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Being Smart about SMART

Edm600bannerYou no longer need to use a SMART projector to make a SMART board run properly. The Epson PowerLite 680 ultra-short throw projector works well with the M680 and M800 SMART boards and you can get it for $1,160.

Basic and Bright

Me301w aThe classic classroom projector takes a big step forward with NEC’s NP-ME310W, a $575 device that not only puts a large and bright image on-screen but is one of the least expensive classroom projectors to get and use.

At 6.4-pounds, it’s a bit heavier than Optoma’s 5.5-pound HD142X but is still small and light enough for a single person to install and maintain. It measures 3.9- by 14.5- by 11.5-inches and its white plastic body should blend right in to most classrooms. Underneath, the projector has three adjustable legs and five threaded attachment points allowing it to be set up in a variety of ways – from ceiling hardware to a shelf or nook.

It is conventional all the way with a standard-throw lens that has two control rings for adjusting the 1.7X zoom lens and focusing the image. It can be a little frustrating to use at first because it can be hard to get your fingers properly angled to precisely focus the projector.

Inside, the NP-ME310W has a 0.59-inch LCD panel and the device can fill up to a 25-foot screen. While its wide-XGA resolution is enough for showing the typical lesson, it can’t compare to HD projectors, like the HD142X.

It has things that other projectors in its class lack: horizontal and vertical keystone correction as well as pincushion control, making it a snap to get a perfectly rectangular image. The figure 8 control panel might be off-putting at first but it is an improvement over a basic control panel, with a large on/off button and access to adjusting the volume, opening the Menu and adjusting the image. There’re warning lights for overheating and when the lamp is reaching the end of its life.

Rather than skimping on ports, the NP-ME301W has everything you’ll need for today and tomorrow’s classroom. In addition to a pair of HDMI, VGA (in and out) and composite video connections, it has audio-in and -out jacks. The projector’s 20-watt speaker sounds surprisingly good and is loud enough for most small and mid-sized classrooms. The USB port lets you directly open image files from a memory key, but neither videos nor .pdf Acrobat documents.

Me301w cA big bonus is that the NP-ME301W includes wired Ethernet networking. Expanding its horizons to connect to the school’s WiFi network requires an $80 adapter that fills up the USB slot.

It connects with tablets and phones wirelessly. Oddly, the company’s Wireless Image Utility doesn’t work with the projector. Instead, you can use NEC’s Multi-Presenter, which allows up to 16 student screens to be projected.

You can also use NEC’s Virtual Remote Tool to control the projector from a phone or tablet, but the remote control is a gem. It not only fits well in the hand, but lets you instantly pick the source and control things like volume, keystone correction and the projection mode.

To get started, the NP-ME301W took a long 23 seconds to put its image onscreen and another minute to get to full brightness, which can kill precious time at the start of a class. On the other hand, it shut itself off in 2-seconds. In between, the projector’s fan was annoyingly loud at 47.4dB and variable with it changing its tone frequently as what was being projected changed.

Of its seven different projection modes (High-Bright, Presentation, Video, Movie, Graphics, sRGB and DiCom Sim), sRGB looks the best with lifelike flesh tones and saturated colors. At full blast in High-Bright mode put 3,330 lumens onto a screen, about 10 percent above its stated spec, but this drops to 2,700 lumens in sRBG mode.

Me301w dWhile running, the projector used 272-watts of power. With its $99 lamp (rated to last 4,000 hours), this translates into estimated annual expenses of $69 if it’s used for 6 hours every school day and electricity costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s slightly higher than the HD142X but several times more than a Casio EcoLite XJ-V1, which doesn’t require replacement lamps.

The projector comes with a four-year warranty for schools and can be had for $575 with NEC’s K12 Star educational discount. This makes it a small projector that’s a big bargain for schools not ready to take the HD plunge.

 

A

Me301w b

NEC NP-ME301W

$575

 

+ Very bright

+ Large image

+ Input ports, old and new

+ Good price

+ Inexpensive

 

- Loud fan

- W-XGA resolution

HD on a Budget

HD142X angleIf you think your school needs to stick to outdated XGA and wide-XGA projectors because of cost, Optoma’s latest classroom projector is a real eye-opener. It’s not only a simpler approach to classroom video but the HD142X puts up a bright image and is inexpensive to both get and use, but has a hidden got-cha.

At 3.9- by 11.6- by 9.1-inches, the black HD142X is about right for this class of projector, but it weighs just 5.5 pounds. In addition to three adjustable feet for table or shelf setups, the projector has three threaded attachment points underneath. Optoma sells several ceiling mounts, but the HD142X will work with many universal installation kits. The bottom line is that it can easily be installed and maintained by one person.

Rather than a short-throw design, the HD142X has a traditional projector design that can be mounted on the ceiling, table, wall or shelf. The projector’s image is created by a single 0.65-inch second-generation Dark Chip Texas Instruments DLP target that uses a 7-segment color wheel.

The step forward is that the HD142X outs a sharp and detailed 1,920 by 1,080 resolution image on screen. It tops out at 25-feet and can display 3-D material, assuming all wear the funky glasses.

On the downside, it has a minimalist connection panel, with a pair of HDMI ports, one of which can connect with an MHL-capable phone or tablet. It, however, does without a traditional VGA video port. This will leave many schools dependent on old tech behind.

Hd142x backThere’s neither wired nor wireless networking included, but the HD142X does have a USB port as well as a 3-D synchronization outlet and a 12-volt connection for powering a screen. There’s an audio-out jack and the projector has a 10-watt speaker that should be plenty for many mid-sized classrooms.

Turning the HD142X on and making adjustments is simple. It has an old-school control panel on top and one of the best remote controls I’ve ever used. It’s not only backlit, but has buttons for picking from the projector’s five modes, adjusting the volume and changing the image’s aspect ratio. Oddly, it has source buttons for composite and YPbPr video, although the projector can’t work with these inputs. Plus, Optoma has nothing along the lines of Epson’s iProjection iOS or Android apps for a wireless connection.

It took a long 33 seconds for the HD142X to start up and show its image, which can delay the start of a lesson. It took 23 seconds to shut itself down. In its Bright mode, the HD142X was able to put 2,535 lumens on-screen, about 15 percent below the Optoma spec. That drops by 45-percent when using the warmer and more realistic Cinema mode, though. Still, it stood up to overhead lights and a bright sunny day.

Hd142X remoteIn its Bright mode, the projector uses 232-watts of power, roughly twice what the solid-state Casio EcoLite XJ-V1 uses. The HD142X’s $179 replacement lamp is rated to last for 8,000 hours of use. Add it all together and if the projector is used for about six hours every school day, the estimated operating expenses for the HD142X will be a reasonable $60.25 a year. That’s about three-times the cost of using the EcoLite XJ-V1, but equivalent to the much brighter Epson BrightLink 697Ui.

A big bonus is that even in its brightest mode, the projector’s fan only put out 39.2dBA, making it one of the quietest projectors around. That said, its exhaust is kind of hot at 170-degrees, but the projector will likely be far away from accidental contact.

The HD142X sells for $550 and includes a 1-year warranty, making it one of the classroom’s best bargains. By making the most of a traditional projector design and delivering a bright and detailed image, the HD142X does a lot with a little.

A

HD142X front

Optoma HD142X

$550

+ Inexpensive

+ Simple operation

+ HD imaging

+ Backlit remote control

+ Excellent contrast

+ Quiet operation

 

- Lacks VGA input

- No wired networking

4K for the Classroom

Xj-l8300HNWith the ability to run for its life without a bulb change, Casio’s XJ-8300HN projector adds a new level of detail with 4K imaging. With the ability to put 3,840 by 2,160 resolution images onto a classroom or auditorium screen, the projector puts out 5,000 lumens and has a 1.5X zoom lens. It’s based on a single chip DLP system, can shift its image up-and-down or side-to-side for a perfect setup and can fill up to a 12.5-foot screen. Happily, it has all the ports you’re likely to need today and tomorrow.

Touch the Future of Education

BrightLink-697UiIf you’re tired of using (and likely losing) those clunky digital markers for teaching with an interactive projector, Epson’s BrightLink 697Ui is for you. Sure, you can use the included pair of markers to write, draw or annotate on the projected image, but you can also do it all with your fingers like vertical finger-painting.

To start, the BrightLink 697Ui lives up to its first name by combining WUXGA (1,920 by 1,200) resolution with a spec-sheet output of 4,400 lumens, 20-percent more brightness than its competitors provide. It can fill up to a 100-inch (diagonal) screen, show four system screens at once and has been designed for ease of use from start to finish.

The price you pay for this is that the BL 697Ui is large at 5.0- by 18.7- x 17.6-inches – more than twice the size of NEC’s U321Hi-WK. A lot of that extra bulk is because Epson uses three polysilicon imaging targets, but the results speak for themselves with sharp, extremely bright images that are surprisingly rich.

There are five projection modes to choose from, ranging from Presentation (the brightest), Cinema (warmer images) and sRGB (more realistic) to Dicom Sim and Dynamic. You can also easily adjust the brightness, contrast, color saturation and tint to optimize it for each room and use.

On the downside, the dual-action of the BL 697Ui’s interactivity makes for a complex set up. Plan on it taking a couple of hours to complete. The reason is that there’s a lot to do with a separate control box for remotely turning the BL 697Ui on and off as well as switching between Whiteboard mode and connecting to a video source, like a notebook. There’s also a pen holder for stowing the pair of styluses.

Bl697ui cThe Touch Module is what takes the bulk of the extra time to install. It uses lasers to scan the board’s surface to sense where fingers are. It not only needs to be attached to the top of the screen or wall, but it can require reflector strips to be attached around the screen to reduce interference. It takes a sensitive touch to properly calibrate the lasers so they are neither pointed away from or at the screen. Happily, the touch unit has magnets in the back for those lucky enough to have a metallic screen. Others can use the included metal mounting bracket.

The good news is that the BL 697Ui comes with everything you’ll need, including batteries for the pens, all the cables and excellent mounting hardware for putting it on a wall. The mount allows pitch, roll and yaw adjustments; on its own, it’s a bargain at $109 with Epson’s Brighter Futures school discount.

It has every port you’d want for today or tomorrow, including a pair of HDMI, VGA, USB, RS-232 serial, three audio connections and two video-out ports. There’s built-in wired Ethernet and the BL 697Ui comes with Epson’s USB WiFi transmitter for wireless data, an option on many of its competitors. As is the case with other BrightLink projectors, Epson’s thoughtful designers have included a plastic cable cover that can hide a multitude of wiring sins.

Once everything is together, the BL 697UI pays dividends in terms of ease and flexibility of interaction that few projectors can match. When you turn it on, the opening screen shows the cornucopia of possibilities, from projecting the image of a PC or Mac and wireless transfer of a tablet or Chromebook’s display to a variety of PC-free operations, including free-form whiteboard mode, screen sharing and video conferencing.

Bl697ui bI used the BL 697Ui to mark up a colonial map of Africa, model a couple of sentences as well as mark-up the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. It’s responsive with nearly instantaneous action whether you use your fingers or the markers. While you can use up to six fingers for an excellent group dynamic, the projector can handle interacting with two pens at once; they have a handy click button on the stylus’s side that can help navigating a connected computer.

Two things the BL 697Ui lack are the digital protractor and ruler of the U321Hi-WK that can make some classes easier to show rather than explain. The projector package does include a copy of SMART’s Notebook. Anything you mark-up on-screen can be printed or saved for future use. If it’s connected to the school’s network, the BL 697Ui can even email this material to a student home sick. 

The BL 697UI’s output is nothing short of stunning with ultra-sharp images, smooth video and rich saturated colors. It was able to put 4,830 lumens on screen in Presentation mode, more than 10-percent above its spec. This drops by 8-percent in sRGB mode, but it’s more than made up for with more naturalistic flesh tones and color balance. This means that the BL 697Ui can outshine even the brightest day with the shades up.

At its highest output, the BL697Ui used 391-watts, which drops to 2-watts when the projector is idle. Its replacement lamp is a bargain at $63 and an estimated lifetime of 5,000 hours; you can stretch that to 10,000 hours, according to Epson by using the lower-output Eco mode, but at the cost of reduced brightness. Still, if it’s used for 6 hours a day during the school year, you can expect the BL697Ui to cost only $73 a year to operate, assuming that you pay the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. That’s one-third the cost of using NEC’s U321Hi-WK.

Slaves bLike other BrightLink projectors for schools, the BL 697Ui includes a three-year warranty as well as overnight replacement units should a failure shut it down. At $2,500 with Epson’s Brighter Futures discount, it’s worth every penny because it includes everything you need to teach, ranging from essentials (like the mounting hardware) to the ability to encrypt the data traffic and wirelessly connect 50 projectors together.

Rather than taking a short-throw projector and adding wireless markers piecemeal, the BrightLink 697Ui started from scratch with a new design that bakes in interactivity from the start and it shows. This is, without a doubt, the most versatile classroom projector made to date.

A-

Bl697ui a

Epson BrightLink 697Ui

$2,500 (with Brighter Futures discount)

 

+ Pen or touch

+ Very bright

+ Includes mounting hardware

+ PC-free operation

+ Wireless activities

- Long set up

- Lacks some digital teaching aids

Small and Smaller

With solid state illumination becoming the current big thing, projectors are becoming not only maintenance free devices that never need a new lamp, but are starting to shrink. Either of these two devices can help show the class a lesson but do it for less.

Ch100While it can put up a big image, BenQ’s CH100 projector is only as big as a 13-inch notebook and could be the quickest and easiest way to put a sharp image on-screen. Just plug it in and the projector automatically sets itself up, tweaking its aspect ratio and keystone correction. All you’ll have to do for a flawless image is slide open the lens cover, plug it in, turn it on and focus it. It may not have the brightness of others, but at 1,000 lumens, it should be enough for a mid-sized room and its LED illumination engine will never need a lamp change. There’s only a visible on/off button and the CH100 requires the use of its remote control to do much of anything and it has a unique dual menu system for Basic and Advanced tasks. Priced at $900, the CH100 can create a 10-foot image in full HD resolution, has three HDMI inputs as well as an optional wireless streaming module that adds $60. 

Large_aaa90e9ecb0447c1825903a72d7f0b04If that’s still too much projector, Optoma’s ML1000P costs the same $900, but is about half the size of the CH1000. Weighing 1.4-pounds, it’s perfect for taking it from room to room as needed. Using solid-state illumination and DLP imaging, the ML1000P has a 1.7X optical zoom lens and a pair of 3-watt speakers. Like the CH1000, the ML1000P has all the ports you should need for now and the future, but also includes an optional wireless module that can let a teacher roam about the room while remaining connecting and projecting.

Ml1000p close upRather than a traditional control panel, the ML1000P has an on/off switch plus a touch pad for making your selections and navigating through the projector’s menus. For instance, to raise or lower the volume, just swipe up or down. A big bonus is that the ML1000P can turn an SD card into a teaching machine with the ability to directly project a variety of Office files as well as .pdf files. 

Big Projectors for Big Rooms

Wux6500At 1,920 by 1,200 resolution video and the ability to deliver up to 6,500 lumens of light, the latest Canon large venue projectors can cast quite a shadow in a lecture hall or auditorium. The Realis WUX6500 uses Canon's exclusive LCOS imaging engine and aspectual optics for super-sharp video. There are has five optional lenses that can go from placing the projector right next to the screen or have it project across the room. The WUX6500 can create up to 50-foot images, has all the ports you’ll need and works with HDBaseT digital video. It sells for $6,250 with a three-year warranty.

The Bright Screen

Rp653Even as classroom projectors get brighter and cheaper, there’s a movement to replace them with large flat panel displays for everything from videos to interactive lessons. In addition to allowing the teacher or students to get right on top of the display without casting any shadows, a flat panel screen, like BenQ’s RP653, can stand up to the strongest sunlight streaming into the classroom. The 65-inch BenQ screen goes a step further in the movement towards collaborative lessons with the ability to interpret 20 separate finger inputs rather than the projector standard of 10. The Castleberry (Texas) Independent School District has outfitted 128 of its classrooms with these BenQ screens, which also have been engineered to reduce flicker as well as the blue portion of the light spectrum. The best part is that its tempered glass surface has been treated to cut down on germs, making it the cleanest thing at school. It costs $3,500.

Table It

Table compositeIf the profusion of projection tables is any measure, classroom projectors are not meant only for the traditional wall screen anymore. Like Epson’s all-in-one Interactive Table Cart, these tables not only let you tilt the work surface but they are perfect for small group interactions and collaboration. While all have wheels for rolling from room to room as needed, the carts vary from small, easy-to-move ones to huge behemoths that have motorized adjustments.

The good news is that they generally work with Epson’s family of ultra-short BrightLink projectors and can make the finger the most effective teaching tool. On the downside, many of these projection tables cost as much or more than the projectors they work with. Of the four, only the Boxlight table includes the needed interactive projector.

Conen workIT

Conen workITOne of the most automated interactive table available for the classroom, Conen’s workIT is also one of the largest. It has a motorized lift and tilt mechanism that can raise or lower the work surface at the touch of a button. Its 67- by 50-inch rectangular whiteboard projection surface yields nearly 74-inches of workspace that can be tilted from full vertical to full horizontal positioning.

When it’s time to move to another room, the workIT’s 2-inch casters allow it to be rolled to where it’s needed. The casters lock in place to keep the table from rolling away. It’s available at CDW for $3,000.

TeamMate WorksZone Interactive Table 2

WorksZone-HEROThe WorksZone Interactive Table 2 may not be the largest or cheapest interactive projector table available, but it does have a built-in motorized height adjustment mechanism that can help make going from horizontal to vertical positioning a snap. On the other hand, you’ll need to tilt the screen manually if you want to change its angle.

The 60-inch work surface can be combined with an optional notebook tray turning the WorksZone system into a completely self-contained teaching center on wheels. It’ll fit through standard doorways and can be rolled to where it’s needed on its lockable casters. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most expensive of the four at $4,100, $4,400 if you want the notebook tray.

Copernicus irover 2

Irover pairWhile it isn’t as flexible as the others here, the irover2 has a cool trick up its projection sleeve. While it can’t be set at any angle, the irover can be locked in at vertical, horizontal or a tilt of 10-degrees, covering many of the most popular orientations.

It has a built-in notebook tray and optional lockable storage box for a variety of accessories and gear. You can manually adjust its height by 17-inches, bringing it close to the floor for smaller or wheelchair-bound students. On the other hand, it works with a variety of projectors, has convenient handles for pulling or pushing it into place and a handy tray for markers and erasers. At $1,950, the iRover2 is a bargain.

Boxlight P10 DeskBoard

Boxlight deskboardDon’t let its oval work surface fool you, Boxlight’s DeskBoard delivers a lot of interactive space for students and teachers to work with. The 67.3- by 55.1-inch whiteboard means that it can work with the largest interactive projectors and accommodate the largest group of students. Its motorized mechanism allows the DeskBoard to be set up horizontally, vertically or any angle in between as well as move up and down nearly 20-inches.

There’s a big bonus: a wired remote control that lets the teacher get the positioning just right without breaking a sweat. The P10 package costs $5,400 with an education discount, but includes Boxlight’s P10 projector, Quizdom’s Oktopus presentation software and a full PC.

 

Small but Sharp

M300A-HoldingProjectors don’t have to be hulking, expensive, loud monsters anymore. Miroir’s M300A may not be for everyone but at 1- by 6- by 3.8-inches and weighing less than a pound, it is one of the most powerful micro-projectors around. The M300A can project 400 lumens of 1,280 by 720 resolution video, more than enough to fill an 8-foot screen and perfect for impromptu lessons. Despite its size, the M300A has a pair of speakers, good assortment of inputs and 5GB of built-in memory for storing all sort of lessons and videos. The best part is that it runs on Android 4.4 software and has a 5,000 milli-amp hour battery pack so can be used in places where other projectors can’t go.

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.