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Pen or Finger? Why Choose

Bl595Wi aIn 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.

Bl 595wi fThere’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.

BL 595wi bThe 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.

Bl595Wi dEpson 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.

Brightlink 595 wi classroomAt 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.

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Bl595Wi e

Epson BrightLink 595Wi

$1,799

+ 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

 

Top Brightness

Res_db7c1923d5f1d564a56aa831351e57e1If 2,500- or 3,000 lumen projectors aren’t cutting it at your school, BenQ’s MW665 projector puts out 3,200 lumens, lighting up even large classrooms and lecture halls.  The projector can put a 1,280 by 800 image on-screen, has a USB slot for use with a lesson-holding memory key and has ports for HDMI, VGA and networking connections. It can use used with the included QPresenter app for wireless teaching with an iPad or Android tablet. The MW665 costs $999.

Instant Connection

Epson EX7235 Pro AngleWhy is it that you always have trouble connecting to a projector when you didn’t have time to spare? Epson can make quick work of putting what’s on an iPad or Android tablet onto the big screen with its PowerLite EX7235 Pro projector. Rather than fumbling with cables, the device projects a QR code that you snap a photo of with the slate or phone and after choosing what you want to show, it’s projected via the company's iProjection app. All told, it takes less than a minute.

The projector itself is no slouch, either. Like other Epson projectors, the EX7235 Pro uses a trio of LCD screens to create its image. It can put 3,000 lumens onto a screen with WXGA resolution and its HDMI port can work with an MHL-equipped phone or tablet. It costs $649.

Light Up a Lesson

C205 bThe promise of small, light and classroom-ready projectors has finally been fulfilled with Acer’s C205. It may not be the brightest projector in the school, but it is cheap to use, can run on a battery and should be in every school that teaches in small groups.

 At 11.9-ounces and taking up only 1.1- by 5.6- by 4.2-inches, it is among the smallest and lightest projectors available and makes traditional devices look gargantuan. A major oversight for a projector that will in all likelihood travel in a bag or pocket is that the C205 lacks a protective lens cap. The lens is recessed, but it’s not enough.

The white and silver device is quick to set up and doesn’t have a lot of things to adjust. In addition to a focus knob, there are only three brightness settings, an audio enhancement setting and a volume control for its pair of 2-watt speakers. Once you focus the image, you’re set to teach. In fact, it lacks things we’re accustomed to seeing on even budget machines, like keystone correction, the ability to change the image’s color temperature and a variety of presentation settings.

This is actually good news if you want a basic projector that is quick to get going or bad news if you like to tweak the settings. All told, it takes less than a minute to set it on a table, turn it on, connect with a source and start teaching.

C205 cUnderneath is a single tripod mount and a flip out front leg, but the feet aren’t adjustable, which might be a problem when using it on uneven or crooked surfaces. It comes with an AC adapter, HDMI cable and a felt bag, but there’s no remote control available.

Inside, the system has a Digital Light Processing imaging target that delivers 854 by 480 resolution, which should be just enough for most lessons. It was able to create a 41-inch image with the projector 39-inches from the screen.

The key to its abilities is that rather than a traditional high-pressure lamp, the C205 uses LEDs that are rated to last for 20,000 hours, or roughly 15 years of typical school use. In other words, expect for the C205 to outlast three generations of PCs never pay for another lamp.

For its size, the C205 has good connection potential with an HDMI port that can be used with an MHL-based tablet or phone source. It also has an audio and USB connector, but the latter can only be used to power other equipment and not to show items on a memory key. One big advantage of this arrangement is that the USB port can power a Chromecast receiver.

It worked well with wired and wireless sources, but the big bonus for teachers who have to roam the halls during the school day is that the C205 can be powered by its 3,960 milli-amp hour battery pack. On the downside, when you unplug the projector, its light output drops.

C205 aIt charges in a couple of hours and the 4,200 milliamp hour battery can run the projector for 2 hours and 20 minutes, more than enough for several lessons far from an AC outlet. Unfortunately, it has a crude battery gauge that glows green, orange or red and then puts an empty battery image on-screen as it is about to run out of power.

It was able to put a strong image on-screen in 10 seconds and get to maximum brightness almost immediately, which means that there’s no warm up period with students staring at a blank screen. After several hours of use with a variety of material, from interactive Web sites and online video to work with Word and Excel, I was impressed by its versatility. Surprisingly, for such a small projector, it has a fan, but the case never got more than warm to the touch.

The C205 puts out 146 lumens of brightness, slightly off its 200 lumen rating. That’s just about bright enough to be useful in a small group with the lights on. On the other hand, its image gets washed out when filling a classroom screen and it can’t compete with the sun streaming in on a cloudless June day. All out brightness is beside the point for such a small, light and self-powered projector.

The image it projects is fine for most educational material but suffers from screen door distortion that makes the projected image look like a piece of graph paper. Overall, the C205’s color balance is skewed towards blue, but there’s no way to adjust the color temperature of the projected image.  Its greens are too light and blues that look more like purple, but it excels at delivering accurate grayscale tones. 

All this is beside the point because the C205 works well and is more than enough for small group work. Even when in its maximum brightness setting, the C205 uses just 20 watts of power. That translates into an annual expense of less than $3, assuming it’s used for 6 hours a day during the school year and the district pays the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity. Put another way, the projector has a carbon footprint that roughly the size of a tablet computer and is about as expensive to run for a year as the cost of a cup of coffee.

At $350, the C205 is about half the price that schools expect to pay for projectors. Despite its limitations, having a projector this small, powerful and inexpensive will be a revelation for most teachers used to big, bulky and complicated devices. Think of its incredibly low operating expenses as a bonus.

A-

C205-sku-preview

Acer C205

$350

+ Tiny, light projector

+ Battery powered

+ Sharp images

+ Low power use

+ Simple operation

+ No lamp to change

 

- Few adjustments

- Screen door distortion

- No keystone correction

- Lacks remote control

 

 

 

Bullet-Proof Screen

Image001Made of ceramic coated steel, Polyvision’s latest interactive screen will likely last longer than the projector you use with it and maybe even longer than the teacher. Called e3CeramicSteel, the screen can be used with markers or a proejctor and is resistant to bacteria and fire. It's as good for marking up sentences as it is marking up a projected map.

Small Wonder

C205 Projector Right AngleSmaller is better, particularly when you’re talking about a projector that needs to travel from room to room throughout the school day. Take Acer’s C205, an LED powered projector that weighs just half a pound and fits into a backpack or briefcase. The projector puts out 200 lumens at 854 x 480 resolution. Youc an run it off of an AC outlet or its built-in battery and the projector has an HDMI input. It costs $350.

Touch ‘N’ Teach

BL_1430Wi_LT_ANGIf you hate using the bulky pens from interactive projectors, Epson’s BrightLink Pro 1430Wi can make teaching more finger friendly. Not only does the short-throw projector allow collaboration and teaching with up to two pens at once, but you can use your fingers as well to write, annotate or click on an on-screen item. The projector can create up to an 8.3-foot image in 1,280 by 800 resolution with 3,300-lumens of light. Like earlier Epson projectors, it can use the company’s iProjection apps to connect tablets with the projector. The projector costs $3,000 with a two-year warranty.

 

Mightier than the Sword

Penveu5If your school can’t afford to replace its projectors en masse, penveu can help with an add-on that gives integrated projectors a run for the money. The 4-ounce Pen works with PCs and Macs and can annotate and interact with a variety of on-screen material. The pen not only can mark-up what’s on the screen, but can hold either 8- or 32GB of presentations, images and videos, making set up quick and easy. Just plug the Veu device into a PC and or a projector and allow it to wirelessly contact with the pen and you’re set. The set costs educators $500 or $600, depending on how much storage the pen holds.

Screen Disappearing Act

Starling_Tension_RightAngleThe best way to make a screen disappear when not needed is to hide it in plain sight, and Elite’s Starling Tension screen blends into just about any background wall or ceiling. The screen uses a 1.1 gain display material and can be opened or closed electrically via a 12-volt trigger or RS-232 port serial signal from a projector. Available in 100-, 120-, 135- and 150-inch sizes, the Starling has a wide-screen format for 16:9 HD video. Pricing starts at $569.

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