Seeing the bigger picture: How to choose the right projector

With purse strings tightening across the country, how can you squeeze the most value from your school’s projector purchases? Here, Casio’s Senior Product Marketing Manager Nieve Cavanagh explains what to focus on when selecting a projector for your school, college or university.

What do you need from a projector? The projector market—much like the whole ICT for education industry—can be approximately divided in to two sectors: primary and secondary schools, and further and higher education. The needs of these two markets are different (although they often overlap). Primary and secondary schools usually need smaller, more compact projectors that come in at a more cost-effective price point, while colleges and universities often require larger and brighter projectors to fill large lecture theatres.

Equally, colleges and universities usually prefer the higher resolutions offered by WXGA (Wide eXtended Graphics Array) projectors, producing a sharper image. Colleges and universities also look for models with a higher brightness (measured in lumens), which ranges from the medium brightness of around 1,500 lumens to the high-brightness models at around 3000-3500 lumens. Connectivity is becoming increasingly important, especially for universities and colleges, as laptops are coming equipped with more outputs, such as HDMI (commonly used on high definition televisions but now making its way to mobile devices) and network connections such as Ethernet and WiFi. Want to make sure your projector isn’t left on overnight? Modern projectors also feature some very clever remote management functions to help you keep the equipment under control.

Fitting and security
Every school will use its projectors in different ways, from portable units that travel from classroom to classroom to fixed units attached to the ceiling. Either way, it pays to have a clear vision of where the projector will be placed: will it need a ceiling bracket? Are brackets standard or bespoke fittings—and how much will they cost? If the only viable position is too far from the projection surface, remember that some projectors come with a handy zoom function, which lets you increase the size of the image area.

When thinking about fitting, make sure you keep one eye on security. Naturally it’s tougher for a criminal to steal a projector that is out of reach attached to the ceiling, but it still pays to have a Kensington lock (or similar) built into your projector, especially if the projector will be ‘loose’ around the premises, moving from one classroom to another.

Lifetime cost
The way colleges and universities are funded mean their budgets stretch further than most primary and secondary schools, but that doesn’t mean that quality equipment isn’t out of reach for most schools. In the corporate world, a lot of businesses talk about ‘total cost of ownership’ (TCO)—an approach that looks at the lifetime costs of an item, not just the initial purchase price. A good example that almost everyone can relate to is inkjet printers: today, excellent printers can be bought relatively inexpensively, but within no time at all the cost of replacing the ink will surpass the purchase price.

The same idea can be applied to most other types of ICT equipment, and projectors are no different. Almost all projectors use lamp light sources with finite life expectancies of no more than a few thousand hours’ use. If the projector is used no more than a few times a year and spends most of its time sitting in a cupboard, then the lamp will likely last long enough to justify its cost (which could be as much as a third of the cost of the projector itself). But if your projector is in constant use, perhaps being moved around multiple classrooms and sometimes on for hours at a time, the lamp’s life—and its value—is greatly reduced. The actual operating hours may be the same, but replacing lamps every six months eventually adds up to a serious amount.

See things in a new light
There are alternatives to be found. New technologies (not dissimilar to those found in modern flatscreen TVs) are allowing projectors to significantly extend the life of the light source without reducing image quality. Using a combination of LED and laser technologies, one new projector light source offers up to 20,000 hours of use, eliminating much of the costs associated not just with buying replacement lamps but also with the legwork involved in maintaining the projectors. These ‘hidden costs’ are difficult to track and calculate, but it is easy to see how the time and effort put towards finding, ordering and then fitting the new lamps adds up.

You can easily lower your school or university’s TCO costs by introducing projectors have no need for constant maintenance and expensive lamp replacements, and these new alternative light sources represent the new way forward in projector technology. These new light sources do not deteriorate over time, allowing you to get maximum performance from your nice new high-spec projector. Why buy a traditional projector that may begin to lose brightness within hours of first use?

Green visions
These new technologies are also safer for the environment: the production of standard lamps uses mercury, a toxic substance that is as harmful to humans as it is to the natural world. As well as lamp manufacturing, mercury is used heavily in the production of thermometers, some kinds of paper making and plastics production. There have been considerable efforts, most notably by the United Nations, to reduce the use of mercury in production lines across the world.

Buying a projector can be confusing, even for ICT specialists, as any knowledge gained from buying other equipment, either at home or at work, doesn’t always apply to projectors. It’s essential to know which features are important for your school, college or university, and which features will reduce the burden on you or your maintenance staff.

Budgets may be getting smaller, but with the projector technology available today, there’s no reason to lose sight of image quality and ease of use.


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