Classroom Projector Report: Best Education Projectors 2020-2021

2020-2021-Best-in-Classroom-Education-Projectors-Report

Welcome to our annual Classroom Projector Report. The projectors covered in our report cover a very wide variety of projectors that find homes in K-12, higher education and museums. In our reviewing, and in picking winners for this report, we consider different projectors for different situations.

Overview To The Types of Projectors Included in This Report and Why

Our first step is to define these “Classes.” Standard, which includes projectors found primarily in K-12 classrooms. Thanks to budgets and other factors, K-12 typically spends far less per projector than higher education, which dominates our Large Venues Class. But remember, schools often need bigger and more powerful projectors for their multi-function rooms and auditoriums, not just classrooms. A third “Class” is High-End/Specialty projectors, with the “specialty” including projectors designed for digital signage and projection mapping, which are widely used in museum displays.

Within each of these classes are some very different projectors. Some are standard throw, while others are short or ultra short throw. Right there are three aspects that affect price, and the cost of installation. There are many other defining capabilities in addition to throw distance. Some projectors have fully interactive capabilities, others have varying degrees, including very limited, and none. Interactivity is popular and growing more so.

Every year, we are sure to include at least one projector that is XGA resolution (4:3 aspect ratio). While widescreen projectors dominate today, there’s always a strong replacement market for older projectors, with most of the oldest being 4:3. Advanced networking abilities are important in most education installations today, and we take that into consideration as well. Cost is obviously a key factor. After all, a school can buy perhaps 30 traditional projectors with a particular budget, or perhaps 20 traditional ones and 5 interactive projectors (which typically cost a lot more). In this report we think “usage.” It’s not a specs competition. Our awards go out to great projectors and some that are great for certain applications, environments, etc.

We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring the 2020-2021 Best Classroom Projectors report.  

What's Inside Our Education Report

This year we considered dozens of projectors, picked out perhaps 25 of the most interesting/having the most promise, and ultimately were able to bring in 15 of those assorted projectors geared for the education market. Nine additional Award Winners from the past report, are back. (No this is not a gameshow!) Note: If you are looking for full reviews of individual projectors, you won’t find them here…

What you will find, are links directly to each of the individual reviews of the projectors covered in this report.

In a hurry? The report itself contains short overviews of each projector, and our conclusions about the projectors. Our report overviews will have more of a focus on use in education environments than our full reviews, which generally cover education, business and specialty applications in one review.

On the next couple of pages, we provide links to those full reviews, and to the shorter overviews of each contained in this report. Please understand, there are several hundred models projectors on the market geared for education and business. So, 15 new projectors reviewed, and 9 winners from last year doesn’t sound like much. But most of those 24 projectors have “siblings.” Two to seven additional models almost identical, but varying in resolution, or one adding wireless, or slightly brighter… All considered, we’re showing you one of each of some 24 series of projectors, and those series likely represent close to 100 different models.

I want to repeat something I touched on many times on our website: Projectors these days stay on the market for 2, 3 or even 4 years!

Interactive Projectors in the Classroom
Interactive projectors use in K-12 and college classrooms become more widely used. Most mount above the screen/whiteboard

That is why we consider award-winning projectors from previous years’ reports. That is, if they are still current models, and will be available in large quantities through the summer of 2020. Summer is peak installation time for K-12 and Higher Ed. We have included those previous winners of our Best in Classroom Awards in the review links. Again, if they were good enough to win a top award last year, or even the year before, they certainly are highly competitive this year. Consider them as you would one of this year’s new winners. Some of those previous winners now sell for a good bit less than is talked about in the original review or the previous education report, which further increases value!

Another section of this report discusses and addresses issues that impact beyond the individual classroom, such as operational costs and issues, from lamp, laser, and LED light sources, to air filters, to networking and advanced networking (including compatibility with automation schemes. such as Crestron and AMX). 3D – There was some hope several years back that 3D would sweep into school curriculums and become, if not widespread, at least popular for certain classes. Studies showed that 3D immersion in the classroom heightened student interest and attention, two very desirable outcomes. We don’t focus on 3D at all this year, but many of today’s projectors still support 3D.

Table of Contents

List of Winners

Click below to jump ahead to our lists of winners:

2020-2021 Award Winners: K-12 Classroom Projectors
2020-2021 Award Winners: Higher Education Projectors
2020-2021 Award Winners: High-End Specialty/Large Venue Projectors

What to Look for This Year Compared to Last Year

Laser projectors! This is the first year we didn’t have a single lamp based projector in our Higher Education, or Hi-End/ Specialty sections, only in the K-12 area. Prices on laser projectors still mostly start around $1,500, which, at that price point, is still double the cost of a comparable lamp based projector. But, maintenance costs being what they are, even an extra $750, say over 8-10 years, will be less than the time and effort to change out a couple of lamps…

Don’t forget Casio, who has made their projector living for the last decade by selling more solid state projectors (theirs are Laser/LED hybrids, but cost far less), than any other major manufacturer. Their hybrid projectors start well under $1,000, although our two entries in this report are around $1,000 and $1,700. Their pricing advantage gives them a real edge in K-12.

When it comes to higher education though, just about every brand you’ve heard of now has “affordable lasers.” Those are projectors with roughly 5,000 lumens and  WUXGA or 1080p resolution, with list prices mostly under $2,500, and WXGA/720p lasers under $2,000 list. Not only will they require little or no maintenance compared to lamp projectors, but will no doubt cost less in the long run, because of the much higher cost to support lamp changes…

Ultra short throw projectors, with or without interactivity, are expensive, but continue to grow in popularity, especially interactive ones. In the higher education market, there are now several such interactive UST projectors where you can mount 2 or three along a giant whiteboard in a lecture hall, and splitting your source over two or three screens (think 6 feet tall by 25+ feet), just using a simple connection cable. Add interactivity, then multiple students can work up there at once, using touch of pens. Or, perhaps a formula crazy professor can fill 100 sq feet of whiteboard with all kinds of math or physics…

Pretty advanced networking is now expected in higher education, and more and more in K-12. For very high end, such as museums, tend to select projectors with multiple lens choices (for many situations, projecting at any angle, edge blending (for seamless large images), and projection mapping large (or small objects).

Resolution: Remains mostly WVGA/720p or WUXGA/1080p models for K-12. In higher education. our take is that WUXGA (or 1080p) dominates now, with 4K capable projectors going into some classrooms and halls, but mostly for STEMS fields. Let’s face it: with 4K in a lecture hall, the folks in the back probably can’t tell 4K from 720p. But in a lab or smaller classroom, looking at engineering drawings, renderings, medical images, or even displaying artwork, 4K definitely is the fast growing segment.

ALR screens: These optical screens reject a lot of a rooms ambient light. Definitely consider these screens in rooms with troublesome lighting. The extra cost for this type of screen should normally cost less than spending a lot more for a brighter projector to cut through ambient light. ALR screens are also now available for UST projectors, but they aren’t as effective as ALR screens designed for standard. The first motorized ALR screens for UST projectors are now shipping (motorized regular ALR screens have been out there for about 4 years). Rigid screens are more suitable for the classroom. Count ALR screens as a real plus in the fight for larger, sharp displays maintaining good contrast and rich saturated colors under far less optimal conditions in terms of ambient light. 

Tele-Learning in the Year of CoVid-19

While Tele-Learning of various types is not normally a topic we look at, since large displays is our “thing,” the novel coronavirus now has schools closed, and may require social distancing in classrooms as schools re-open.

Projectors can be used effectively as schools re-open with distancing requirements. Students can be better spread out, in decent sized classrooms, including some at the very back, if the room is equipped with a large enough display (i.e. in K-12 a 90″ diagonal or larger and typically a minimum of 100″ in Higher Education). It may be time to rethink using smaller displays (ie. 60″ diagonal) as they would be far less effective than larger displays. Please check out our feature on the Equivalent Visibility Rule!

Thinking Out Loud! Another aspect is while we are still doing teaching remotely, I am wondering if providing projectors (screens too, but a wall probably will do), to teachers teaching from home. With, say, a 90″ setup in a home office/spare room, a teacher can easily project the equivalent of say, 4 separate computers and tablets at once, of coursework, notes, students, screens, etc. This will allow for better organizing.

All that real estate can be also be used to monitor the individual students computers/tablets/phones, with some of the more capable screen sharing solutions provided by most projector companies focused on the education market, such as BenQ, Casio, Christie, Epson, Optoma, Panasonic, Sony, and ViewSonic, to name most of the major players (and there are others), in “Edu” space. In such a setup, unlike in the classroom where students can see up to 4 other students computer screens on a projected image, this would primarily benefit the teacher, but all that real estate to work with could be beneficial to this new way of teaching? I realize that projector manufacturers mostly already offer these types of split screen capabilities in the classroom. Quickly adapting that software to have it be very effective with everyone remote – and still have that screen sharing, would be a real plus!

The Team: That Created The 2020-2021 Education Report

This year’s report has primarily been the work of three of our team:

Phil Jones, “our reviewer/engineer,” has been responsible for reviewing the high end projectors and several of the “higher education/larger venue models.”

Nikki Zelinger, (formerly Nikki Kahl), has been with us the longest – now over 5 years. Nikki reviewed all the K-12 models and some of the Higher Ed ones. Nikki is also our designer/assembler. We made many changes this year to make the report faster to navigate, and overall, better laid out, than previous ones. Nikki gets the thanks for that, although all of us provided at least some ideas for the redesign.

Art – that’s me. This is the first year that I reviewed only home projectors, and not one education projector, but, of course, probably because I’m the editor/owner, and the person that attends all the shows, meets with the companies, gets the announcements, etc. from the manufacturers, it turned out that Phil and Nikki let me help out. I got to write this Intro, and most of the pages about tech and product positioning, usage. Also, Phil and I wrote all the sections in our brand new (first time ever) glossary, which is very informational!

A little background on this team: Phil writes for me, but is best known for having been Sony’s lead engineer in the US for training and support for home theater projectors. He has run many seminars at major trade shows! I’ve known Phil for about a decade, and worked with him extensively when he was still at Sony. Phil is also very audio savvy, with a similar role with the big home audio firm Sound United (Marantz, Denon, and many others). I share his valuable time and many skills now, with them.

Nikki came to us first to create all our videos. Video Production was her college focus. Since joining us, though, she has also become a highly-respected reviewer with about 50 projector reviews for us to date, plus blogs and other articles too. She is also very web savvy. She has created training documentation for our other reviewers, and she designs our reports, lays out her own reviews, and is generally indispensable around here! (Thanks Nikki!)

Myself (Art) – Well, with 300 projector reviews under my belt so far (a best guess), I’m starting to get the hang of these projectors and what they are good for. As Editor and owner of Projector Reviews, I attend all the major appropriate trade shows, and typically meet with about 10+ of the major projector manufacturers, once or twice a year at shows, in addition to all the usual communications, including choosing and obtaining the best projectors for the team to review.

Selecting projectors to review: I should mention, that we are very selective in choosing the ones we bring in. There are so many average performance, “me too” units out there with minimal differences, that I go out of my way to avoid the mundane. I would have to say that most of the projectors we review would have to be considered, to be among the best in their price ranges and capabilities.

In addition, I worked with Nikki and Phil (as well as reading their reviews) and have ultimate responsibility to determine which projectors are worthy of Awards, and what those Awards should be. We conferenced called and went through and considered each projector. Teamwork! And, although I do get to make the final call as to the winners, I rely heavily on their findings and opinions.

Our wish is that this report helps you make the key decisions in selecting the right products needed for your next successful school year of educating our K-12 and Higher Education students. And we haven’t forgotten those of you affiliated with education, responsible for creating dynamic, engaging displays in museums affiliated with large educational institutions! The magic you folks have been creating in museums using projectors, edge blending, projection mapping, etc, is just that – magical. Our thanks!

Choose wisely! And stay safe! – Art, Nikki, and Phil

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