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Data Projectors (TES 2004/5)

With so many to choose from, there is a projector to suit the brightest rooms and the most hot-desking teacher. Since projectors are bundled with whiteboards, so it is harder to avoid the half-good. You can teach great with a mouse or a board. Today’s whiteboard mania is becoming the new sad.

Our guide to what’s happy starts with the news that projectors prices fell around 20% in the last year across the full range. At one end, we have the Epson EMP-S1H (£722) at £125 below than last years EMP-S1 that arrived with a clutch of sub £1000 projectors. The specs has improved too nudging up the light level from 1200 to 1400 lumens. With a carry handle, a slot-in remote control and a medium size that makes it feel less dense, this travels well from class to class. Easily overlooked is the short-throw lens that lets you place it close (1.8 metre) to the front. While you measure up your front desk, to see that’s not too close, I’d note one unusual aid to portability, it takes seconds to start-up and 20 to shut down.
Projectors like the EMP-S1H owe their low cost to using a SVGA element and this means they handle an ‘800 x 600’ screen dot for dot. They display larger screens well (typically 1024 x 768) but for the best image, and this applies generally, you do best when to set the PC to match the projector. It’s maybe time projectors had this fact stamped on them. Those with cool widescreen laptops should note this well or they may lose menus off the big screen.
For fair money, the Epson EMP-745 (£2,199) is bright. With 2500 Lumens, here is the light sabre brightness to want in an assembly hall, plus at 1.8 kg it is hilariously light. It uses faster wireless (‘g’) so you can beam a PowerPoint from a laptop or Tablet PC without a signal cable. Using the tiny program supplied, pupils can beam from any computer on the network to show their work more easily than we’ve seen hitherto.
In comparison, Canon’s 2500 lumen XEED SX50 (£2410) is a taste of tomorrow shown by its SXGA+ resolution (1400 x 1050) capability. It is super-compact, has high contrast, precision optics and looks the part. More the school choice is the Canon LV-X4 (£1120) at 1500 lumens with the price hike due to the XGA resolution that gives 1.5 times more screen than SVGA and suits laptops. This is quiet, has high contrast and a ‘blackboard mode’ to work on the dark surface of a classroom blackboard.
The diverse Toshiba range offer a camera arm option (about £250) that lets you point at a book, a test tube or a flower so all can see what you are describing. It helps to have a manicure before use but given a trade for a whiteboard, I would opt for one of these: it is easy, useful, and it works. In particular see the Toshiba S20 (£764) to which you can add a camera arm (S21) or wireless connectivity (S20W) for £234 more. These SVGA, 1400 lumen projectors use a desirable DLP chip which noticeably ups the contrast. For a higher spec portable option I’d look at the Toshiba S70 (£1081) with its 2000 lumens. The brightness makes it versatile, and its short throw lens is handy in a small room. It has two computer inputs and a widescreen setting. The S71 is a version with a camera arm.
Finally Acco have a range which starts with the NOBO S15E (£921) and a respectable 1500 lumens. It’s lamp life is rated as 3000 hours and at 2 kilos it’s very portable. Moving up there is the NOBO X11P (£1309) which is the brighter 2000 lumens option with higher (XGA) resolution. The price looks better when you appreciate it barely weighs a kilo. Acco reinforce the advice which, if you make it to the BETT show is easy to find: get a demo and seek informed advice. I’d only add to ask about security. Network & Cabling Solutions for example have a mean looking ceiling cable but a wander round BETT with a good question, or a Google with a good phrase (“projector was stolen”) will alert to what’s required.

Roger Frost

Projectors - buying advice (2004)

The best news in projectors is that prices have fallen 20-25% in the last year and on such high-value items, that adds up to a lot of money. We’ve seen the same trend these last few years – so the projector you bought three years ago for £3K now goes for half the price and less. But weep not - if hesitation seems like a good thing, a classroom gains massively with a projector. It makes an old PC worth many times more and frankly, makes a whiteboard seem like an accessory.

With starter projector models in the high street costing £699 with tax, and with brightness up slightly (the lumens figure) on last year, it hurts less to look at what the better models offer. Even this year’s plain vanilla projectors boast the extra inputs you usual find on the better machines. For example, you may find extra sockets for audio-in and audio-out that you might use in a fixed installation. Also a number of the Toshiba range have what they call twin-video sockets with ‘active pass through’ where you can not only feed the projector with two computers, but you can see the output on a monitor even when the projector is ‘off’. That’s not for everyone, but if you’re using a machine when the class has left, it is something you may hanker for.

Another trend is the use of DLP (Digital Light Processing), a digital replacement for the traditional technology, called LCD. DLP was not always better - even though it was always thought to be - but new chips offer higher contrast images. They’re also currently the hot tip for showing video because they handle fast moving images better. A good number of them, but you’ll have to dig into the specs, feature new ‘True-Vision de-interlacing chips’ that massage the video to give less jaggy images with richer colours. This is welcome is you’re used to somewhat bleached images on older machines.

Wireless projectors, which let you connect to a machine across a hall without a signal cable first appeared a couple of two years ago and these have also matured. When we first saw them, they could display a static image and just a bit of movement. New wireless units – and not always pricey ones - use faster wireless connections with a more credible result. In particular they can handle the kind of animation you see in PowerPoint slideshows though real video only works provided that it’s in a small window. Future progress towards full screen video requires a change in the way that video is compressed and we’re a little way off that. Wireless offers a convenience factor though I’d recommend it only to those with skill with networks and other dark arts.

While most school projectors are destined to a home on a ceiling pod, those who travel round schools ought to enjoy lugging around one that is barely larger than a long ice-cream brick and weighs a kilo – that’s about a third of the weight of a laptop. The Toshiba TLP-P6 is one example and as much a conversation piece as it is a fabulous little projector. You can carry it in your hand, squeeze it into the laptop bag and its 1000 lumens ought to cope with all but brightly lit rooms. Only a bizarre urge of curiosity would have you weigh its bag and cables, which add nearly half a kilo to the package. A new mini-model, the P7 will be out soon, which is no lighter you can probably pick up the P6 at a nice price by shopping on the Internet.

A few words of buying advice are to research each brand’s model history to work out if you’re getting the latest or an older model at a discount. And take care when buying projectors bundled with whiteboards to check that you get the projector you need and the board you want. With so many projectors to choose, at new juicier prices, there’s much less need to compromise.

Roger Frost

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