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Essential Equipment for Optimizing Projectors

HDMIPATTERN2.300dpiInstead of struggling with balancing a notebook or tablet on a ladder to put out images for checking and optimizing a projector’s output, I have a great alternative that I will never again do without. My secret weapon is StarTech’s HDMI/DVI Video Test Pattern Signal Generator. The $300 handheld device is the best investment you can make toward making sure every projector is up to snuff.

The key is that the HDMI pattern generator can output eight different standard images for making sure that the projector is centered, focused and is delivering the best color balance it is capable of. It can’t match the 32 patterns that the $600 Kramer 850 can deliver or some of the more intricate patterns, like the Guilloche or even a SMPTE TV test pattern. Still, it should be plenty for most set ups.

In addition to a grid pattern that’s perfect for making sure everything is square, level and sharply focused, the generator has a grid with colored intersections and a standard white and black checkerboard image. The device can also deliver patterns with grayscale and color bars as well as ramps for tweaking its output.

HDMIPATTERN2.BNot all the images are static, though. The StarTech pattern generator has a sequential routine in which the colors in four quadrants rotate clockwise as well as a series of full field images that roll through red, green and blue screens.  About the only thing it lacks is a full field white image that can be used for finding hotspots, measuring brightness and adjusting the projector’s color temperature.

As far as its physicality goes, the device is 1.1- by 5.2- by 3.4-inches, weighs just 5 ounces and can fit into a shirt pocket. Unlike the Kramer 850 and many other pattern generators, the StarTech device is portable and can be powered by a disposable 9-volt battery or the included AC adapter. A fresh battery lasted for over 4 hours and of continuous use and an LED blinks when its power is running low.

The best part is that you don’t need a degree in electrical engineering to get the most out of it because it’s simple to operate. In addition to an on-off switch and buttons for cycling through the patterns, the device has a key for changing the resolution and color depth of the output.  The pattern generator can be used in a variety of resolutions and color depths, including 1080p at 8-, 10- or 12-bit, 720p at 8- or 10-bit and VGA at 8-bit.

The HDMI output port, uses the version 1.3 spec and will work with up to a 16.4-foot cable and will even tell you of an HDCP error. With older projectors you can use a DVI or VGA adapter.

While the emphasis is on the visuals, the pattern generator can help with audio as well. It puts out a steady 1 kilohertz tone for testing and tweaking a projector’s sound system. On the downside, it lacks a volume control, mute button or a way to adjust the frequency of the test tone.

HDMIPATTERN2.bomIt took 6.7-seconds for the pattern generator to put an image on-screen, faster than just about any computer can start up and display a stored image. It’s the perfect gadget for everything from a projector’s initial set up to making sure that every display is creating the best images it can. It also removes the problem of different laptops handling color differently when adjusting projectors or displays.

At $300 (with a 2-year warranty) it’s one of the least expensive pattern generators on the market, rivaling those that cost several times more, but lacks a preview screen. In fact, it’s inexpensive enough to be the standard for setting up every projector and display in a school, guaranteeing that they are all doing their best. 



StarTech HDMI/DVI Video Test Pattern Signal Generator


+ Inexpensive

+ 8 patterns

+ Three different resolutions and color depths

+ Handheld

+ Audio tone

+ Battery or AC operation


- Lacks white image

- No volume control


HD on a Budget

Hc1200 dWhoever it was who said that schools don’t need high-definition projectors couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, the sharper the images, the better the content and the better focus students have on the lesson. At about $1,000, BenQ’s HC1200 makes HD cheap enough for classrooms.

The HC1200 is a one of a kind projector, at least for the moment. At 4.4- by 14.2- by 10.2-inches, its gray and black case doesn’t stand out from the crowd, but it’s what’s inside that counts. The projector has a single digital light processing (DLP) imaging chip coupled with a traditional high-pressure lamp that combine to put out 1,920 by 1,080 images at a rated 2,800 lumens of brightness.

Thanks to come clever engineering with the projector’s color wheel, optics and light source, the HC1200 sets a new standard for color fidelity that no other projector in its category can match. It can deliver over 1 billion individual colors and covers the entire sRGB color gamut.

It may lack optional lenses for different locales, but the single lens approach not only makes the HC1200 very economical, but the lens it uses is well suited to the classroom. It has a wide 1.5:1 optical zoom ratio, can fill a 6-foot screen from about 7-feet away and tops out at a 25 foot image. It comes with a tethered lens cap, but it can be hard to get your fingers in far enough to fine-tune the focus.

Hc1200 eIn addition to projecting 3-D material, the HC1200 offers three teaching templates that include blanks for penmanship, a lined screen or a blank image divided into quadrants. It lacks the ability to use interactive pens, though.

The HC1200 has one of the best assortments of input ports with a pair of VGA, composite- and S-video as well as two HDMI connectors. It adds a wired LAN plug but to connect with a wireless network, you’ll need BenQ’s $50 WiFi adapter. The system adds VGA-out port for mirroring the content as well as RS-232, USB, audio and the projector is compatible with Crestron’s and AMX’s control software.

For schools with powered screens, the HC1200 has the bonus of a 12-volt trigger button for opening and closing the screen. While most of BenQ’s competitors cut corners on their remote controls, the HC 1200’s remote not only mimics the projector’s control panel, but provides instant access to networking settings. There’s a laser pointer built-in, a luxury that every classroom should have.

Rather than the expected rectangular box, the HC1200 is shaped like a trapezoidal prism that’s larger on the top than the bottom. It has an adjustable front leg, four attachment points underneath for ceiling mounting and at about 8-pounds it is easy from one person to install it. The HC1200 comes with a padded bag for those who want to store or move it from room to room.

It might be a fast starter with the ability to put an image on the screen in 23 seconds, but it takes upwards of a minute to cool down and shut itself off when the class is done. It’s also a little on the loud side with its exhaust fan putting out 44.8 decibels 3-feet from the projector.

Hc1200cThe HC1200 has the expected vertical keystone correction, but lacks horizontal keystone correction and image shifting. Its built-in grid test pattern can help streamline getting the projector’s picture just right and its focus was spot-on from edge to edge. There’s a hot spot at the bottom, but you can hardly notice it.

In addition to three color temperature settings, the HC1200 has four projection modes and the ability to project onto different colored walls. While its Dynamic setting is very bright, it has a lot of green in it and Presentation has over-saturated colors, Cinema has a warm feel. Overall, the sRGB setting offers the best balance between brightness and color fidelity. You can also set up two user-defined modes with presets of your own choosing.

The HC1200 can put 2,894 lumens on the screen in Dynamic mode, just above its rating. Using the system’s EcoSmart setting, the projector delivers 10-percent lower brightness, but reduces the HC1200’s power draw from 375- to 315-watts.

The projector doesn’t require a dust filter, so maintenance is a snap and the projector’s optics have been designed so that its colors don’t fade over time. Its $350 replacement lamp is rated to last 2,000 hours and can be swapped in about two minutes. It adds up to estimated annual costs of $352 if it’s used for 8 hours every school day and electricity costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is high compared to other projectors with lower resolution, but not to HD devices.

At around $1,000 the HC 1200 sets a new standard for projectors at roughly 50-percent less than comparable devices, removing all the excuses for not getting HD projectors. It not only leads in color fidelity and resolution in the classroom, but upfront costs as well. 



BenQ HC1200

Price: $1,000

+ Excellent color fidelity

+ Inexpensive

+ Wide optical zoom lens

+ Laser pointer

+ Case


- Lacks image shift and horizontal keystone correction

- High operational costs


How Low Can You Go

S27If it’s Epson, the bottom line on classroom projectors looks like it’s settling in on $340. That’s the price of the new PowerLite S27, an SVGA projector that might cut a few corners but has the best price tag today. It uses three LCD panels and a traditional high-pressure lamp to put 2,700 lumens on the classroom screen while including such luxuries as horizontal keystone correction, optional WiFi connections and compatibility with Epson’s iProjection app for working from a tablet or phone. If you’re looking for XGA resolution, the PowerLite X27 does the trick for $100 more.

Bright Light, No Lamp

CasioThe latest in projectors are ones that don’t have expensive lamps that need replacing, but are powered by LEDs and lasers, like Casio’s EcoLite XJ-V1. The projector puts out 2,700 lumens and its solid state lighting element has been rated to last 20,000 hours of use, or more than a decade of typical use. A big bonus is that it uses only 180 watts, making it an efficient way to light up a lesson.

Overhead, but Still Relevant

ApolloWith all the digital projectors around, you’d think that the overhead projector and its transparent plastic sheets are dead. You’d be very wrong, because Apollo’s projectors are cheaper and less expensive to use. For instance, the Horizon 2 model (photo, right) has a double Fresnel lens for sharp detail, a 10- by 10-inch stage and puts out 2,000 lumens. The projector’s $175 price tag blows away all digital projectors. Meanwhile, the company’s top-of-the-line V3400M model (photo, left) puts 4,000 lumens on the screen and has an 11.25- by 11.25-inch stage as well as a way to change the lamp without opening the case. It costs $370.

LampWhile these projectors can't put a laptop's output on the classroom's big screen, the teacher can write directly on the lighted stage with a marker, making it easier to tear apart a sentence, sketch a map of revolutionary America or explain the different triangles. The best part is that they're cheaper to operate. For instance, replacement lamps for these projectors cost about $10, not a couple hundred.

Up Close and Bright

Np-um351w_slantShort throw projectors are good for reducing teacher shadows on the screen but haven’t always been the brightest bulbs in the school. That is, until NEC’s UM 351W and 361X projectors. While the UM 351W ($1,369) displays wide-XGA resolution and puts 3,600 lumens on screen, the XGA-based UM361X ($1,149) puts out 3,500 lumens. Either way, it’s enough to light up just about any classroom. Both have HDMI ports that use the MHL spec for projecting the contetns of a phone or tablet and a 20-watt speaker that can be used with a microphone so that everyone can hear. With NEC’s NP03Wi interactive whiteboard kit, they can use pens for board work.



The Tablet that Projects

Yoga 2 w projectorFlexibility and strength are the watchwords for yoga as they are for Lenovo’s second-generation Yoga convertible tablets. The Yoga Tablet 2 uses Android 4.4 software and is powered by a quad-core Atom Z3745 processor that runs at between 1.3- and 1.9GHz, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of solid state storage. Its 13-inch screen is about as detailed as they get these days with the ability to show 2,560 by 1,440 resolution. It has Bluetooth, 802.11ac WiFi and can be a standalone tablet, a traditional notebook or a presentation machine, yet weighs 2.1-pounds.

It may be bigger and heavier than other tablets, but the Yoga has a secret for teachers: in the thick cylindrical hinge, the Yoga 2 Pro has a micro projector. It can create up to a 50-inch image in wide-VGA resolution, but is rated at only 50 lumens, so the lights need to be off. It costs $500.

Roll a Screen

WBSU_New_StandSometimes class needs to take place in rooms never intended for instruction and teachers need to be flexible. Elite Screens has you covered with its WB4X10W screen/whiteboard can with its ZWBMS Pro wheeled stand can be rolled around to wherever it’s needed. The screen provides a 4- by 10-foot wide VersaWhite surface to project, mark-up material or both; it comes with a set of markers and eraser. A bigger one is on the way.


One, Two Power Punch

Prd_v30_hi_boomWho says interactive white boards are dead? Not SmartBoard, which now has put together a killer package for interactive teaching by pairing the company’s 77-inch M680V board with its V30 projector. Called the M680viv2, the $1,800 pair can handle two people using it, regardless of whether it’s a teaching pointing at an item or kids doing math problems with markers. The projector puts 3,000 lumens on screen, comes with a three-year warranty and includes a year of the company’s Notebook advantage online service.



Small Projector, Large Beam

F22-small-lens-right-to-leftAuditorium and lecture hall projectors need to deliver extra brightness and resolution so that everyone can see the lesson. That’s where Barco’s Present C 31-B comes in. The small projector’s single DLP imaging engine can deliver either 1,920 by 1,080 or 1,920 by 1,200 resolution in 3,000 lumens and connect via its excellent assortment of ports or without wires using the company’s ClickShare system. There are other members of the Present C family that can deliver up to 8,000 lumens of light



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