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Brighten up the Classroom

Np-m311x_slantupperThe latest projectors from NEC, the V311 family, not only pump out the brightness with 3,100 lumens of light but are available in XGA and wide-XGA versions. Based on Texas Instruments’ technology, they weigh 5.5-pounds, have a good assortment of connection ports and include a 2-year warranty that’s extendable to four years for schools. The projectors cost and cost $629 and $699.


The Case of the Disappearing Screen

EvanesceB_Front_745With teaching room tight, there’s nothing better than a screen that is out when it’s needed and disappears then it isn’t. Elite’s Evanesce B electric screen descends from the ceiling during class and then goes back into its ceiling hiding place. Available in 100- and 120-inch models, Evanesce B is made of a neutral 1:1 gain material with black edging and an aluminium housing. It can be triggered by a remote control or wall switch. It comes with a three-year educational warranty.

Wire-Free Projecting

Gallery_PJT_W1500_03imageWith WiDi just starting to be used daily for wireless teaching, BenQ does it one better with the first projector that has the Wireless Home Digital Interface built-in. The W1500 projector can get its 5GHz video signal from a Bluray player, set-top box or gaming console. Unfortunately, at the moment no notebooks have WHDI. There are computers that have add-on connection kits, though. Based on Texas Instruments’ DarkChip3 DLP technology, the W1500 projects full HD material, is rated at 2,200 lumens and costs $2,300.

Brightness on a Budget

EX6220_Left Angle_WWith Epson’s PowerLite EX6220, a bright projector doesn’t have to cost a lot. The 5.3-pound projector not only puts a bright 1,280 by 800 resolution image onto a screen with an output of 3,000 lumens, but at $600 it is a bargain for schools. With a lamp that’s designed to run for as long as 6,000 hours, it can be among the cheapest projectors to use in the classroom.

The No-Maintenance Projector

Acer K520 aIf you hate climbing on ladders to periodically change burned-out projector lamps and clogged air filters, Acer’s K520 is for you. Not only does the projector not have an air filter, but its innovative hybrid illumination engine has a rated lifetime of 20,000 hours of use, or about 12.5 years of harsh daily school use.

At 3.4- by 12.6- by 9.1-inches, the K520 is a mid-sized projector that stands at the border between portable and installation units; it comes with a padded case. The projector has adjustable feet front and back as well as four threaded mounting points underneath for a permanent set up. Weighing 9-pounds, the K520 can easily be handled by a single installer.

Inside the white and silver projector is a Texas Instruments Digital Light Processing (DLP) chip that projects XGA (1,024 by 768) resolution in 30-bit color. This is a step down from current WXGA projectors that put out a wide-screen 1,280 by 800 image, but more than adequate for most classroom uses. It has a 1.1X optical zoom lens and a 2X digital zoom.

K520 illuminationRather than a traditional high-pressure lamp and a prism that splits the light into its red, blue and green components for the DLP chip to turn into the projector’s image, the K520 uses an innovative hybrid arrangement that is a combination of LEDs and lasers. Red and blue light come from banks of LEDs, while the beam of a blue laser is bounced off of a phosphorescent disc that converts it to green light. These red, blue and green beams of light are then aimed at the DLP imaging chip and on through complicated lenses to project the image on the screen. 

Not only is the solid state illumination engine in the K520 more rugged than a conventional quartz bulb, but it is rated to last 20,000 hours of use, or roughly 12.5 years of use for 8 hours every school day. Compared to the typical high-pressure lamp that lasts roughly 2,500 hours and costs $250, a school can save a lot of money over its projected life, plus have the peace of mind of knowing that you’ll never have to interrupt a lesson because of a lamp blow-out.

Because of the complex illumination technology, the K520 has a calibration routine that takes roughly 30 seconds to cycle through all the colors and make sure they’re balanced. Happily, you don’t have to perform the calibration more than once or twice a year. On the other hand, the projector lacks a test pattern that can help ease aiming and optimizing a projector.

Acer k520 dThe projector’s simple control panel is matched by its minimum of inputs, including HDMI, VGA, S- and composite-video ports, but does without either a wired LAN jack or WiFi connection. The projector also lacks a VGA-out link for streaming video from the K520 to another projector. There’s also audio-in and -out as well as an RS-232 and USB ports for monitoring and remotely controlling the projector.

In addition to turning the projector on and off, setting up the source and fine-tuning the image, the K520’s remote control can start or stop media on a notebook if the projector is connected using a USB cable; it’s not included. The remote has the creature comfort of a backlit keypad, making it particularly good for lights-off lessons, but lacks a laser pointer.

The projector starts up in 13-seconds and shuts itself down in 5-seconds, making it particularly good for stop and go lessons during the school day. On the downside, it emits an annoyingly loud beep when turning it on or off. Plus, when you start up or change the source, it takes the projector a couple of seconds to display the material.

Acer k520 bIt’s quick to warm-up and the K520 puts 2,068 lumens of light onto a screen in Bright mode. Unfortunately, the entire image takes on a greenish cast, and I prefer using the Standard or Presentation modes. There are also Video, Picture and Education modes as well as the ability to create your own custom set-up by dialing-in the brightness, contrast, gamma and other settings. Overall, the projector delivered smooth video and can project 3-D material, but you’ll have to get the special glasses.

In addition to working with a conventional white screen, the projector can be tuned to different colored backgrounds, including yellow, pink, blue and green. This makes the K520 particularly appropriate for quick set up in non-traditional teaching areas. The projector can create up to a 25-foot image, has a sharp focus and a 96-percent brightness uniformity. While its reds and blues are rich and flesh tones are realistic, the K520’s greens are a little weak. It delivered a nearly perfect bright white and showed excellent grayscale imaging. On the other hand, when using an analog source, there’s a slight rippling to the images.

While it’s on, the projector uses an economical 133 watts or about half that of comparable traditional projectors. Using the system’s Eco setting can reduce that to only 97 watts but the image starts to wash out with the lights on. The projector keeps its cool with a 98-degree Fahrenheit exhaust temperature. On the other hand, its fan runs loud at 41dBA, 3-feet from the projector’s exhaust.

The projector’s warranty might be a little troubling for an educational institution. It comes with the standard 1-year coverage for the system as well as the expected 90-day warranty on the bulb. But, the K520 doesn’t have a traditional bulb and its solid state illumination engine should outlive a lamp by years. It’s all new technology without a track record and I’d be more comfortable with projectors of this type if they included a four- or five-year warranty on the illumination engine. After all, it’s rated to last many times more than that.

Because it doesn’t ever need to have its lamp changed, the K520 is potentially the most thrifty classroom projector I’ve seen. It has estimated operating expenses of only $23 per year if it’s used for 8 hours every school day during the school year. That’s roughly one-tenth the cost of many of its competitors.

At $1,200, the K520 may cost twice as much as traditional projectors, but its ace in the hole is that it has low operating expenses and will never need to have its lamp changed. That can save seven or eight lamps over its projected lifetime, or as much as $2,000. That alone makes the K520 a bargain. 


Acer k520 c

Acer K520

Price: $1,200

+ No lamps or filters to change

+ Backlit remote control

+ Uses half the power of conventional projector

+ Low operating expenses

+ Sharp focus


- Expensive

- XGA resolution

- Warranty


ISTE 2013: Short-Throw, Long Lamp Life

Gallery_PJT_MX818ST_06imageThe latest in short throw projectors are models from BenQ that have lamps that can last as long as 10,000 hours, or the equivalent of six or seven years of typical school use. In fact, the lamps for the MX819ST and MW820ST will likely outlive the projectors. Both projectors use 6-color wheel DLP imaging chips to deliver XGA and wide-screen WXGA resolutions with 3,000 lumens of brightness. The projectors can automatically adjust brightness based on what is being projected to allow the lamp to last longer and reduce power needs.

The Teaching Appliance

BL_Pro_1410Wi_Left Angle_Screen MountEver wanted to leave the notebook on the desk and teach directly to the class with an interactive projector. Epson’s BrightLink Pro 1410Wi Meeting Room Productivity Tool lets you take the computer out of the teaching equation.

If you don’t look closely, it’s easy to mistake the BrightLink Pro 1410Wi for earlier BrightLink interactive projectors. They’re both ultra-short throw projectors that are roughly 14.5- by 14.8- by 7.5-inches and weigh about 13-pounds. This makes a one-person set up doable. The projector has a clever screw-on removable cover for cables, adjustable feet for using the projector on a tabletop as well as eight screws underneath for ceiling mounting.

Inside the projector is a trio of 1,280 by 800 LCD panels, and the BL Pro is rated to be able to put 3,100 lumens of light on the screen, significantly more than the BrightLink 475Wi model.

In addition to a control panel on the projector and a remote control, the projector breaks new ground for teaching with a unique external control pad that can help make working with the projector easier and more natural. It uses a pair of AA batteries and connects with the BL Pro via an audio cable or a wireless link. It has USB connectors as well as buttons for controlling the projector and can be screwed into a wall or desktop.

BL_Pro_1410Wi_WhiteboardWhile the BrightLink Pro 1410Wi works well when connected with a PC or Mac and comes with all the cables you’ll need, it works just as well on its own. It falls short of the mark set by the thin-client-ready Mitsubishi WD390U-EST, but the BL Pro can either grab items from a memory key or network connection as long as they are in .pdf document, jpg image or .mpg video file formats. Epson includes a program for converting a variety of files to be directly projected by the BrightLink Pro. It’s a little awkward, but the file chooser is easy to figure out.

The projector comes with two interactive pens and at any time you can pick up one of them up and mark up what’s on the screen or annotate, sketch or highlight an item. It can also be used to control the computer’s pointer or select an item on screen. The pens weigh 1.2-ounces each, use an AA batteries and are easily calibrated with the projector. They come with a wall-mountable case and work just as well on a whiteboard as on a painted plaster wall.

Want to teach free-form? Just set the projector to Whiteboard mode and you have a full-screen canvas to fill with sentences, geometric figures or a hand-drawn map of Revolutionary War battles. The annotation menu takes up some of the teaching space, but can be set up on either side and hidden. There’re several line weights and colors to choose from and a very useful eraser. When you’re done, you can save a screen shot or print what’s on the screen, but there’s no way to record a lesson as a video.

The BrightLink Pro is unique in its ability to split the screen so that on one half you can show a speech from a Web site while making notes on the other half. This alone can revolutionize how projectors can help teach a lesson.

BL_Pro_1410Wi_ConnectivityIts connections set the BL Pro apart from the crowd. It covers the basics well with HDMI, Composite video, audio, USB, RS-232 and VGA-in and -out. It may lack an S-video port, but it replaces it with the more useful Displayport connector, which some notebooks are starting to use. 

In addition to a wired Ethernet port, the system comes with a USB WiFi adapter, but you need to choose between it and using a memory key. There’s also a USB slot for a document camera or other input device.

A huge step forward for educational technology is the BL Pro’s ability to directly link via a school or district’s network with other projectors, but they need to also be BrightLink Pro systems. The same screens show up on all connected projectors, making the BrightLink Pro perfect for sharing, collaborating and performing district-wide training sessions without having to travel.

Set up is made easy with the combination of horizontal and vertical keystone correction, but the BrightLink Pro lacks image shift and an optical zoom lens; it has a digital zoom. The projector can display an image of up to 100-inches and up against the screen, the projector makes a 60-inch image.

There are four test patterns built-in that can help tweak the projector’s placement and settings. Plus, the projector has something I wish more devices would include: built-in help for fixing things like odd color tone or no sound.

BL_Pro_1410Wi_Chief_All_In_OneEpson has teamed with Chief to create whiteboards with an aluminum or wood frame, a simple curved cover that hides the projector and a place to put the pens. They sell for $4,000 and $4,500 including the projector.

In the real world, the BrightLink Pro 1410Wi was able to put 3,515 lumens of light on screen in its Dynamic mode, which has a slight green cast to it; there are also setups for Presentation, Photo, Theater, SRGB, Whiteboard and Dicom Sym. You can also create your own custom projection mode by adjusting a variety of settings.

The BrightLink Pro 1410Wi’s strong suit is its color balance. While other short-throw projectors put muddy colors onto the screen, the BL Pro’s balance is spot on.

It was able to start up in 16.9-seconds and shut itself down in 3.6-seconds, making it a snap for stop-and-go teaching. When it’s on, the projector uses 286 watts, which can be lowered to 192 watts in its power-saving Eco mode; it uses no power when in sleep mode. 

Its $80 lamp is rated to last 3,500 hours and is one of the best buys in technology today; the projector also requires an air filter that should be checked and cleaned when the lamp is replaced. All told, expect that the BrightLink Pro 1410Wi will cost only $42 a year to operate per year, one of the lowest annual operating expense amounts I’ve seen for a projector of this output and quality.

BL Pro mapIn addition to a slew of software for monitoring the projector, the BrightLink Pro includes the infrastructure for using Crestron RoomView hardware as well as Faroqudja DCDI Cinema video processing. It also works with Epson’s iProjection app for the iPad.

With the pair of pens, remote control and the external control panel, the projector can require a total of 6 AA batteries. Happily, the projector includes disposable batteries for all as well as rechargeable ones for the pens and control panel.

More than a mere projector, the BrightLink Pro 1410Wi is a self-contained teaching appliance that doesn’t need a computer to turn a classroom into an interactive space. Its $2,999 price tag is roughly twice the price of other interactive projectors and may be hard to swallow for many districts, but the BrightLink Pro 1410Wi does so much and does it so effortlessly that it’s a bargain.

BL_Pro_1410Wi_Head On_Mount
Epson BrightLink Pro 1410Wi Meeting Room Productivity Tool

Price: $2,999

+ Bright and sharp image

+ Don’t need PC to project

+ Inexpensive bulb

+ Blank Whiteboard mode

+ Separate control Panel

+ Includes 2 pens

+ DisplayPort connection


- Expensive

- No optical zoom


The No-Hassle Projector

Acer K520Does the cost and hassle of changing projector lamps and dust filters have you down? Acer’s K520 hybrid laser-LED projector has neither, which can save a lot of time and money over its lifetime. The trick is that rather than an expensive high-pressure lamp, the K520 uses a combination of laser and LED light to put 2,000 lumens in XGA resolution onto a screen. Able to fill a 25-foot screen, the K520 has ports for VGA, HDMI, component-, composite- and S-video connections. It can work with 3-D material and weighs in at 8.9-pounds. The K520 costs $1,600 and has an estimated life of 20,000 hours, or roughly 12.5 years of maintenance-free school use.  

Small but Bright

W304M_left_300dpiFor those schools that shuffle projectors from room to room as needed, Optoma’s W304M will seem like it should weigh more and be larger. The 3.3-pounder is small and can be carried around during the day without it seeming like a work-out.  Based on the latest Texas Instruments BrilliantColor 2 technology, the W304M pumps out 3,100 lumens of light, is 3-D ready and has basic connections. It puts a 1,280 by 800 image on the screen for $850.

High Wire Act

Mitsubishiwd390uest-2If you’re interested in projecting material directly from a tablet without any wires, take a look at Mitsubishi’s WD390U-EST. The short-throw projector can create a large image just inches from the screen and acts like a wireless thin client, although its set-up can be a bit daunting.

Basically, an updated version of the company’s WD380U-EST, the WD390U-EST puts out more light and can be linked with a classroom computer and a tablet or smartphone wirelessly so that teachers to go PC-free, sort of. The set-up is a bit involved, the first few times using it can be an anxiety ridden experience but it all works together well.

To get it all going, you’ll need to load Mitsubishi’s LAN Display server software on the classroom’s computer as well as Awind’s SidePad Receiver on an iPad, iPhone or Android device. Next, with the projector set to LAN Display and the apps running on the PC and iPad, you’re ready to get started. What’s on the PC’s screen is now on the slate and the projected image.

You can not only teach to a class with this set up while moving around the classroom, but control the host computer with your finger on the iPad’s screen. It all works surprisingly well and linked up on the first try with 10 minutes of set-up work. The system worked with video, Office files, .PDFs as well as Windows 8. Using an iPad Mini, the slate’s response was instantaneous with hardly any lag.

Think of the iPad as an elaborate remote control for the host PC and you get an idea of the potential of the set up. Because all the display computing takes place on the host computer, it can run flash animation and Web sites, something iPads can’t do.

LAN DisplayThe good news is that if you use the same projector and server combo day in and day out, there’s a simple reconnect icon that gets the gear set up quickly. All in all, the WD390U-EST presents a great way to teach while roaming around the classroom. As long as you have a link to the host PC, the iPad controls the show. It had a range of 75-feet, plenty for an auditorium, large classroom or lecture hall.

The projector itself is a winner in the classroom with Texas Instruments’ 0.65-inch DLP imaging engine that projects a 1,280 by 800 resolution stream and can work with 3-D imaging. Like other short-throw projectors, it lacks an optical zoom lens but the WD390U-EST can put a 52-inch image on-screen from only a foot and a half away and tops out at a 15-foot image.

As a bonus to those who don’t want to teach from either a notebook or tablet, the projector can work with items on a network or memory key, cutting the host PC out of the equation. The material needs to be converted to PowerPoint slide shows or .jpg image files, however, but these additions make the WD390U-EST one of the most flexible projectors on the market.

There’s a pair of adjustable legs up front as well as three mounting screws underneath for securely putting it on a ceiling or wall and Mitsubishi sells an innovative $119 mounting arm. The projector works with Crestron’s RoomView and comes with a small infrared remote control that has keys for muting and blanking the screen, picking the source and adjusting the 10-watt speaker’s volume. If remotes disappear at your school, the WD390U-EST can link with PXE DCM+ wall mounted controls.

Mitsubishiwd390uest-3It has inputs for HDMI, S- and Composite video as well as a pair of VGA ports. The projector can stream video to a second display with a VGA-out connection and it has a wired LAN connection. It lacks built-in WiFi, but Mitsubishi sells a $49 WiFi adapter

The projector took 41 seconds to get started and put an image on the screen. Rated at 3,000 lumens, it delivered a little over 3,100 lumens in Presentation mode. The projector also has modes for Standard Black Board, White Board, Theater and a user defined mode that allows most items – including Brightness, Gain and Contrast – to be adjusted. On the downside, the W390U-EST’s colors were slightly subdued and flat, with muddy yellows and light greens.

The projector uses 303 watts at full power and 1 watt while in standby mode. Along with the WD390U-EST’s $199 lamp, which is rated to last 3,000 hours (6,000 hours in Eco mode), the projector has estimated annual expenses of about $171 if it’s used for 8 hours a day during the school year. Its exhaust is on the warm side at 133-degrees Fahrenheit.

Like its predecessor, the WD390U-EST includes a 3-year warranty with the lamp covered for 1 year or 500 hours of use. With the power to turn an iPad into a teaching tool that the whole class can see, Mitsubishi’s WD390U-EST can change the teaching dynamic in schools.


Mitsubishi WD390U-EST

Price: $1,299


+ Thin client connection

+ Ability to work with iPad or Android slate wirelessly

+ Good brightness

+ Wall control module

+ Brighter than predecessor


- Complicated set up




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