the digital darkroom – project and print (2003)

One thing we never predicted was the uptake of PowerPoint. A school I know advertised an INSET session as ‘9:30 am PowerPoint’. Never mind the topic! Used in lessons, in assembly and school open days, projectors are a sought after item. Bought like motor cars: when the next best car is over budget, you settle for something with wheels and seats.  (Writes Roger Frost – TES January 2003)

output to screen: project

With projectors you weigh up brightness, resolution and whether you will install or move them. Special features and higher specs solve most location problems and just a few examples make this clear. The Epson EMP 52 (£1199) offers the SVGA screen resolution (800 x 600) you often find. It copes well with higher ratings, but if you switch your laptop to SVGA the image will be clearer still. 
The Epson is also portable, beams 1200 lumens and copes with ambient lighting. For the classroom it may be the ideal and just needs to be seen beside the brighter Toshiba TLP 260 (£1300) at 1500 lumens. The Toshiba TLP 261 (£1635) is the same unit with a camera to demonstrate things. It is so ‘right’ for science, they will never want to share it. This one also has a ‘short-throw’ lens so the projector can be close to the screen. 
Guarantees vary by brand – some do a ‘hot-swap’ if the projector goes sick. Toshiba say that a ‘dud’ lamp will fail early in its life, so you’ll find them guaranteed for just three months and the machine for longer. Higher resolution XGA (1024 x 768) adds to the detail, the cost and convenience. The Toshiba TLP-T500 (£2600) not only has this, in an IT room you can link to it wirelessly over the network. Pupils could, for example, show their work from their network stations. Also here is an often overlooked PC card slot, which if you travel ‘selling’ the school, lets you do a slide show without a laptop. 
Also to see is the innovative NEC range where using ‘3D reform’, slanted, distorted images can be clicked square again on some models. NEC’s ‘Off Centre Positioning’ even lets you put the projector to the side of the screen. Sharp, Philips, InFocus and Sanyo also have significant ranges. 
Bear in mind that projectors are shared and set up in a hurry, so one button setup is the limit. My impulsive tip is to discard the remote control, my other is to reduce the manual to a side of A4, so people know about say, not moving it whilst hot. Do test drive your short list and match the projector to the job. Home cinema projectors, for example, are another species to the classroom variety. 

output to paper: print

For output on paper you can expect to see some changes as low priced colour laser printers sweep the market. After using colour, for design work, school marketing, or circulars, there is no turning back. It takes no fashion expert to see that colour will be the new black. 

But there are costs, some perceived and some real. For example there’s little cost difference between red, blue or black but the difference in impact can be striking. Figures from printer maker Tally, show full pages costing 25p or maybe half the cost of ink-jet print. The bigger difference is about getting real value: will we use this to print web pages or pupils work? At the top end comes Epson’s Aculaser C2000 (from £1050) with a beefy engine able to handle large print runs. The memory of 160 Mb on the top machine copes with demanding graphics with less, printers often go into deep thought. HP has the Laserjet Colour 2500 (£825) and the speedy Laserjet Colour 4600 (from £1360). The latter prints as fast in colour as it does in black. 
New this year are the very compact Epson Aculaser C900 (€URO 799) and networked Epson C1900 (€URO 1099) which may remove the need for separate colour and monochrome printers. Colour and now photograph capable, both claim to print in black at less than a regular monochrome device. 

To print glossy photographs you can do no better than an inkjet photo printer. With a digital camera, examples like the Epson Stylus Photo 925 (£215) offer the fastest route to paper in the classroom. It has slots to take most camera cards and an optional colour LCD preview screen (£67) is also available so you don’t have to fire up a PC. Edge to edge A4 printing, printing from a paper roll and a paper cutter add value to school or home use. 
Put this beside the HP Photosmart 7550 (£255) which instead of 6-colour cartridges, offers seven and a colour LCD as standard. Then again Epson’s Stylus Photo 950 has this (including a grey) to improve image quality up to best. Though without camera card slots, it prints on CD’s. 
The area has become competitive and ranges from Canon, Lexmark and Brother make the choosing harder. 
If there’s change, do stock up on spare cartridges and especially paper supplies. For example, Printasia do matt, silk and glossy in all shapes and show that with inkjets the media is very much the message. 

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