We don't hand our our Outstanding Product of the Year on any given schedule. One year it may be November, the next, it might be May. In this case it's May. Why, because we've found a product, that we see as a potential game changer. To win this, our highest award, the product doesn't have to be a mainstay product. Consider 2009. Our winner was Gefen's Wireless HDMI solution.
Time to introduce you to this year's winner: The Epson Brightlink 450wi, the first of what promises to be an entire class of interactive projectors. To make my point, we had hoped to have as many as 3 interactive projectors in this report, but two other announced ones, the Dell S300Wi (an interactive version of the S300W we reviewed for this report), and the BenQ MP780ST. Both should be shipping shortly.
I worked with, and sold SmartBoard interactive electronic whiteboards, paired to projectors for many years. I'm a huge fan of the two technologies applied together, as a great classroom (or conference room) tool, though I think first of them for the classroom. To simplify the hardware to a single projector plus a basic washable white board (actually just a wall will do in a pinch), and reduce costs significantly, will allow this type of technology to spread through the schools more quickly.
Let's see what this Epson BrightLink 450wi is all about - and why it is the single most impressive piece of gear to come my way in many months.
Epson BrightLink 450wi Interactive Projector
Let's get the basics out of the way, and that's the projector aspects. Certainly the unique projector Epson has designed is more than a regular projector, but first lets look at the regular projector functions. Then we'll tackle the whole concept of interactive teaching, as it relates to the Epson, and discuss the Epson's abilities.
First of all, this Epson BrightLink 450wi is an ultra-short throw projector. That comes with advantages. It mounts with the front of the projector as close as 5 inches from the screen. That distance grows to a maximum of 1 foot 2.5 inches, for the maximum sized image - 96 inch diagonal if projecting a 16:9 or 16:10 image, or 85 inches max if 4:3. The Epson is a native widescreen projector, with a 16:10 SXGA resolution of 1280x800.
Widescreen has its advantages, but never more so than working as an interactive device. In a classroom, your workable interactive wall or board space is limited in height to what the teacher, or, more importantly, the kids can reach. Widescreen projectors, of course are wider, relative to the height, so more usable space that everyone can reach.
Sound eminates from the speaker located in the rear, and it's the back of the projector facing the audience, be it students or colleagues. The speaker is a (for a projector) powerful 10 watt system, which should be plenty of power for carrying typical classrooms or training rooms. Since the projector is mounting to the wall, in the front of the room, wires for interfacing to computers, DVD players, USB devices, monitors and more all conveniently can be run down the mount and wall to the front of the room, for easy connections.
One of those handy inputs is for a microphone. Definitely a nice touch to help carry over the room noise. It's one of those little extras that makes this Epson very well thought out.
There are plenty of inputs and outputs. Including outputs for extra speakers if you really feel the need. There's also multiple audio inputs, two computer inputs, and this projector can run presentations - that is, slideshows of JPG images, from its USB port, either from memory cards, flash drives, some smart phones, and more. (Just remember, we haven't even gotten to the interactive features yet.)
The Epson keeps you connected too. It is a networking projector, and can do email notifications, and be controlled over the network with Epson's provided simple software (or a control system). Need wireless networking? Not a problem, Epson offers that as an optional module that's easy to install.
My goal here isn't to duplicate the review we've done, but to give a taste of what makes the BrightLink 450wi so impressive.
Besides what I've mentioned already, the Epson Brightlink 450wi measures a healthy amount of lumens, and has an impressive 2500:1 contrast ratio, being one of the few business and education projectors out there with a dynamic iris for better blacks.