standard category this year is represented by five major manufacturers: BenQ, Casio, InFocus, NEC, and Sony.

It should be mentioned that there is no Epson in the group this year, which, of course is strange as they have over 50% of the entire projector market in North America.  That’s OK, as we always also list previous years’ winners that are still current models.  Epson had two winners in last years report so you will find info on those in this report as well.   I would have liked to also have Hitachi represented, but couldn’t line up a projector in time to review.

The projectors are presented here in alphabetical order.

Previous Winners in the Higher Education Projector Class

Best Performance – NEC NP-PA653UL

NEC NP-PA653UL

3LCD, WUXGA, Networking, Lamp

Best Value – NEC NP-P474U

NEC NP-P474U Front Angled

LCD, WUXGA, Networking, Lamp

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