$500 projectors are old hat, $400 ones are more interesting, but what about a $330 classroom projector? That’s the bottom of the price pyramid for Viewsonic with its LightStream PJD-5153. The DLP projector is old tech all the way with 800 by 600 pixel resolution, the ability to put 3,300-lumens of light on a screen as well as a pair of VGA ports and S- and Composite video connections, but not HDMI ones.
Projectors come in all sizes and shapes these days, from tiny cubes to monster large venue devices that seem like space heaters. One step up from the smallest is an emerging class of inexpensive palm-projectors that put out just enough light to be of use in the classroom.
Like the Dell MH900, LG’s Minibeam PH550, is small enough to carry around and is quick to set up, but the PH-550 is much smaller. At 1.7- by 6.9- by 4.3-inches and weighing 1.4-pounds, the PH-550 it can be stashed in a jacket pocket or corner of a backpack so it can go where you go all day.
The rounded white case has a focus lever on top, but the projector doesn’t have a conventional control panel. Instead, the PH550 has a minimalist joy stick that you press to turn it in and off. Click it right or left and it can turn the volume up and down.
You’ll need to use the full-size remote control to configure, tweak and use the PH550. There’s neither backlighting nor a laser pointer, but the remote can not only control the speaker’s volume and keystone correction, but it uses LG’s circular Q Menu format that’s been lifted from LG’s line of TVs. Incrementally go around the circle to adjust the aspect ratio, keystone correction, video mode and set up the sleep timer for between 10- and 24- minutes, which is helpful for those who always forget to turn the projector off after class.
With a 0.45-inch DLP imaging engine that delivers 1,280 by 720 resolution, the PH-550 can’t compare with full HD imaging, but for the small classroom or group work is should be fine. The projector uses LEDs to illuminate and project the image so you’ll never have to buy or change an expensive lamp ever again. On the other hand, with a rating of 550 lumens, it can’t keep up with traditional lamp-based devices that put out three- or four-times that.
There’s an adjustable front foot, but if you want to permanently mount it or aim it higher on a wall or screen as well as a single tripod screw underneath. In real world use, the PH550 was projecting its image in 20-seconds and managed to put 312 lumens of illumination onto a screen, about two-thirds its rating and half the output of the much larger M900HD.
Like other small LED projectors, the PH550 does without many of the things we take for granted in traditional projectors, like an optical zoom lens. In fact, the projector doesn’t even come with a lens cap – essential equipment if it’s to travel from room to room all day. The projector does include a soft felt bag that holds the projector, but not the AC adapter.
It also lacks an SD card slot for quickly presenting items, but can lift a wide variety of material from a USB thumb drive. The PH550 can play photos, videos (although not .MP4 ones) and .pdfs as well as Office .doc and .ppt files. In other words, you can put a semester’s worth of lessons on a tiny drive and plug it in when you need it.
You can project in a more traditional manner with an VGA, HDMI and with the included adapter a composite video source; it can work with an MHL-equipped phone or tablet. It worked well with a variety of sources, from a Samsung Tab Pro S to an iPad Pro.
Showing the PH550’s versatility, there’s another way as well. The PH550 can connect wirelessly over WiFi to WiDi laptops and Miracast phones and tablets.
The projector has a pair of one-watt speakers that are fine for small groups, but for larger rooms, they come up short. Happily, the PH550 can link up with a Bluetooth speaker set for rooms that don’t have a wired sound system.
Finally, LG is unique in selling projectors that have TV tuners built-in. It won’t work with a cable TV set up, but the PH550’s tuner was able to connect with 30 direct broadcast stations. You’ll need to supply the antenna, though.
The PH550 can do something that most projectors can’t: run for nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes on its battery pack while its competitors go dark after 20 or 30 minutes of use. If you tap the remote’s Info key a small four-element battery gauge shows up onscreen. The ability to run for several classes gives the PH550 an incredible amount of flexibility to set ups in repurposed rooms that lack AC outlets.
Extremely inexpensive to operate, the PH550 uses only 35.2-watts of power at full blast – about one-tenth that of a conventional projector – and only 0.2-watts in sleep. That adds up to an estimated annual expense of only $5.25, making it among the cheapest projectors to use every day.
Overall, the PH550 is fine in darkened rooms or an overcast day, but with the sun shining or the lights on, the image quickly gets overwhelmed. The projector did well at filling up a 48-inch screen. Bigger than that and the images are washed out, making the PH550.
+ Good input selection
+ More than two-hour battery life
+ Wireless connection
+ Video ports
+ TV tuner
- Lacks lens cap and optical zoom
- Really needs more brightness
The latest projectors from Mimio combine the low-maintenance of laser devices with 10-point interactive touch so that teachers, students and small groups can work together on a project. The MimioProjector 320LT touch projector and the MimioProjector 3200LT ultra-wide projector can fill screens as large as 115- and 132-inches and will never need a lamp change because their laser illumination engines are rated run for 20 years of typical school use. Both are rated at delivering 3,300 lumens and come with MimioStudio and the MimioMobile phone and tablet app.
Because it’s based on lasers rather than expensive lamps that eventually burn out, NEC’s PX803UL large-venue projector can end up saving money. Here’s how: At $17,000 it isn’t cheap, but its illumination engine is rated to last 20,000 hours, or roughly 15 years of daily use. That could add up to something like 6 or 7 lamp changes that might cost several thousand dollars, not to mention the time lost to actually swap the lamps. Rated at 8,000 lumens, the WUXGA (1,920 by 1,200 resolution) projector not only starts faster than traditional projectors, but delivers a clear and bright image. Happily, it uses the same lenses as the existing PX family of projectors, including the new ultra-short throw lens. NEC’s Star Student program extends the projector’s warranty by two years.
Small and light, Vivitek’s Qumi Q6 can go places most other projectors can’t, making it the display of choice for small groups and quick set ups. The best part is that because it uses LEDs to create its illumination, it will never need an expensive lamp change.
Available in six colors, it can be had in everything but the expected dull gray. At 1.5- by 4.1- by 6.4-inches and 1.1-pounds, the Q6 is one of the smallest and lightest projectors around and is tiny compared to more conventional devices. It can fit into a jacket pocket and is the perfect complement to the current small slates.
Rather than a traditional power hungry lamp, the Q6 has a bank of LEDs and a single chip 0.45-inch DLP imaging array. They combine for 1,280 by 800 resolution that falls short of HD resolution. It has the ability to display up to a 7.5-foot image, but starts to get washed out at about 60-inches. Instead of 1,500- or 2,000-lumens of light, the Q6 is rated at 800 lumens and has trouble getting to that level.
Another place where smaller is better is with the Q6’s tiny remote control. Barely the size of a Post-It note, the remote control is powered by a single watch battery and lets you do things like turn the projector on and off as well as select its source and mute the system’s 2 watt speakers. There’s even a Blank button for putting up a black screen.
With a pair of HDMI ports, the Q6 is versatile and flexible. One of them can work with MHL-ready phones and tablets. You may not need to use HDMI cables, though, because the projector not only has WiFi built-in for wireless viewing, but EasyCast Pro. To get it to work, you’ll need to load software on your tablet.
The projector also has 4GB of capacity for storing files. It can directly display images, video, Office documents and Acrobat files and works with material on USB thumb drives.
The projector’s focus was rock solid, although the focusing thumbwheel it’s too easy to touch the Q6’s controls while using it. There are projection modes for Presentation, Bright, Game, Cinema, TV, Movie and sRGB. If you like you can set up your own mix of settings; the Q6 can save two of them.
While the Bright mode has an overall greenish cast to it, the Presentation handles flesh tones much better. Its yellows were surprisingly bright and the projector delivered strong reds and blues. In Bright mode, the Q6 managed to put out 490 lumens of extremely uniform illumination with neither hot spots nor dull zones.
At $600, the Q6 is priced on a par with most classroom projectors, but can save money over the long run because its LED illumination engine is rated to last up to 30,000 hours or nearly 20 years of typical classroom use. That means the Q6 can save roughly $1,000 in unneeded lamps alone over its expected life, turning it into a money maker.
+ Small, light and very portable
+ No lamps to change
+ Dual HDMI ports
+ MHL plus Miracast
+ Built-in document viewers
- Illumination below spec
- No optical zoom
The latest from this year’s TCEA show is Promethean’s huge ActivWall interactive projection system. As if the 8.5-foot version of Promethean’s ActiveWall projection system wasn’t big enough, the company now has an 11.25-foot version on the way. The system provides 128.7- by 50.7-inches of ultra-wide space to work with, is responsive to four pens at once and responds to as many as 20 individual touch points. This makes it just as good for kids working on a group map project as for a teacher going through the steps for solving a quadratic equation.
The ActivWall spec sheet reads like a wish list for classroom technology with a projector that puts out 1,920 by 720 resolution, although at more than 10-feet wide, the interactive screen will stress the size of many classrooms. It has a pair of 18-watt speakers and uses the company’s LaserView technology to replace lamps with a solid state illumination source. The projector delivers up to 3,000 lumens and has a rated lifetime of 20,000 hours, so there’s no lamp to change – ever. It has a Web browser and can save all notations at the end of the lesson.
The big step forward is its ability to link with any computer in the classroom over a wireless connection. It works with iPads, Androids, Macs and PCs so that any child or teacher can project what’s on their screen. It should be available later this and comes with a three-year warranty.
In a move that I sincerely hope others will follow, Epson has reduced the price of many of its short-throw and ultra short-throw projector lamps to $45. It covers all PowerLite and BrightLink projectors and represents a two-thirds discount on some of the lamps involved. It’s enough to make you want to stock up on lamps.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad Stack Mobile Projector has the power to change the way we think about digital teaching. Based on LED illumination, the projector’s 150-lumen light output and 720p resolution aren’t particularly impressive, but it not only fits into Lenovo’s Stack computer scheme, but has a two-hour battery built in and a 1-watt speaker. It can wirelessly connect via Miracast (for PCs and Androids) and Airplay (for Macs and iPads). It works with the Stack router, hard drive, charger and speaker models and should be available this spring.
The latest solid-state projector from Casio not only boosts brightness but does it at no extra cost compared to a conventional classroom projector. Rated at 3,000 lumens, the EcoLite XJ-V2 is 10-percent brighter than the XJ-V1 model and uses Casio’s SSI illumination engine that combines a laser and LEDs. It delivers XGA resolution and not only uses less power, but the light source could last as long as 20,000 hours, or the equivalent of seven or eight lamp changes.
It’s abundantly clear that the V in the model numbers for most classroom projectors stands for value, but the latest devices go a step further than the ones they replace. For example, priced at $359, the basic Epson VS240 takes up where the VS230 leaves off with 3,000 lumens of SVGA imaging versus the VS230’s 2,800. The $429 VS340 ups the resolution to XGA while offering 2,800 lumens of brightness, up 100 lumens from the VS330. Finally, the top of the VS range is the 345 model, which delivers 3,000 lumens in WXGA resolution, while the VS335W tops out at 2,700 lumens. These projectors use LCD panels and don’t skimp on nice extras, like horizontal keystone correction, a slide-up lens cover and Epson’s $99 replacement lamps, but are warrantied for only a year.
Meanwhile, NEC’s V332X and V332W projectors up the brightness to the 3,300-lumen level, making them usable on the brightest day with the blinds up and the lights on. The V332X puts out XGA resolution and sells for $579 while the V332W creates a WXGA image and sells for $649. Both use Digital Light Processing imaging engines, have dual HDMI inputs, horizontal keystone correction and don’t require periodic dust filter changes. Happily, they both come with a 2-year warranty.
Optoma shows that HD belongs in the classroom with a pair of high resolution projectors. They may look alike but the EH341 and DH1012 put out 3,500- and 3,200-lumens, are easy to carry from room to room and have a pair of HDMI ports. If you hate seeing cables in the classroom, the projectors work with Chromecast adapters as well as Optoma’s WHD200 Wireless HDMI system. While the $600 DH1012 has a one year warranty, the $900 EH341 is covered for three years.
Finally, Vivitek makes the best of current technology with its DH758UST ultra-short throw projector. Not only can it create a 9-foot image just 36-inches away from the screen, bit the projector delivers 3,500 lumens in stunning HD resolution. Thanks to a new color wheel design, the DLP-based projector produces vibrant and realistic tones across the spectrum and its lamp can go for as long as 7,000 hours in Dyanmic Eco Mode. The DH758USTir version adds interactivity that lets you use pens or your fingers to navigate, write or draw digital images on the screen.