Posted on March 30, 2019 By Art Feierman and Nikki Kahl
Editor’s Note: Once again I admit that here at Projector Reviews, choosing the projectors to be included in the Best Education / Classroom Projector Report is really more “Art” than Science. – Art Feierman
There are primarily three reasons for that:
Each year, our report’s objective is to include reviews of projectors that are, in one way or another, particularly suitable for some aspect of the education market.
In our normal published reviews, we do not specifically write for the education market or classroom use, although we comment on how the projector being reviewed, would perform in those settings.
Each projector brought in for review by us, is reviewed for what it is. It may be ideal for education, but not so hot for business, or it could be a projector that’s very good in different environments – such as a small fixed install / portable projector that might end up in a K-12 classroom, or being carried around by a mobile teacher, or on the business side, by a salesperson or trainer, travelling from site to site, customer to customer.
In this report, we look at each projector from the perspective of how it fits into an education environment, be it a classroom, or other uses, but ultimately of interest to educational institutions. Thus our comments within this report – our “blurbs”, as we call them, are more focused on the education environment than the far longer reviews themselves.
I do my best to be selective in choosing projectors. Most major manufacturers have between 20 and 75 business and education projectors in their lineup (many different families of projectors with each having models with different resolutions or brightness). The largest collection, Epson (this year’s sponsor of the this report), typically has 125-150 models listed on their website, with more than half aimed at the education market.
Note: About our sponsor this year: Epson has the largest market share in the industry by far at approximately 50% -(source PMA) as also noted elsewhere in this report, so it’s not shocking that Epson offers over 30 models under $1,000 with over half of them suitable for schools!
Thinking that can sound a bit crazy? Consider this: even more “impressive” is that they have about ten affordable models selling to schools that are all within a $200 price range. -art
The more projectors in a company’s line-up, the more likely one of those will be almost exactly what you are looking for. Still, most manufacturers offer plenty of selection to choose from.
Sometimes getting a projector in for review can be a challenge – or near impossible. I should also mention here (as elsewhere) that we don’t have good access to some manufacturers. Panasonic has been harder to get units out of, but we were able to bring in one of their best selling laser projectors this year for review. I was also hoping to bring in a Vivitek, but couldn’t find the right folk. Hitachi, now Maxell, is a good example of a company with a strong presence in education, but one that doesn’t usually reach out to us. I typically would drop by at trade shows, but between them and us, its only every few years we’ve been able to ge a review projector out of them until now. We welcome “Hitachi” back this year, however, As of April 1 of this year, projectors sold under the Hitachi label will now be sold as Maxell projectors. (Maxell was a spinoff from Hitachi about 6 years ago. There are no changes to existing models other than the name change – same company, same people I work with, same distribution.
I mention because our first Maxell projector suitable for education is part of this report, the MP-WU5503 shown above. (It looks pretty good, no surprise)!
A key criteria that matters for our Education Projector Report is that the projectors we want to include in the report should all be available for purchase in the June-September timeframe by schools, when K-12 schools purchase most of their projectors. This year, all the entries will still be current products, at least until the end of the 2018 summer.
True, much of the higher education buying is during the same timeframe, but it seems less organized, less huge purchases, and they tend to happen more all year round, especially also in the Fall. Not all of these projectors may still be available when schools let out in May-June 2020 at the end of the school year, but most will.
There are really just a couple of factors:
First is availability. There have been times we wanted to review a projector but due to timing, it doesn’t work out.
This tends to happen because many new models don’t start shipping until early summer. Unfortunately, we have to have our reviews finished by early April at the very latest, to be of best use to those responsible (at the consortium, state, district, and local levels) for determining which projectors for their classrooms and other rooms.
In the past few years, we’ve had InFocus, Casio, and others simply not have what we are looking for, available in time, but have them back the next year. .
A couple of companies don’t offer review units.
The final, and often major factor, are the companies themselves. We’re a small shop with limited resources. Some manufacturers are constantly hounding us to review their projector models (which companies do that can change from year to year).
Other companies, I’ll run into at a trade show and say, we’d love to review one of these, get in touch with me… And I never hear from them. Poor communications from their PR companies (they often handle sending out review projectors), or their product management, (sometimes due to turn over), results in no contact, no reviews.
For example, we have reviewed many InFocus projectors over the years, but then we lost contact with them. We got re-acquainted when an old InFocus product manager returned and started working with us again. Last year we reviewed 2 or 3. This year they didn’t have anything new available on time for the report. Next year, expect them again.
Here’s the scoop for the current report: These 11 projector manufacturers (up from 9 last year) are represented based on reviews performed in the past 12 months. (others are found in the report if they were winners in the past two years).
This year’s “contestants: are Acer, BenQ, Casio, Dell, Epson, Maxell (formerly Hitachi), NEC, Optoma, Panasonic, Sony, and ViewSonic.
Let’s start with those projector manufacturers with at least one model in this year’s report:
Acer: Over the years, most Acers we’ve reviewed have been pico or pocket projectors. This time, however, we have a serious, short throw K-12 suitable, WXGA projector in this report.
BenQ: One of the leading DLP manufacturers, they are easy to work with, so usually have very good representation in this report. This year we offer up three for your consideration:
Casio – We normally have one, sometimes two Casio’s in each year’s education report. After all, they are the largest seller of solid-state projectors in North America. (That’s no counting those tiny pico projectors). All of Casio’s projectors are solid state – no lamps. They use a hybrid LED/laser combination. Casio focuses a lot of energy on the education market, touting the solid state advantage over lamp based projectors for their long life and no required maintenance. Thanks to their hybrid engine, they offer solid state from under $600, while others start at around $2,000.
Dell: After several years since we had previously reviewed a Dell, last year we reviewed their first ultra short throw 4K UHD laser projector. This year we’ve just completed our review of a far less expensive Dell offering WUXGA resolution, DLP, and 4000 lumens. It’s priced aggressively so should appeal to universities and colleges.
Epson – They are by far largest manufacturer in the industry and offer up far more different projectors. This year, however, they comprised an astonishing 7 of the new projectors in the report. Epson is the largest player out there, in part because they offer a lot of projectors in all major categories from lightweight portables to 30,000-lumen monsters, (but no tiny pico/pocket projectors). Last year, theoretically they were seriously underrepresented in our report with only 4 projectors, far less so this time around.
This year we also have a specialty projector from Epson, the Lightscene. Only 2000 lumens rated, this laser projector is ideal for digital signage and museum usage.
We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring this year’s Best Classroom Projectors report.
Hitachi: See Maxell
Infocus: Already discussed above
Maxell: Formerly sold under the Hitachi brand. Maxell Group is a Hitachi spin-off and as mentioned, nothing really has changed but the name on the boxes and the projectors. Existing models perform the same, come out of the same factory, etc.
NEC – This year NEC ended up with only one new model, the P525UL – a brand new laser projector. It is one of the last two units to arrive, so while the review process is underway, and the NEC is eligible for an award, note that the full review will not publish until a week to two weeks after the report goes live on March 31. NEC has impressed us, especially with their low-cost laser projectors (and some high power ones too. This year’s NEC is another very affordable laser projector, geared primarily for higher education.
Optoma – Is a very popular brand in the US, At the time of last year’s report they had about 7% market share which had them #2. Rumor has it that their share has dropped and someone else is now #2, but I don’t have updated market share reporting. Often the Optoma’s we review are K-12 oriented orr lower cost ones for higher ed. Not this year, though, this year we’ve got a serious commercial projector, offering interchangeable lenses, and lots of capabilities. We placed the Optoma appropriately, in our “Hi-End, Specialty” category this year.
Panasonic: Welcome back. Panasonic is arguably the company to first really jump start reasonably priced commercial laser projectors (back then, $20K, more recently under $10K). Panasonic’s line-up of laser projectors (and others) is large, and their market share in the commercial space, even larger. Originally those older lasers were DLP projectors but Panasonic has been doing more 3LCD, such as this year’s 6500 lumen entry, the PT-MZ670U.
Sony – Just one Sony this year, down from two. One of those was K-12 suitable. This year our one Sony entry is more higher education, being a commercial laser projector with all the advanced trimmings (features). Thanks to interchangeable lenses, edge blending, and more, the Sony FHZ61 fits perfectly into our Hi-End, Specialty Large Venue category, more for its features and capabilities than its brightness, where it will slug it out with two other 3LCD laser projoectors (Epson and Sony), and one DLP (Optoma).
ViewSonic – Only one in this year’s report. ViewSonic happens to be a US company – that’s a rarity right there. Most years, we have one or two in the report. This year, just one fit our criteria. Typically, we’re reviewing their models that are most suitable for K-12 classrooms, but this year we chose to run with an affordable interactive, ultra-short throw model. They didn’t have anything new to review in the traditional small fixed install (aka “hang and bang”) projector category.
Notable projector manufacturer brands that aren’t represented in this year’s report:
InFocus: Last year InFocus was well represented, but new models coming out were not available in time for this year’s report. We’ll see them again in our 2020-2021 Education Report.
Ricoh: Not as big a name in projectors as, say, copiers, Ricoh has a nice line-up many of which are very small solid state very short throw projectors. We included one last year, but not this year.
Vivitek – Nothing in this Education report, I had hoped to bring in one, but seems I need to reestablish contact. Vivitek is part of a larger group, along with Digital Projection. They should prove an up and comer. I hope to have a couple in next year’s report.
Others – not around:
JVC – None in our report: Why: Easy! They basically make only make home theater projectors and some ultra-expensive (6 figures) commercial projectors such as for movie theaters. True they have a $30K native 4K projector that is aimed at home, but could have excellent commercial uses, but we can rarely obtain JVC review units. (I ask frequently).
HP, Sanyo, Mitsubishi – Quitters! They are gone. These formerly big names all quit the wonderful world of projectors (well, Sanyo as a company is gone from planet earth too, even though their name survives in some industries (ie. batteries, solar panels), as all their divisions were bought almost a decade ago).
My independent contractor reviewers are the ones that review almost all the projectors in our Education report. At most, I’m good for two to four reviews, as I handle all the home theater ones. Nikki did more of these reviews than anyone, with Chris and Lyle each having done several. Phil, an AV engineer, is my new high end/commercial reviewer. He’s completing 3 reviews that are covered in this report. Nikki’s completed almost 40 reviews for us (and has been working with us for almost three years). She also produces all our videos, as her background is video production. Reviewing projectors is “right up her alley.”
Lyle who contributed 5 reviews to this report has retired. All’s fair, he has both a day job, and now, a baby. I suggested he keep reviewing, even if it means having to loan out his son, but that didn’t fly. Chris, Nikki’s brother, has been helping us out for a while, and this past year did some reviewing, but he just found a full-time career. That pretty much covers the review staff.
I normally handle all the interfacing with the manufacturers, except for a typical fact checking conversation between our reviewers and the manufacturer normally shortly before, or right after publication. (Even those are infrequent, As a result, our reviewers have little direct access, and therefore tend to avoid biases for any particular brand, (and also no axes to grind).
I rely on their reviews and additional feedback in determining the awards we hand out. That’s the gist of how things work here. This is our 11th annual Best Education Projectors Report (I figure we are getting pretty good at it).
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