In the world of classroom interactivity, the debate continues to rage over which is better: a finger or a stylus. Why decide when you can have the convenience of using fingers as well as the precision of a stylus. That’s the idea behind Epson’s BrightLink 595Wi projector, a device that can not only light up a classroom but fill it with lessons and interactivity.
If you don’t look carefully, you’ll probably think that the BL 595Wi isn’t new at all because it looks just like earlier BrightLink models. Look closer, though, and you’ll find that while it retains the best bits of Epson’s older BrightLink projectors, the BL 595Wi establishes a new standard for short-throw classroom projectors.
Like its cousins, the 12-pound BL 595Wi is a bit bulky but should be fine for one person to install. There are 8 attachment points underneath for ceiling- or wall-mounting. Happily, the package includes a well-made wall mount that lets you adjust the projector’s position in a variety of ways while it hides the projector’s cables.
Unlike its predecessors, the BL 595Wi model lacks any adjustable feet. As a result, you might need to get Epson’s $209 Table Mounting hardware that clamps onto a table’s edge. I actually prefer the adjustable feet that allow me quickly set up the projector for one-off lessons or training presentations.
Once it’s set up, the BL 595Wi’s trio of LCD panels combine for a bright, rich image that can display up to 1,280 by 800 resolution. It is the ultimate in ultra-short throw technology with the ability to create a 52-inch image with its back against the screen and a 9-foot image at roughly 12-inches. Beyond that, the image gets washed out.
There’s a focus bar on the right behind a plastic door that you’ll need to use once or twice to tweak the image. But that’s about it for physical adjustments because the BL 595Wi lacks an optical zoom lens, although it does have a 4X digital zoom for highlighting an item close-up.
It has the expected vertical as well as horizontal keystone correction and an image shift mechanism, but it only moves the projected image by about a half-inch in any direction. Epson’s QuickCorner image set-up procedure can frame a screen in about a minute, even if the projector is off-center. All you do is pull in or push out each of the image’s four sides with the remote control’s four-way arrows. It creates as close to a perfect fit as possible.
On the right side is an incredible assortment of input ports, with Displayport being the only one absent. In addition to a pair of HDMI (one of which works with an MHL adapter and enabled phone or tablet) ports, the projector has Composite, S- and VGA-video connectors. There’s a VGA-out port for connecting another projector or monitor and 3-D Synch plugs. In addition to a LAN connector, it has USB connectors for linking the projector to a computer as well as an RS-232 port for controlling the projector remotely. A USB dongle for connecting to a WiFi network costs $99.
There are several audio-in and out choices as well as a microphone jack. This allows a teacher with a microphone to use the BL 595Wi’s 16-watt amp and single speaker as a public address system for the class.
The best part is that all of the cables are out of sight because Epson has a screw-in cable cover that can put a pile of unsightly wires and cables out of sight. Oddly, the projector comes with extra-long USB, VGA and S-video cables, but nothing for an HDMI connection.
There are controls on the projector, but you’ll need to rely on the small remote control if it’s out of reach. With the remote, you can select the source and adjust a variety of projection parameters, including color temperature, brightness and contrast. There’s even a key for muting the sound and blanking the screen as well as the choice of three pointers that can be projected, but the remote’s keys aren’t backlit for dark rooms.
The projector comes with five test patterns built-in and you can add your own as well as have it display the school’s logo on start-up. It works with PCs and Macs directly, Windows tablets via its HDMI input as well as iOS and Android tablets with the Epson’s wireless iProjection apps. At any point, you can connect up to 50 students or teachers using Epson’s Moderator software and display any four images.
It really comes into its own when you use the BL 595Wi’s Pen Mode. It comes with two pens and a hard plastic case that has a magnetic base. After going through a calibration routine, you can write, draw or doodle directly on the projected image or use the pen as a mouse.
About the size of a marker, each pen weighs 1.9-ounces and uses an AA battery. It has a soft plastic tip that makes it feel like you’re writing on paper and a mouse button. It works with or without a computer connected and even on plaster walls.
The projector also comes with Epson’s Touch Unit, which gets mounted on the wall between the projector and the screen. Once set up, you can draw, write or tap with your fingers as well as the pens – or go back and forth. The action is the equivalent of the pen but without the mouse emulation button, although Epson has programmed in finger gestures for left-clicking, zooming and scrolling.
All told, six people can interact in the BL595Wi’s projected space in any combination of pens and fingers. No other projector provides this level of flexibility for impromptu collaboration, small group lessons or one-on-one teaching.
With all this going for it, the BL 595Wi can be a bear to set up and I wish it were better integrated. For instance, the Touch Unit would be better if it were part of the projector and didn’t require its own cable. That said, it should only add a few minutes to install.
Epson includes a thorough installation manual, something that is increasingly rare in this business, along with a paper template that will make attaching the wall bracket a snap on the first try. The projector’s 285-page manual is similarly exhaustive (and exhausting) but tells you everything you need to know about its set up, operation and diagnostics.
In addition to working with Smart Technology’s Notebook software, Promethean’s ActivInspire and MimioSudio Software, you can license these programs through Epson for a single copy or an entire district. The projector can also connect with a document camera or Web cam. In a series of mock lessons, it works just as well for drawing triangles and sketching maps as for tearing apart sentences. The addition of finger motion helps when you either can’t find the pen or it’s already in someone’s hand.
While the projector uses a traditional high-pressure 245-watt lamp, rather than costing $250 or $300, Epson sells replacements for a reasonable $79. It takes a couple of minutes to replace. It is rated to run for 4,000 hours in normal mode or 6,000 hours in low-power Eco mode.
There’s also a $15 dust filter that needs periodic maintenance. It’s easy to get to and quicker than changing a lamp.
It took 22-seconds for the projector to start up, but you’ll need to wait a minute or two for it to get to full brightness. The projector shut itself off in less than 2-seconds, so little power is wasted. There are modes for Presentation, Dynamic, Theatre, Photo and sRBG material as well as for use with a Blackboard and Whiteboard. In high-output Dynamic mode, it put close to 4,000 lumens of light on the screen – more than 20 percent over its 3,300-lumen specification.
In addition to a surprisingly sharp focus, the BL 595Wi had good color balance, although its light greens weren’t up to its rich reds and blues in Dynamic mode. Things look a lot more realistic in Theatre mode, but you lose about 30 percent of the projector’s brightness. Regardless of which mode you’re using, the projector pumped out smooth video with good audio synchronization.
At full power, the BL 595Wi uses 310-watts of power, which declines to 2.1-watts when it’s off with the projector’s communications electronics remaining on to quickly wake it up. You can set it up to use no power when off but you sacrifice the ability to always be connected to it via the school’s network.
That adds up to estimated annual expenses of about $69 if it is used for six hours a day during the school year and electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, the national average. That’s pretty good, but the projector runs hot with 150-degrees Fahrenheit exhaust and a fan that is loud enough to disrupt a quiet time lesson.
The BL 595Wi costs $2,399 with the wall mounting hardware and a two-year warranty, but can be had for $1,799 through Epson’s Brighter Futures educational discount. At first that might seem high in a world dominated by interactive projectors that cost closer to $1,000, but the BL 595Wi not only comes with a pair of pens (at $150 each) and wall-mounting hardware (at about $300), two options that can add up to $600, but it is as bright as it is flexible in the ways it can be used to teach and learn with.
Epson BrightLink 595Wi
+ Bright image
+ Pen or finger touch interactivity
+ Up to six simultaneous users
+ Assortment of connections
+ Includes wall mount
- Loud fan
- Complicated set up
- No feet for tabletop use