Posted on March 30, 2019 By Art Feierman and Nikki Kahl
This is by far the largest number of projectors we’ve been able to cover in an annual report, in terms of a single category. This year’s Higher Education “contestants” number eleven.
This group is dominated by laser projectors. All are widescreen – either WXGA or WUXGA, except for what is also the lowest cost laser projector in this report, the Viewsonic, which is XGA resolution.
The company with the most models in this category is Epson with four. Epson, in a minimally “stranger than fiction” moment, had no projectors in this category last year. Still, Epson’s 36% share of the projectors considered here, pales to their roughly 50% market share in North America (source: PMA).
We looked at even more laser projectors, but those with interchangeable lenses are in our new Hi-End/Specialty category. Only one projector here this year that is an Ultra Short Throw is the same Optoma UH330UST found in the K-12 category.
Dell Advanced Projector P519HL
Epson PowerLite 1785W
Epson PowerLite L400U
Epson PowerLite L610W
Epson PowerLite 5520W
The LK953ST is a rather interesting laser projector. It is perhaps the most expensive of the 5,000 lumen laser projectors focused on in this education report, but there are some good reasons for that. This 5,000 lumen laser projector sports DLP technology and uses pixel shifting to achieve 4K UHD.
BenQ traditionally promotes that they give great focus to producing the best color. I have to generally agree. Right out of the box, BenQ projectors seem to have better color than many other DLPs (most 3LCD and LCoS projectors are generally known for better color than many DLPs as well). Still, great to have a projector that starts out with a goal of excellent color, and delivers on that, which makes the LK953ST suitable for many applications beyond basic presenting including digital signage, photography and video production museum use, and scientific (i.e. false color, other color critical applications). Several of the modes offer very impressive color with little or even no adjustment at all. It also has a DICOM SIM. mode for medical films.
You will be hard-pressed to find another projector in the general price range endowed with more inputs and outputs, including 3 HDMI inputs (one is HDCP 2.2), and even an HDMI out. With the HDMI out, two projectors can be easily stacked for double the brightness, without any extra switching. Just connect the two and set the menus correctly! Count that as a real plus for auditorium use, signage, museums or even large lecture halls at universities. The 5,000 lumens of laser power from a single LK953ST should satisfy most other university rooms without stacking. No surprise that the LK953ST has both wired LAN networking and HDBaseT for longer distances! There’s also analog VGA Computer In and Out, an RS232 connector, two USBs and a 12 Volt Trigger, and even a wired remote connector for those special setups (like rear screen usage). A wireless presentation system is optional.
This is a short throw design with a very modest 1.1:1 ratio. Most projectors need to be at least 9.5 feet back from a 100” diagonal screen, whereas this projector can sit as close as 5 feet 10 inches. I point this out so as to not confuse short throw with very short throw (very short throw projectors for that sized screen usually sit 2.5 – 3.5 feet back, and therefore will work on telescoping wall mounts). The LK953ST could use one of those mounts with an 72” diagonal screen or less, but probably no larger. The projector does have quite a bit of lens shift – both vertical and horizontal, for good placement flexibility.
The ST design makes it a bit unusual, but overall, the BenQ LK953ST is exceptionally capable, has good color, and is fairly well-priced. Certainly, there are other 4K capable projectors (including some 1920 x 1080 x2 pixel shifters) priced less for 5,000 lumens, but the overall value proposition looks good. The full review of this BenQ projector should publish by mid-April.
The BenQ LU950 is a WUXGA (1920×1200) resolution projector with a laser light engine. BenQ claims 5,000 lumens on this one – though the projector measured 4,160 in its brightest mode. That’s at mid-zoom (our standard way of measuring lumens), however, so expect a couple hundred extra to spare. That’s plenty for most higher education environments, even those university lecture halls, though it probably isn’t suitable for those 400 seaters! Still, this is a great projector for higher education applications. It even won one of our Hot Product Awards during the review process.
The LU950 has excellent placement flexibility: a 1.60:1 zoom, 60% vertical lens shift/23% horizontal, and HDBaseT for running A/V signals over long distances. Input-wise, this projector is loaded. The LU950 has two HDMIs for your regular image-sourcing, and also another HDMI In and HDMI Out. That pair is used for multi-projector setups, where you can link up to four projectors at a time. This is also useful for image stacking – that is, multiple projectors can be stacked on top of each other and, using lens shift, the images can be moved to produce a doubly (triply, or quadropoly) bright image for a fraction of the cost of a higher-powered laser projector. It’s got the usually RJ-45 LAN port, an RS232 connector, a port for wired remote control, two USB ports (Mini-B and Type A), S-Video and Component Video inputs, an Audio In, and an Audio Out port.
No filters on this guy – so low maintenance. This is true of many laser projectors with sealed light paths, like this one has. That sealed light path is a major plus, as it protects the optics from dust blobs, which degrade and distort the image. In addition to that HDBaseT, the LU950 supports advanced networking through protocols such as Extron, Crestron RoomView, AMX, and PJ-Link, as well as BenQ’s Multiple Display Administrator Software for multiple projector management. It has wireless capabilities via the optional BenQ InstaShow WDC10 plug-and-play device. This “puck” allows up to 16 devices to connect simultaneously, with the added benefit of being more secure than your typical wireless connection.
Casio has been building hybrid LED/laser light engines for about a decade now. They have long claimed to have sold more solid state projectors than anyone else. What gives Casio the advantage is the apparently lower cost to their hybrid solution. We’ve reviewed many of them over the years. This year’s contestant, the XJ-A257, is one of Casio’s newest Slim series projectors. That makes them very portable at only 5 pounds. The XJ-A257 certainly should be a contender if your need is for portability first. There are smaller pocket projectors that have battery packs, but those top out at about 1,000 lumens claimed, and most don’t get close to achieving their claims.
The XJ-A257’s 3,000 lumens claim is impressive for the size, but in truth, it measured not much over 1,500 lumens, although that was at mid-zoom. It should achieve about 1,700 lumens at wide angle. Still, disappointing vs. claim. Bottom line though, the Casio produces very good color at wide angle on the zoom, with about 1,400 lumens. That’s easily enough for most K-12 classrooms. Impressively, Casio packs a 2.0:1 zoom lens for placement flexibility in this tiny package. In fairness, the trade-off is the lens isn’t as sharp as it could be overall. Still, very acceptable.
We would have liked to see networking, but this is a portable projector suitable for mobile educators. Still, it would be nice to plug into the district network when needed. Casio provides a 3 year warranty.
The Dell Advanced Projector P519HL is a DLP projector with 1080p (1920 x 1280) resolution and a laser light engine. Its street price is roughly $1,500, making it competitive laser projector for the higher education market. The P519HL claims 4,000 lumens, though it didn’t meet its claim, coming in at 3,312 lumens in its brightest mode – and that bright mode has respectable color! Most projectors’ brightest modes have a sickly green/yellow hue to them, but Bright Mode on the dell is highly useable.
Though the projector can produce an image of up to 300” diagonal, it doesn’t have the brightness behind it to project that large, unless your environment has excellent lighting control. You’re more likely to find this projector in medium to large college and university classrooms, but not lecture halls. There are simply other projectors that are better suited to that application. There are plenty of applications this projector is well suited for, including those higher education classrooms, as well as smaller auditoriums and lecture halls that seat 100 or less.
This projector has great placement flexibility, with a 1.60:1 zoom – that’s about as good as it gets on education projectors that lack interchangeable lens options. Its inputs and connectors panel is simple: A pair of HDMIs, a USB media port and a powered USB port, VGA connector, Audio In/Out, the standard RJ-45 LAN port, a RS232 connector, and a Service port. That’s plenty for the applications this projector will likely be used for. It has a pair of powerful 10-watt speakers. For most environments, these will be sufficient – if not, it does have the Audio Out port for wired external speakers. Feature-wise, the projector has split screen, a multimedia viewer (images, video, audio files), and an Office Viewer to display Word Documents, Excel Documents, PDFs, and PowerPoint Presentations.
The Epson PowerLite 1785W was featured in the Projectors Considered: K-12 Classroom Projectors page. Refer to that for a deeper look into this projector, but here are the basics: 3LCD, WXGA, 3,200 lumens, 1.20:1 zoom lens, ultra-portable, some good features, and no wired LAN – but it does come with built-in wireless.
The Epson L400U 4,500 lumen laser projector isn’t the brightest laser projector around for the money, but the value proposition starts looking really, really, good if you need high resolution WUXGA. A $2,499 list price puts it below pretty much every WUXGA or 1080p projector geared for schools and businesses. The L400U has six “siblings,” with one of the lower resolution (WXGA) models starting at $1,999. There are also more powerful projectors in the series, including the 6,000 lumen L610W, which we previously reviewed.
Of course, the L400U brings the advantages of laser, including long lifespan and more consistent color and brightness. With the combination of laser, brightness, and resolution you will most likely find these projectors installed in small to medium university classrooms and labs, perhaps some 100+ seat lecture halls as well. Some will find their way into K-12 classrooms but, for most K-12 districts on tight budgets, they can buy three lower cost, lower resolution, and lower-featured projectors for the price of one of these.
Impressive is the sound for a modestly sized projector, thanks to a pair of 15-watt speakers, which is a lot more power than most competitors. It produces enough volume to handle medium-sized classrooms and multi-purpose rooms without needing extra help. That can save some coin. Networking is standard Epson – that is, supports Crestron Control4, others, and all the advanced features that come with those protocols. If wireless is needed, the L400U uses the same Epson wireless plug-in module that almost 100 other Epson models use. Time tested! The L400U was an easy choice for an award, even with some stiff competition, including Epson’s own L610W, and a very low-cost ViewSonic laser projector!
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