While hybrid projectors that use lasers or LEDs can save thousands of dollars over the life of the device, they have often come up short on brightness. With Casio’s Lamp-Free technology, the XJ-UT310WN puts a healthy 3,100 lumens on screen. The ultra-short throw projector can create a 6.5-foot image just 36-inches from the screen and uses a DLP chip to display WXGA resolution. It has a good assortment of connections as well as an optional WiFi connection to a tablet or phone. The best part is that the XJ-UT310WN is guaranteed for three years, while the lighting element is covered for five years and has a projected lifetime of 20,000 hours of use. It costs $2,000.
The latest classroom projectors from BenQ put an emphasis on brightness and can connect with cables or wirelessly. The MX768 (XGA) and MW769 (WXGA) use Digital Light Processing technology to put as much as 4,200 lumens of light on a classroom screen. In addition to wireless operation, the projectors have HDMI, USB and wired LAN ports. The MX768 and MW769 projectors sell for $2,199 and $2,399.
The latest NEC projectors give LED devices a run for their money with lamps that can last as long as 10,000 hours or roughly 8-years of typical school use. For instance, the DLP-based M282X puts out 2,800 lumens of light, delivers XGA resolution and costs $629. It starts up quickly and has integrated remote diagnostics so you don’t have to go to the projector to figure out if it is working properly. NEC also has versions that put out 3,200- (in XGA and WXGA formats) and 4,000-lumens and all M family projectors have 20-watt speakers and integrated lens covers that mute the audio when engaged.
The time has come to chuck the cables that dominate the front of just about every classroom because Dell’s M900HD projector can connect to a variety of computers wirelessly. This not only allows for a cleaner classroom but more freedom of movement to interact with students while working the screen.
At 3.5-pounds and about the size of a small textbook, the M900HD is small, light and can easily be carried between classes. The projector comes with both a soft felt bag and a padded case for taking the projector from room to room as well as a small remote control. Because it uses LEDs to create its beam of light rather than a traditional quartz bulb, the projector doesn’t use a lot of electricity, can start-up and shut-down quickly and never needs a new bulb.
Underneath is a single large attachment point for ceiling mounting as well as a three smaller mounting points so it can work with most universal mounting kits. As an alternative, the projector’s front leg can be adjusted for use on a tabletop.
The system can communicate via WiDi, Miracast and can connect directly via WiFi, giving it a tremendous amount of flexibility when it comes to what ends up on the screen. About the only wireless standard that it lacks is Chromecast, but you can always plug an adapter into the M900H’s HDMI port.
Once set up, I was able to use the remote to easily go between a Lenovo Android slate connected via an HDMI cable, an Acer notebook with a WiDi link and a Dell Venue 8 Pro that was connected via WiFi using Dell’s Projector Connection Manager app. The wireless systems were able to maintain contact with the M900HD as far as 30-feet away, but Dell’s Connection Manager software crashed several times on the Venue 8 Pro.
It’s not restricted to wireless operations only. Along its back, the projector has a minimalist connection panel with ports for an HDMI source as well as USB and audio. The projector, unfortunately, does without a VGA port for older systems. It has an SD card slot that can work with up to 32GB cards as well as up to 32GB memory keys. It also has 2GB of storage space on board, allowing a teacher to store many of her lessons on the projector itself. The projector can display Acrobat, Word, Excel and PowerPoint files as well as play audio, videos and images.
Instead of a traditional bulb, the projector uses banks of red, blue and green LED illumination and has two internal test patterns that can help aim and optimize the image. You can choose among four projection modes – including Bright, Presentation, Movie and sRGB – plus one that you can customize the settings.
In Bright mode, the projector does the best job of putting a lot of light onto the screen and the M900HD can run with the lights on. While yellows look sharp and clear, the projector’s blues have a purple tint to them and whites have a blue cast to them. In Movie mode, the colors look much more realistic with whiter whites and sharper colors all around.
With a 1,280 by 800 DLP imaging target, the M900HD works with everything from VGA to full HD source material. Its lens, though, doesn’t come with a protective cap and lacks an optical zoom; it does have a digital zoom.
It’s a quick starter, able to put an image on-screen in 12 seconds and shut itself off in 7 seconds. Contrary to traditional projectors, it gets to full brightness almost immediately, making the M900HD great for grab-n-go maneuvers like going from classroom to classroom every period. On the downside, the projector’s fan is annoyingly loud and registers 44.0 dBA at 36-inches, despite having a peak exhaust temperature of 100-degrees Fahrenheit.
Rated at 900 lumens, the M900HD was able to put 882 lumens on a screen in Bright mode, just short of its spec. In Presentation and Movie modes, which deliver a more realistic color balance, the brightness drops to 714- and 564-lumens, respectively, which might not be enough for anything but smaller classrooms.
The projector can fill anything from a 30-inch to a 6.5-foot screen, although at more than 5-feet, the images start to wash out. I was able to get a super-sharp 36-inch diagonal image from just 44-inches. The projector may not be bright enough for a large classroom, but is perfect for smaller groups, particularly if the teacher needs to move between several rooms during the day.
The big payoff is in the M900HD’s economy. While the projector lists for $899, it can be had for $749 on Dell’s site. This is expensive compared to other projectors in its class, but it has a secret inside. The LEDs are rated to last at least 30,000 hours, or roughly 25 years of typical school use, so you’ll never have a blow out or need to do an expensive lamp change.
It’s also a power miser, using only 112 watts of electricity, about half the power use of the typical classroom projector and no power when it’s turned off. If it’s used for six hours every school day, the projector should have estimated costs of about $16 per year, an annual savings of about $100 versus a traditional projector.
Together, those two items can cut the cost of operating the projector, allowing it to pay for itself in a few years and potentially saving thousands of dollars over its life time. Being a cheap-skate, the part I like best about the M900HD is that the more you use it, the more you save.
+ Small and Light
+ Never needs a new lamp
+ Wireless connections
+ 2GB of storage
+ Quick set-up and shut-down
+ Inexpensive to use
- No optical zoom
- Doesn’t come with a lens cap
- Loud fan
If using bulky pens with interactive projectors is needlessly awkward, Epson has a new idea. Its Brightlink 595Wi ultra-short-throw projector not only can be used with its interactive pens, but fingers as well. The $1,799 projector uses a trio of LCD panels to put 3,300-lumens of light on the screen and lets teachers and students reach out and touch their lessons by interacting with a module that is placed on the wall near the screen. It can interpret the finger motions, taps and annotations of up to six fingers, perfect for on-screen collaboration.
Bright Light in the Classroom
If LED projectors haven’t been bright enough for your classrooms, Acer’s K335 should do the trick with 1,000 lumens of light. The projector weighs less than three pounds and uses a DynamicBlack Digital Light Processing imaging chip that puts 1,280 by 800 resolution images on-screen. In addition to an SD card slot that can hold teaching material, the K335 has ports for HDMI, VGA and audio. It works with an MHL-ready phone or tablet, but you’ll need to buy the adapter cable. The best part of the K335 is that its illumination engine can go for 30,000 hours without a bulb change and is essentially maintenance-free. It costs $699.
BenQ’s MW824ST interactive short-throw classroom projector hits all the classroom hot button issues. It uses a combination of QWrite and PointWrite to be allow several students to collaborate or compete in digital class games. It can connect with phones and tablets via an MHL interface and the system’s lamp can last for as long as 10,000 hours.
The latest in long projector life technology uses neither lasers nor LEDs, just plain old high-pressure lamps that last for up to 10,000 hours. You’ll need to use the projector’s Lamp Saver mode, but that’s equivalent to more than six years of typical school and likely its rough lifetime. The new lamps are available on BenQ’s revamped M5 series that produce up to 3,000 lumens of light and range in price from $429 to $749, based on the resolution of the projector’s image.
Classroom projectors come in all sizes and shapes these days and Epson has a pair of devices that show the range. Both use Epson’s signature three LCD panel technology to create the image and have all the latest ports and adjustments. The PowerLite S17 defines the entry level with a $400 device that can deliver 800 by 600 resolution with 2,700 lumens of brightness. By contrast, the PL 965 ups the specs in all areas, from its XGA resolution to its 3,500 lumens of brightness. It sells for $900.