2019-2020 Award Winners: K-12 Classroom Projectors

The K-12 Classroom Projectors category has the largest number of projectors suitable for school use. This year we have eight of these “standard” projectors – those suited for K-12 classrooms, and similar spaces – of very differing abilities. A few of these projectors were also considered in the Higher Education Projectors category due to their price point, brightness claim, and various features.

Please Note: The families of projectors – similar models with different resolutions, and slightly varying feature sets –  of these eight projectors, likely number close to fifty total models.

We try to mix up XGA, WXGA and even WUXGA projectors in this group, when choosing projectors to review. While the industry trend has been a shift to widescreen – WXGA, 1080p, or WUXGA  there are two  key reasons XGA models still have large market share:

One: XGA projectors cost slightly less than WXGA.

But, more importantly: Because many are bought as a replacement for older VGA, SVGA, and XGA projectors. That means a new XGA projector can utilize the same screen, and typically the same mount.

Bottom line: Sticking to XGA may mean significant savings when replacing outdated projectors. If doing mass replacements across a school or school district, the savings can be dramatic.

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

K-12 Classroom: Best Price/Performance - Epson PowerLite 109W

Epson-PowerLite-109W_Right
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Epson’s PowerLite 109W is one of the newer entries into Epson’s long-running 100 series, which is definitely education focused. This series has picked up major awards from us in the past, but this year, the PowerLite 109W reigns supreme among the projectors we designated as K-12 suitable.

It’s plenty bright – easily beating its 4,000 lumen claim, but that’s not even close to the best part, or why it won our Price Performance award (highest in this category):

Basically, it comes standard with a lot of everything: That includes wired networking with support for advanced networking, including supporting Crestron RoomView and Control4, to mention two protocols. If you need wireless, no problem. Few Epson projectors have wireless standard, because Epson’s been offering a $99 list price Wireless Module for several years now, that works in perhaps 100 different Epson projector models.

There’s a mic input to help teachers carry the room with their voice. The 109W can run with the Audio amp working even with the video part of the projector turned off, so as not to waste electricity when the teacher needs the boost, but isn’t projecting content. Add to that lots of everything in terms of other inputs and connectors, plenty of audio computer, video interfacing, even, audio and monitor outputs.

My only complaint really is the lack of a full featured media player. But the projector can work over IP networking, and can do Mircast and work with computers over USB! Still, there’s no ability to plug in a thumb drive with someone’s PowerPoint or Word documents on them, and directly present, but no problem if coming from a computer, smartphone or tablet.

The second item that “could be better” is the 1.20:1 zoom. Quality is very good (nice and sharp), but some other projectors, including some Epsons, offer up to 1.60:1 zoom lenses for more placement options. Still, in K-12 classrooms, that should rarely be an issue. Now if you need the greater zoom range, no fear – Epson’s 900 series, (slightly more expensive – but none included in this year’s report) offers a 1.60:1 zoom lens instead.

Bottom Line: Extremely bright for K12, combined with great color performance (right out of the box), big audio, an excellent education warranty of 3 years with 3 years of rapid replacement program, advanced networking, and plenty of useful features like the mic input (you’ll want a wireless mic receiver to plug in, powered by one of the USB ports). This projector proved extremely tough to beat, with a single quantity education price of only $612! Very bright, very capable, even very affordable, it is the best performer of the batch, and earns our Best In Classroom, Price Performance award!

K-12 Classroom: Best Value - BenQ MW535A

Based on its $550 list price, the BenQ MW535A is the least expensive projector in this year's report, despite claiming 3,600 lumens and WXGA resolution.
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The BenQ MW535A, I am pleased to announce is our Best In Classroom, K-12 Value Award winner. This year, we almost didn’t have a Value Award winner in this class. After looking at all the contenders, I concluded that the best value among the lower cost projectors is the BenQ MW535A!

But, we require any projector eligible for an award to be a current model with volume of product available to schools at least until September. Much to my surprise, I visited a BenQ site for education projectors, and – no MW535A. At the same time, BenQ has recently announced many new models (many of them just shipping). It was easy to figure that the MW535A was just discontinued. I panicked.

I reached out to BenQ to confirm. Good news, I heard back that the MW535A is current, and would be around for quite some time. That it being missing from the list of projectors on the BenQ site was a mistake. Fair enough. And that is why the award – and this explanation – have been posted several days after the rest of the awards were given out.

All that said, here’s what we really liked about the MW535A:

It’s terribly inexpensive. Street price for a single unit, without any education discounts etc., is around $370! For that little money, you are getting a pretty impressive little projector. The BenQ is a DLP with WXGA resolution and 3,600 claimed lumens! No lens shift and only a modest 1.20:1 zoom makes placement flexibility “acceptable,” but not great – but as least as good as one could hope to find at this price point.

There is a very good selection of inputs and connectors, including a pair of HDMIs, two analog computer inputs, and one output, Audio In and Out, a USB and a serial port for “old school” command and control. Color performance of the projector is very respectable.

So how does BenQ deliver all of this for a rock bottom price? Here’s where it is decision making time for all you Educators, IT/AV managers and technology coordinators: The MW535A does not network. It has no wired networking, nor does it offer wireless. Also, no built in media player, but there is a decent, if not overly loud 2-watt speaker, which should be adequate for most K-12 classrooms. There is, of course, an Audio Out to feed a sound system if needed.

Obviously, if your school wants all their projectors networked, this MW535A is not going to be your pick. But if networking is not a requirement, it is going to be brutally hard to find a lower cost projector that can rival this BenQ!

K-12 Classroom: Best Value Replacement - ViewSonic LS620X

ViewSonic LS620X Short Throw Laser Projector
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This ViewSonic LS620X is a “niche” projector, designed to fill perhaps the biggest “niche” in the entire education/classroom market.

Millions of projectors have been placed in schools in the last twenty years. Many of those projectors that are 5, 10, even 15+ years, are still in use in classrooms. That makes for a huge replacement market (there’s that “millions” number again). For example, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), looking at 8th grade, for example, 83% of all math classes had a projector in the room by 2015!

Many of those projectors still in use are ancient. Back when volume installations were first happening, the primary resolutions were VGA and SVGA. Later, we started getting XGA and also widescreen resolutions like WXGA or the older WVGA. The bulk of the old projectors are 4:3 aspect ratio, same as this Viewsonic, which is designed, among other abilities, as an affordable, brighter, higher resolution replacement, with a long life laser engine. I have only encountered solid state solutions at this price and below, from Casio (who’s offerings are hybrid laser/led), and worth also checking out, if solid state and affordability are both important.

It is time to get rid of the last of the older projectors. Their bulbs are hugely expensive, and last 1,000 hours, or maybe 2,000. Today’s bulbs are about 1/3 the price and last 4,000 – 8,000 hours. The real cost to replace a lamp in a really old projector may be $300-$500 between lamp cost and labor.

The LS620X’s 20,000 hour laser engine solves that problem. If this Viewsonic is used as a replacement projector, one thing is pretty certain – it will be more than bright enough, since laser projectors seem brighter than lamps – of the same lumens, and that the projector it replaces is probably half as bright (or less) to begin with!

The input panel includes two HDMI’s and just about everything else that might be needed to replace an older projector, except for an S-video connector (yhere are easy work arounds should one be needed).

The only downside to the LS620X as a replacement projector, is also a strength – the (almost very) short throw lens. Almost any projector this ViewSonic might replace, is likely to be standard throw. That would require moving the ceiling mount and wiring forward.

On the plus side, though, this projector could instead be setup with a telescoping wall mount over the existing screen. Most of the screen sizes found on older installations goo up to about 72” diagonal in size. That will allow for a wall mount placement, and the advantages they bring. I really did like the wide angle when working with this projector, although I might have wished for more than a 1.1:1 zoom range.

Overall, this projector performed! Color, good sharpness, and definitely bright. Although I speak of it primarily as a replacement projector, it is every bit as competent, if you simply have a requirement for an XGA projector. If those points weren’t enough to convince, it seems to be the least expensive XGA resolution true laser projector on the market. For all of these reasons, the ViewSonic LS620X earns this year’s Best Replacement (projector) award.

K-12 Classroom: Special Interest - Optoma EH330UST

Optoma EH330UST short throw projector
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Since the Optoma EH330UST is the only projector of its kind in this year’s report, and since this projector already received one of our Hot Product awards, consider it to be a very good, competent ultra short throw projector. If this EH330UST was competing against several other UST and interactive projectors, as it would have if in last year’s education report, it certainly would have been a contender for a Best In Classroom Award, perhaps Value or Price Performance (or a Runner-Up Award…).

Without competition though, I still find this Optoma to be an excellent projector and a good value, so I’m pleased to hand it our Best In Classroom: Special Interest Award. It is worthy!

Let’s start with the basics. UST projectors usually come in two flavors – good old UST designs like this EH330USTs, and the same designs, but with interactivity by finger or interactive pen. This Optoma is a straight UST projector. Interactivity can be done using mobile devices, Miracast, etc. but no finger touch or pen control. That’s fine. Without full interactivity, these UST projectors are a lot less expensive. While many classroom situations may call for full interactivity, many do not.

The EH330UST typically will mount directly above the screen on a wall mount. This makes for an inexpensive installation (compared to ceiling mounting) in most cases. It, alternately, can be placed on a credenza directly in front of, and just below the screen. Although the Optoma did not hit its full 3,600 lumen claim, it topped out at just a touch less than 3,000, which is plenty bright for most K-12 classrooms, and definitely viable in a lot of higher education classrooms.  More than one might be used in a very large lecture hall.

Many, if not most, UST projectors have built-in media players. This EH330UST is no exception. One key advantage over some competitors – their media player is Microsoft office compatible, so Excel, PowerPoint, Word and other documents can be presented using the media player, off of a USB thumb drive, or other suitable PC free setup. Many media players only play JPGS and videos, rather than Office documents.

Bottom line: Very nicely priced, and a very capable UST projector. It is also pretty energy efficient, and relatively quiet. And, of course, with a UST, the teacher/presenter isn’t blinded by the light when up close to the screen. Nicely done Optoma!

Previous Winners in the K-12 Classroom Projector Class

Best Performance – Epson PowerLite 990U

Powerlite 990 stock photo

3LCD, WUXGA, Networking, Lamp

Best Value – Sony VPL-EW435

Sony VPL-EW435 Projector Front Angeled

DLP, WXGA, Networking, Lamp

Best Value Replacement – Epson PowerLite 108

Epson PowerLite 108

3LCD, XGA, Networking, Lamp

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