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2014-2015 Award Winners: Large Venue Projectors

Posted on May 8, 2014 by Art Feierman

We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring this year's Best Classroom Projectors report.

Epson Powerlite Pro G6900WU: Best In Classroom - Large Venue

The Epson G6900WU is our top pick thanks to being an aggressively priced (especially for schools) high brightness projector, that is just loaded with features.  Suitable for small auditoriums or large university type classrooms, it measured close enough to it’s claimed 6000 lumens to tackle almost any indoor environment.

True not everyone needs to spend on a projector that’s not only bright, but offers features like interchangeable lenses, HD-SDI for easily plugging in a live HD video feed, or able to put over 300 feet between projector and sources thanks to HDMI with audio (and command and control) over CAT5 or CAT6 using HDBT (HDBaseT).

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A three year warranty with 3 years of overnight replacement is tough to beat, but Epson provides still an extra year of warranty and replacement program for educational institutions!

As one would expect or a large venue projector going into a school, the G6900WU has lots of networking, both built in wired networking and wireless.  Thanks to being compatible with Crestron RoomView and others, you get a host of advanced features such as push notifications, monitoring, scheduling, and full command and control over individual G6900 (and other Epsons) from network control, whether local or remote.

The Epson provides bright rich colors (6000 color lumens claimed as well as 6000 white lumens), a definite strength.  Our only complaint is the natively low contrast typical of 3LCD projectors which result in only basic black level performance.  Still, this projector isn’t likely to be used in a fully darkened room, so that contrast advantages of some projectors quickly dissipate.  The G6900WU is Epson’s flagship, and is WUXGA (1920x1200), which is in part responsible for its price point. Slightly less bright versions of the G series with lower resolution can cost far less, should WXGA or XGA be all that’s needed.  Feature laden, value pricing, excellent support programs!

Sony VPL-FHZ55: Best in Classroom - Large Venue – Solid State

On a short term basis, this solid state light engine projector using lasers, isn’t much of a bargain, in terms of brightness per dollar spent, but the long life light engine will maintain brightness far better than a lamp, and outlast the useful life of the projector without added expense for replacement lamps and the labor cost of replacing them.

New, right out of the box, the Sony was the least bright of the Large Venue projectors we looked at (tied at 4000 lumen claim with the NEC, but the NEC measured brighter).  By the time all of these other projectors have 3000-4000 hours use, those others will either be on their second lamps, or be no brighter than the Sony if still on their first.  The Sony has enough “horsepower” to light up those larger university classroom, or a large multi-purpose room at a high school, and will continue to do so for a decade or longer as it’s laser light source is claims 20,000 hours life.

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This WUXGA (1920x1200) 3LCD projector produces really good color in all but its brightest mode (Presentation) which has the usual extra green push, but not as bad as many.   More to the point, the projector will produce about  2800 lumens with respectable color, and great color still well above 2000 lumens.  Bettter still, the Sony VPL-FHZ55 should still be producing close to 2000 lumens of great color years from now.  Note that 2000 lumens was the standard for years for rental and staging (and few had new lamps, so produced far less).  The key here, is good color and brightness that fades far less than lamp projectors, and over far more years.

The rest of Sony’s feature set includes a standard 1.6:1 zoom lens, the picture by picture (side by side), DICOM support – for displaying medical films and images, and advanced networking with Crestron and AMX support.  Geometric related features include lens shift, 360 degree operation, edge blending, and warping and corner correction.

All considered, the FHZ55 is the best representative of a full featured solid state projector we could find!  We had intended the Panasonic RW430 to compete directly against this Sony, but it measured far less useable lumens, so could not qualify as a large venue projector.

Upfront costs of this Sony laser projector may be higher, but long term savings especially when it comes to not having to change lamps, should make the Sony’s value proposition seem very reasonable, and it’s convenience, superior.

Sony is really standing behind the VPL-FHZ55 with a five year parts and labor warranty, and a best I’ve seen yet, 12,000 warranty on their light engine!  Sony also offers a rapid replacement program.  Nice support!

Epson PowerLite 1965: Worth Mentioning

We didn't come up with a Best In Classroom award for Epson's Powerlite 1965 projector, but this projector does deserve a mention here.  It happens to be at "end of life" although there are a number of similar 19xx series projectors in the Epson line-up.

What makes the PowerLite 1965 a fascinating Large Venue projector is its price point which is under $2000 and that's even before the educational discounts Epson offers.   The secret to the low price for a larger venue projector lies primarily in that its really a portable projector, weighing only about 8.5 pounds, but it does output an impressive 5000 lumens both white and color!  That's definitely enough for those large university classrooms, and small auditoriums.

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The limitation compared to other large venue type projectors is that it lacks interchangeable lenses and lens shift.  What that means is even with a nice 1.6:1 zoom lens, it may not be convenient to place in some of those classrooms.

Well, if it won't work from a placement standpoint, that's that, but if it will, know that this projector has most of the networking compatibilities and related features found in the more expensive Epson G series offers, including Crestron RoomView, allowing push notifications, monitoring, closed captioning, and much more.  There are several other similar projectors sporting different resolutions.   Product is still available as of mid-May 2014, but probably wont' last through the summer.

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