As digital projectors continue to get smaller and brighter, and as prices continue to drop–with offerings now under $650 in the education market–experts project these devices are certain to become more prevalent in K-12 classrooms and could approach near ubiquity in university settings soon.

Projectors are now light enough to be carried easily from room to room; educators can toggle wireless control of the projector among students during classroom discussion; many are bright enough to run in classrooms without lowering the lights; and, on higher-end models, administrators can remotely control networked projectors to save energy and extend bulb life.

Bob Guentner, product marketing manager for the Visual Systems division of NEC Solutions, said he sees prices continuing to fall in a market that had more than 40 different name brands and nearly 550 models in production as of press time. “The price of projectors is becoming much more affordable–even for elementary schools,” Guentner said. “A number of new schools that are being built are putting a projector in every classroom now.”

Projectors are “a fraction of the cost today” compared to “yesteryear, while the resolution and brightness continues to surpass expectations,” said Steve Reynolds, marketing manager for AVPresentations Inc., which operates EducationProjectors.com. “Just a couple of years ago, a 2,000 ANSI lumen, XGA-resolution projector would cost a school about $2,000, averaging about a dollar per lumen. Today, that model is shattered.” As of press time, he said, a 2,000-lumen, XGA-resolution projector costs between $800 and $1,000.

James Chan, director of product marketing for Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America, agreed that market demand and technological innovation have reached a point where the devices are now more feasible for the average school system.

“Projectors have pretty much reached the pinnacle of value in terms of brightness, weight, and price,” Chan said, noting that manufacturers–including his own company–continue nonetheless to seek ways to reduce the total cost of ownership for schools by improving overall projector design and creating “brighter, more efficient projectors … which translates to cost.”

The lamp, the most expensive hardware element of a projector, averages around $350, according to Dave Dicklich, editor of ProjectorCentral.com, a site for projector information and product reviews.

“Lamp lives are all over all over the map,” Dicklich said. “A good lamp half-life is probably right around 6,000 hours right now. What that means is that, after 6,000 hours, the lamp will have half the brightness it did originally. That’s probably the high end. A typical lamp life is probably around 3,000 hours; some are as low as 1,500.” He said educators should look for projectors with a lamp half-life of at least 2,000 hours. Another cost-saving advancement in projection technology, Reynolds said, is filterless projectors.

“The majority of all projectors have filters,” he explained. “These filters cost schools money in several ways. One, the filters … need to be changed every year or so, depending on use. Secondly, filters need to be cleaned every few months, which is a maintenance expense. And lastly, if the filters aren’t changed often enough, they can cause the expensive projector lamp to burst or burn out prematurely.” Now, there are a handful of DLP projectors that are filterless, saving schools time and resources. In addition, “the lamps in filterless projectors tend to last quite a bit longer than [in] filtered projectors,” Reynolds said.

Two other features that are becoming more prevalent in today’s digital projectors are wireless technology and networking capabilities. Joe Starten of technology reseller CDW Government Inc. said wireless technology is becoming available in more devices across all price points.

“Mobile technology is evolving every couple of months,” Starten said. “Instructors are now integrating wireless technology in K-12 and higher-education learning environments–and they’re using the projector. Students are able to take over the projector from their desk, using their notebooks, and show the class their own work. One thing I continue to hear from teachers is that students who are normally quiet are more engaged when able to communicate with the class using the projector.”

Bill Pangburn, with the office of instructional technologies for John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said it’s still unclear how the application of wireless technology to projectors will play out, but wireless communication among notebooks and projectors is “just the next step” in the evolution of the technology.

Pangburn said he’s interested to see whether Bluetooth, a short-range wireless networking technology aimed at simplifying communications among internet-connected devices, or the emerging 802.11n Wi-Fi standard will emerge as the technology of choice for wireless projectors. For now, he said, the “market is still working out” which technology will become the industry standard.

Not everyone is sold on the need for wireless. Paul Criswell, product manager for projector maker InFocus Corp., said he doesn’t see wireless projectors taking off in the classroom just yet. “What’s going to drive growth in the projector market is not wireless projection, but affordable prices,” he said.

Networking capabilities typically are found only on higher-end projectors right now, but these capabilities are expected to appear soon on more affordable models, too.

“Network projectors offer management capabilities over the network,” Pangburn said. “You can monitor … the life expectancy of the bulb, [check to see] if the projector is still working properly, turn it on and off, and monitor hours of usage. You can do all of that centrally from the back office. The trouble is, [these projectors] have been too expensive for our available funds.”

According to Dicklich of Projector Central.com, 118 of the digital projectors on the market had networking capabilities as of press time. But pricing for these models started at just under $2,000.

Besides the ability to monitor usage, another benefit to having a networked projector is greater security: “If that projector should ever be disconnected from the network, … you’ll know,” Dicklich said.

Other security features on recent projectors include PIN password security protection that offers a deterrent to students who might want to remove the projector from the classroom. “[Students] know that if they steal the item and get it home, they’ll be unable to use it” because they don’t know the password, Criswell said.

Regarding lumen output, which is the measure of a projector’s brightness, Dicklich referred readers to a calculator on his organization’s web site that allows users to choose different vendors and models and calculate brightness based on ambient room light, application, screen size, and gain, which is a measure of screen reflectivity.

Dicklich also offered a rule of thumb for determining how much brightness is needed for video versus data, based on the configuration of a specific room.

“If you’re showing video, keep in mind that all commercial projectors will lose about half their brightness when switching from data to video use,” he said. “This isn’t usually a problem if you can eliminate or significantly reduce room light.”

Current projectors have a lumen output of as little as 1,500 to as high as 6,000 or more. Most classrooms, Pangburn said, should be equipped with a projector that has a lumen output of “around 2,000.”

Dicklich suggested that the user know his or her audience. “If you’re dealing with young children, you have to hold their attention,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to hold their attention if the machine is insufficiently bright.”

“Mobile technology is evolving every couple of months,” Starten said. “Instructors are now integrating wireless technology in K-12 and higher-education learning environments–and they’re using the projector. Students are able to take over the projector from their desk, using their notebooks, and show the class their own work. One thing I continue to hear from teachers is that students who are normally quiet are more engaged when able to communicate with the class using the projector.”

Bill Pangburn, with the office of instructional technologies for John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said it’s still unclear how the application of wireless technology to projectors will play out, but wireless communication among notebooks and projectors is “just the next step” in the evolution of the technology.

Pangburn said he’s interested to see whether Bluetooth, a short-range wireless networking technology aimed at simplifying communications among internet-connected devices, or the emerging 802.11n Wi-Fi standard will emerge as the technology of choice for wireless projectors. For now, he said, the “market is still working out” which technology will become the industry standard.

Not everyone is sold on the need for wireless. Paul Criswell, product manager for projector maker InFocus Corp., said he doesn’t see wireless projectors taking off in the classroom just yet. “What’s going to drive growth in the projector market is not wireless projection, but affordable prices,” he said.

Networking capabilities typically are found only on higher-end projectors right now, but these capabilities are expected to appear soon on more affordable models, too.

“Network projectors offer management capabilities over the network,” Pangburn said. “You can monitor … the life expectancy of the bulb, [check to see] if the projector is still working properly, turn it on and off, and monitor hours of usage. You can do all of that centrally from the back office. The trouble is, [these projectors] have been too expensive for our available funds.”

According to Dicklich of Projector Central.com, 118 of the digital projectors on the market had networking capabilities as of press time. But pricing for these models started at just under $2,000.

Besides the ability to monitor usage, another benefit to having a networked projector is greater security: “If that projector should ever be disconnected from the network, … you’ll know,” Dicklich said.

Other security features on recent projectors include PIN password security protection that offers a deterrent to students who might want to remove the projector from the classroom. “[Students] know that if they steal the item and get it home, they’ll be unable to use it” because they don’t know the password, Criswell said.

Regarding lumen output, which is the measure of a projector’s brightness, Dicklich referred readers to a calculator on his organization’s web site that allows users to choose different vendors and models and calculate brightness based on ambient room light, application, screen size, and gain, which is a measure of screen reflectivity.

Dicklich also offered a rule of thumb for determining how much brightness is needed for video versus data, based on the configuration of a specific room.

“If you’re showing video, keep in mind that all commercial projectors will lose about half their brightness when switching from data to video use,” he said. “This isn’t usually a problem if you can eliminate or significantly reduce room light.”

Current projectors have a lumen output of as little as 1,500 to as high as 6,000 or more. Most classrooms, Pangburn said, should be equipped with a projector that has a lumen output of “around 2,000.”

Dicklich suggested that the user know his or her audience. “If you’re dealing with young children, you have to hold their attention,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to hold their attention if the machine is insufficiently bright.”