Guide to the Best Education Projectors Report: Room, Interactivity, Networking, 4K: 2019-2020

Topics on this page include:

  • Considering The Room Environment
  • Room/Brightness
  • Teaching without Projector Shining In Your Eyes
  • Networking and Advanced Networking
  • Installing and Maintaining the Projector Fleet
  • Interactive Projectors
  • Equivalent Visibility (a must read)
  • Laser Projectors are here, especially for Higher Ed
  • What to Look for This Year

If you are not familiar with the concept of Equivalent Visibility, definitely visit that section below. It is becoming an important decision item, as schools consider projector vs LCD monitors for their installations.

Here’s a clue – Equivalent Visibility would indicate that in most cases, using LCD monitors in classrooms is either a poor teaching idea or an extremely expensive one. True, they have some advantages, but, well, go read that section below.

Basic Understanding of Your Room Environment

Today’s projectors are brighter and that means that ambient light isn’t the huge problem it was a decade ago.  Now even inexpensive projectors for K-12 schools put out 3000 – 4000+ lumens.   That’s three times as bright as what schools were buying in the 2000-2005 timeframe (source – my best estimates based on memory, and having sold perhaps 10,000 projectors to schools when I owned a large online dealership of projectors).

Still, it’s an important factor to consider in purchase decisions. Of course, you definitely need to keep sunlight from hitting a screen. That always spells disaster! Technically, there’s even an exception to that, with certain specialized light absorbing screens (ALR), but, even with those, you really do not want sunlight hitting your screen.

As long as the sunlight (should you have to deal with uncovered windows) hits elsewhere in the room, most of today’s projectors (except pico and pocket LED projectors) are should be bright enough to do the job in typical K-12 classrooms.  Of course, 100+ seat lecture halls at universities call for bigger, brighter, more expensive projectors.

There are seventeen projectors in this year’s report, the least bright “regular” projector claims 3,000 lumens! (One exception is a 2000 lumen specialty projector geared mostly for Museum use). Figure most offer 3,500 to 5000 lumen projectors – the bulk of projectors on the market – can handle a typical classroom, conference room, or training room that is fully lit with fluorescent lighting, at least on 60 to 80″ diagonal screens, which are typical today (of course, other than lecture halls). At the worst, turn off half the banks of lights.

That’s for typical K-12 classrooms and small university ones. When you move up to larger higher education classrooms – those lecture halls – with 100 to 400 students, brighter projectors are called for, but not all that brighter. A top rated 4,000 lumen projector with high color lumen output should be enough for that typical lecture hall, but in the largest, 5,000 to 8,000 lumens might serve better. In this report, we’ll refer to those very bright, more capable projectors typically with one or more of these terms: larger venue or large venue projectors, or just higher education projectors.

I repeat this every year: Basically, 10-15 years ago the phrase most commonly associated with 2,000 lumen projectors was “auditorium projector.” Now, the term for 2,000 lumens is simply dimmer than you can even find in traditional projectors.  Want projectors with 2000 lumens or less, you are talking pocket and pico projectors, usually weighing less than 2 pounds, and generally not suitable for use in schools.  History:  A “lightweight” 2,000 lumen projector back in 2001 would be 35 to 50+ pounds. Today, a lightweight 3,500 lumen projector might be 3.5 – 4.5 pounds.

Regardless of how you look at it, brighter is going to be better, just don’t  expect going from a 2,500 to 3,200 lumen projector, in terms of making a huge jump in brightness – that’s only a slight difference, less than the difference from going from Eco mode to  full power on most projectors.

Considering this may help you decide to go for a bit brighter projector or not: 

One big advantage of spending more for a brighter projector is that you can run it in eco-mode, saving money by increasing lamp life. Compare that to running a similar projector, say, selling for $300 less, with 2/3 to 3/4 the overall brightness, one that is as bright at full power, as the brighter projector in eco-mode.

BTW that even helps with laser projectors – the laser engine will last longer at less than full power, although the savings will be less (because you aren’t replacing lamps on a regular basis).

Most lamps cost $150 to $400 a piece retail, with the lamps for the highest powered projectors typically costing more. Some companies though, have education lamp pricing from under $100. The lowest education price we’ve seen to date is now $49, a lamp for certain Epson projectors (two years it was $79!). Today, the typical life is 2,500 hours to 4,000 hours at full power, and 4,000 hours to 8,000 hours in eco (the lower lamp hour claims tend to be for lamps for bright, large venue projectors, but also in some portables). With most under $1,000 projectors, expect lamp prices to range from that rock bottom $49 to between $99 and $199. Of course, there are exceptions.

In the long run – several years – you might have to buy a second and then a third lamp if running at full power before you even need a second lamp for a brighter projector running in eco-mode. That said, few teachers will use their projector heavily enough to require a lamp change in the first 2-3 years.

What I’m saying is you might find it less expensive in the long run with a brighter projector, if you can stick to Eco mode (that way, you would have quieter operation too). But, there are no guarantees. That could be a factor unless the projector is getting low usage – say less than 10 hours a week, in which case today’s lamps could last longer than 10 years making lamp replacement costs a total non-factor!

Spending a bit more for a brighter option (all else equal) may solve a different problem for K-12 schools and districts.

K-12 schools often find plenty of money from technology grants for purchasing the hardware, but money for routine maintenance, including replacement lamps, is scarce! Another factor in your calculations: More and more schools have skylights in classrooms to increase light, reducing the electrical bill, but that could also mean a brighter room when using a projector. Knowing where that sunlight might hit at different times of the class day might be a good thing to know and compensate for.

Ambient Light Rejecting Projector Screens

Also important in today’s world are the new generations of screens. There are two types worthy of commenting on, those designed for interactive projectors, and ALR screens – “Ambient Light Rejecting,” that is. That’s somewhat misleading, in that these screens really absorb ambient light coming from off-axis horizontally and/or vertically.  As a result, they are far less affected by windows to the side, or lights above. In tough rooms, an ALR screen (they are more expensive – but are getting closer in price to traditional matte white screens) may still provide a better value than trying to buy more lumens. Screens for interactive projectors are a different beast – think whiteboards. That’s because you need a rigid screen that can handle someone writing/pressing on it with a digital pen.

Those screens designed for interactivity, however, are superior to standard whiteboards, because those screens are engineered not to have a giant “hot spot” in the middle, typical of whiteboards.

Ultra Short Throw and Very Short Throw Projectors

Ultra Short Throw and Very Short Throw Projectors

Teaching/Presenting Without Getting Blinded

Ceiling mounting won’t prevent you from being dazzled by the projector, at least some of the time, when facing the class. The real trick is to go with the new crop of ultra-short throw projectors (or some very short throw models). 

Sales of UST projectors to schools have increased dramatically in the past few years, despite their higher upfront costs.  In part due to being less expensive to install in most classrooms.

Ultra-short throw projectors, like the four reviewed for this report, mount only inches back from the screen, typically on a wall mount.

Very Short Throw projectors, for a typical K-12 classroom (screens under 80″ diagonal), need to be 2 – 3.5 feet from the screen wall. This, too, works for a wall mount. Wall mounts simplify installation, save money, compared to standard ceiling placement, in most situations. These also tend to cost less.

Since ultra-short throw projector’s “lenses” are typically between a foot and 2 feet from the screen, and slightly above the screen (on a telescoping wall mount), they almost completely eliminate the problem of blinding the teacher (or student) at the board. The very short throw projectors are further back, so not as good: Teacher beware! Still much better than projectors mounted 7-12 feet back.

About every other year, we have a category in this report for UST and interactive UST projectors. Not this year though.  Look for an interactive category to return in our 2020-2021 report in March ’20.  Since we also include previous years’ award winners in this year’s report, you’ll still find a few interactive UST projectors discussed here.

When it comes to using an interactive projector, the shorter the throw, the better. The assumption with interactivity is that you are standing close to the screen, in most cases, writing on it with a pen or fingertip. Being that close with a traditional throw projector means being constantly hit by the light from the projector, and also casting a large shadow on the screen. With a true ultra-short throw projector, both become non-issues. With a very short throw, it’s doable to stay out of that bright light.

We’re defnitely seeing more UST projectors from more manufacturers. I do believe this is, in part, because manufacturers are mastering the optical challenges of ultra-short throw.

As a group UST projectors aren’t as sharp from edge to edge as the typical longer throw projectors, but most are now sharp enough so that it is no longer an issue.

(Note: Above image provided courtesy of Epson America.)

Networking Projectors

There’s networking (a bunch of business people schmoozing over drinks – sorry, just having a little fun), and digital networking. We’re discussing the latter.

It is 2019, and while I’m sure they exist, it is probably difficult to find any school in the US that isn’t running a network, except maybe the old one room school house (if there are any left).

But, are all or most of the projectors tied in to the school – or school district’s network?

Perhaps, perhaps not.

The trend is definitely more projectors being tied in to school and district networks. It helps that we now see networking capabilities on many of the projectors in the $500 – $1,000 range. That wasn’t the case 4-5 years ago.  Back then we often broke out projectors for K-12 into two groups – lower cost ones without networking, and more expense ones (typically over $1000) that had networking on board.

Universities and colleges are probably way ahead of K-12 in tying their projectors into their networks, and so enjoy the many benefits.

If projectors are to be tied into a network, and the projectors support advanced networking (like Crestron), it will allow your school or district or university to be able to take advantage of emergency broadcasts or simple announcements – push notifications for various purposes including maintenance notification. More and more of these projectors are Crestron Roomview compatible, and some are also AMX SchoolView compatible, There’s also Control4, and also some less advanced standards too.  If a networking projector offers one of the majors though – Crestron or AMX, you are starting out with, at the minimum, a very capable networking feature set.

In addition to notifications, and other such features, many projectors will allow presentations over LAN, and also scheduling. Consider, the team at the school district location, or the university AV/IT department can tell all projectors to power down late on a Friday afternoon, so none are accidentally left running all weekend. Some interactive (and other projectors) can also be used over a network for collaboration with other similar projectors at the same, or even distant locations.

Installing and Maintaining the Projector Fleet

Who will install the projectors?

Some schools and districts have their own teams for handling installations. Others rely on dealers/integrators to do the “heavy lifting.” I am not recommending one over the other, but some choices in projectors will raise the costs. For example, a wall mounted above the screen ultra-short throw projector needs less cabling and less installation time than a traditional ceiling mount. When you are contracting with a dealer, the difference can be a lot. If you have school tech teams doing the work, ultra-short throws and interactive projectors will still save installation money, but likely not as much.

Filters?

Virtually every LCD projector on the market has at least one filter. Most DLP projectors do not, but if they do, they are more likely higher power projectors. A few don’t need filters changed for a couple thousand hours or more, some only when the lamp gets changed, but most LCD projectors will, at some point require a filter change. But these days, often the frequency of changing a filter is likely to be about the same as lamp life. We even reviewed one projector that only needs a filter change out when you have gone through 3 lamps – 12,000 hours. That’s a far cry from 100 and 200 hour filters back at the “beginning of the century” (that sure sounds like a long, long time ago.)

Maintaining Your Fleet of Projectors

If you have a lot of projectors, filter cleaning can become a tiresome, labor intensive, and expensive chore, should those filters need frequent, rather than infrequent changing. For a projector or three, that’s not a big deal. If you are managing 500 projectors spread across 20 schools and you have projectors that want filters cleaned every 500 hours, you now have a logistical and cost headache. If you have to touch the filter every 2000 or 5000 hours (which these days is more typical), then it shouldn’t be near as significant of a factor. And, of course, many of the single chip DLP projectors are filter free. On the downside for those – they will typically accumulate a lot of dust inside (ever look at the inside of an old PC with the dust “an inch thick”?).

When looking at projectors with filters, you should be asking what to expect before a filter cleaning or change is needed. Many companies won’t quote a spec for that on their data sheets, and many simply tell you when they need a filter change (via advanced networking). That makes sense because some rooms are dustier than others and might need a more frequent cleaning or changing of a filter.

In some cases, the filters are designed to last as long, or even longer, than the projector lamps, although that’s usually on the larger venue models. Some laser projectors have self-cleaning filters than need no maintenance!

If you are mounting projectors, avoid projectors that must be taken down from the mount to change the lamp, because the lamp access door is on the bottom where the projector attaches to the mount.

Trust me, that’s a pain, it makes lamp replacement take a whole lot longer. And that is a big maintenance expense.

Fortunately, top or side lamp doors are the rule, and these days, the exceptions are rare. A fast lamp replacement, if a projector is already cool, should take 10-20 minutes and that is including: Moving chairs or desks to gain access, opening a ladder, climbing it. Using a screwdriver to remove two to six screws, removing the door (it might be hinged), removing the lamp, sliding in the new one, replacing the door and screws. Then: Clean the lens (cobwebs are common) and check the focus and image on the screen (it’s easy enough to accidently change the focus or slightly change the angle of the projector).

If you have to unmount the projector from the ceiling or wall mount, you probably need to add a minimum of an extra 20-30 minutes to the service time.

Fortunately, today’s projectors are almost all designed to allow a lamp change (or filter cleaning/change) without having to unmount the projector.

The Interactive Projector: Expensive, But a Great Tool

interactive classroom projector
With large screen surfaces, interactive projectors allow multiple collaborators or students to use the screen simultaneously.

Interactive projectors are powerful tools! Still pricey but getting better!

Many, if not most projectors today, offer at least some interactive features. That’s the case when used with apps on phones and tablets, via wireless networking. But, for our conversation here, were talking advanced interactivity, using either pens, or finger touch control. Most allow multiple users to work on the whiteboard at the same time.

For those familiar with SmartBoards (interactive white boards in the classroom), but not interactive projectors, today’s best interactive projectors can accomplish as much and usually far more than a SmartBoard paired with a projector, and typically for a lot less money! Companies like Epson, Hitachi/Maxell, NEC, etc., have also paired up with some of the same companies providing classwork and templates that helped establish Smartboards in the classroom 17+ years ago.

In recent years, the Epson BrightLink Pro 1430 (targeting business) and similar BrightLink 696Wi were the most impressive.  Last year, Epson’s BrightLink 710Ui – a laser powered UST interactive projector, topped the list, but there are many projectors with good interactive feature sets out there.

Prices today of good interactive projectors are, I believe, typically much less expensive than using an LCD monitor, and smart board overlay, or SmartBoard and projector. Interactive UST projectors now start with education pricing for not much more than $1000, although the top ones typically are about $2000.  You might want to check out the various interactive projector demos that you can find in our Projector Reviews TV section of our site, and also on YouTube. We have done interactive demos for the 595Wi and Pro 1430, which is why I mentioned them. By the time you get up to using interactive projectors with 90 inch to 100-inch whiteboards, they tend to cost drastically less than the alternatives.

Some of today’s interactive projectors can even record an entire presentation, such as the BrightLink 710Ui, along with any interactive drawing and diagramming, and with sound as well. Think in terms of recording an entire class and posting it, showing all the action.

A student who missed the class could catch up, watching the entire class from home. Naturally, an entire hour of class is going to be one big file. Still, these are abilities schools, districts, and colleges can seriously consider. If the University of Phoenix can do it, why not your school or school district?

4K UHD and 4K Capable Pixel Shifters

4K UHD and 4K capable pixel shifters are most suitable for the higher education market, as they tend to be even more expensive than those interactive projectors. For example, the Casio XJ-L8300HN featured in last year’s report offered 4K UHD resolution (3840×2160) and cost $12,000! Ouch! It is an impressively sharp laser projector intended for use in a university lecture hall, auditorium, etc., and definitely not for the K-12 crowd.

So what are 4K capable projectors best used for? Primarily they are used for applications that require a high resolution and stellar sharpness. Such applications might include architectural designs, engineering schematics, and renderings, or graphic designs. Thus, many sciences and engineering classrooms may have need of higher resolution than WXGA.

On the other hand, for your typical K-12 classroom needs, WUXGA, WXGA, and, for those replacing XGA projectors, these lower resolutions will be just fine.

But do we really need 4K content, and projectors that can project that data?

Mostly the answer is no.  But, even when we’re talking the types of content – medical films, displaying scientific data, etc., how does that help?

Having higher resolution (data and a device to display it), is only valuable if those viewing the presentation of the data, can see the difference compared to lower resolution data, and displays.

In other words, having a 4K capable projector, and 4K data, isn’t going to do anything for the student sitting 16 rows back from a 120″ screen in a lecture hall.  But someone sitting in the first couple of rows will be able to see more detail, than with lower res content and display.

So, moving to 4K content – and 4K displays may not be a good use of money and resources, in many cases, where rooms are larger, and even in smaller ones.

4K content, with the various display resolution options (1080p pixel shifting x 2, x 4, 2716x1528x2, and 3840×2400 x1 (true 4K), will not provide additional benefit in those larger spaces, but will be viable in smaller rooms, huddle spaces, rooms where everyone sits around the display, rather than theater type seating.

Cost is a factor, of course. Reasonable cost is the big strength of WUXGA pixel shifters and the 4K UHD projectors – they don’t cost dramatically more than standard WUXGA, but provide improved detail and sharpness, when fed 4K content.  Rationalizing a true 4K projector, on the other hand, means considering projectors costing at least double – but typically several times the price of these other options.

Bottom line:  having 4K content, and a display that can show it (show it better than a simple WUXGA projector can), only makes sense when those viewing are close enough to see the differences, but also, with that in mind, future compatibility.  If a projector is expected to be used in that environment for say 10 years, by then 4K content may well be considered “entry level” by then.

Equivalent Visibility Rule

The Equivalent Visibility Rule is a recent concept looking at whether we are using large enough displays in the classroom, collaboration setting, training room or auditorium. (This section is a repeat from last year’s report).

I consider this concept very important – it should at least be considered seriously by any IT or AV folks responsible for choosing or buying displays.

It is a real departure in terms of how we determine how large a screen/image is needed for a room, compared to the past.

We have published a blog on Equivalent Visibility, based upon a white paper released within the last couple of years. Check out our blog – and if you want to get into the more technical aspects, our blog will link you to the full white paper.

What’s This All About?

In the past, formal presentations were the rule of the day – can you say PowerPoint? Today though, whether classroom or another environment, more and more, we find ourselves projecting and working on traditional documents rather than formal presentations.

In a science or engineering classroom, it might be spreadsheets of data, or detailed renderings. It might be content from a book (remember those?), or manuscript, or a white paper. Perhaps emails are projected. In other words, no longer do we only present large type with less than 30 words per “slide”, or big pie and bar charts. Today, we project and present almost anything.

Today’s projectors are certainly capable of handling, but yesterday’s screens are just too small.

Equivalent Visibility says that a group in a classroom is no different than one person in front of their computer. It says that the text being projected should appear as large to the viewer, as that same text would seem if they were viewing it on their desktop or laptop.

Think about that! We are used to seeing 50 inch to 80 inch diagonal screens in most K-12 classrooms. In a typical K-12 classroom however:

The Equivalent Visibility Rule would suggest a screen size around 100″ diagonal – or larger!

I mention that here for two reasons. When you think more about it, the Equivalent Visibility Rule makes far more sense today than the old 4-6-8 rule that most AV/IT folks have used in the past for determining display size.

That older rule is what “instructed” us to install screens that are too small to realistically view Word documents, manuscripts, web pages, etc., with the expectation that people not sitting in the first row or two could not read those documents.

Not only should you use the Equivalent Visibility Rule to figure out how large a screen size (and to a lesser degree – how bright a projector), but perhaps, more importantly, the rule demonstrates that it really isn’t practical to use “large” LCD monitors on the wall in classrooms, at least until the prices for 75, 80, 90 and 100 inch LCD monitors plummet.

Consider: In 2019, anything over 70″ diagonal in an LCD monitor will cost far more than a projector installation with a 100″ screen. You can probably install a dozen rooms with projectors and screens for far less than a single 100″ LCD display, they are still that expensive!

What to Look for This Year in Education Suitable Projectors, Compared to Last Year

More capabilities at lower prices. Consider:

  • The most efficient projectors on the market in terms of lamp life in eco-modes claim as high as 10,000 hours, although any projector claiming 4,000 hours at full power, and 8,000 hours in Eco (low power) mode, should be considered better than average – and excellent!
  • More laser projectors, and new levels of affordability. The 2018-2019 school year will see a dramatic increase in the implementation of laser projectors, although still primarily in higher education, as now prices start under $2K.
    • There is a major exception though, and they have been very successful in K-12 and Higher Education: Casio designed an LED/Laser hybrid engine for all of their projectors (they’ve been selling them for at least 7 years) they start around $500, so are generally affordable enough for K-12, all except their most expensive.
    • Recently, Panasonic also released a very full featured LED/Laser projector, although not anywhere near Casio’s price range.
  • While this year laser projectors are starting at prices just below $2,000, lamp projectors – at full power are now claiming 3,000, 4,000, and even 5,000 hours for their lamp’s life.
  • BYOD – Bring Your Own Device: Once again, for this coming year, many of these projectors have been designed to work well with iOS (and Android) devices like the iPads, iPhones and other smart phones. You can even use those devices to annotate on screen, and control that remote computer. Generally, you need WiFi or MHL to work with those devices. A number of the projectors looked at in this report either have wireless built in, or have an affordable add-on module available.
  • Even more lumens. Two-three years ago, 2,500 to 3,500 lumens was the range for many portable / small fixed installation projectors. This year, just about everything is claiming 3,500-4,000 lumens, even those with some of the lowest pricing. Generally today, I’d say most of the standard classroom projectors are claiming between 3,000 – 4,000 lumens. For higher education, we’re looking at from under 4,000 lumens to 8,000 lumens.
    • We do differentiate between DLP and 3LCD models, because of traditional differences. When determining if a projector is suitable for higher-ed, we look for not just the claim, but how bright in the brightest mode with good color. That makes a difference.
  • Crestron RoomView, AMX Discovery, and other networking schemes: More and more network savvy projectors support RoomView or other “competing” networking solutions. This means more projectors can be monitored and controlled remotely, even powered on and off, have diagnostics run, and the projectors can notify the administrator if there’s a problem or a new lamp is needed. And going the other way, push notifications are great for emergencies, as well as general announcements. “Snow alert – school will end early today at 1pm. Buses will be here at that time…”
  • Smarter, more eco-friendly projectors. Lamp control for example is getting additional Eco features. In some cases, a projector might measure the room’s ambient lighting and adjust the lamp power down if it determines the projector doesn’t need to run at full power. And of course we’re seeing more and more solid state projectors entering the mainstream, consisting of a mix of LED, LED/Laser, and Laser projectors. As a fringe “eco” benefit, projector lamps contain mercury (just like those horrible CFL light bulbs for your homes). You won’t find mercury in an LED or laser projector’s light source. That’s a small “eco” thing, but a good one.
    • More and more projectors have timers, but also will recognize when there is no signal, or one that has been static for a long period, so they can either shut down, or reduce power by up to 70%, depending on settings!
  • This year, you can find 3D capable XGA resolution DLP projectors starting below $399 (with education pricing), not much more for higher resolution equivalents.

Remember to check out the short summaries of each projector in this report.  They are quick, but remember, when you want all the details, visit the full written, online reviews of the respective projectors.

Our Videos:

We do shoot some features videos, so check out the Projector Videos tab on our site.  Many of the videos of projectors are paid for by the manufacturer.

Here’s how that works:  A manufacturer pays us a Permission to summarize the online review into a pair of videos (short and longer).  Sadly, too many companies are cheap.  The number of such videos that we offer is limited, You might want to check out those older Epson interactive projector links above, to see pen or finger touch interactivity in action.   There are other videos showing using Apps with some projectors, to do limited interactivity, as well.  There is also a video on the importance of Color Lumens.

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