Aiming to win over education customers, makers of projectors and other presentation systems are focusing their latest efforts on saving schools time and money.

Audiovisual customers have been hearing how lens shift, new filter technologies, and other innovations will keep schools on budget without sacrificing quality. This report highlights some of these cost-saving features, as well as other new AV trends–including a new color specification; low-cost, widescreen, and wireless projectors; and touch-screen monitors.

Lens shift

Many manufacturers, such as Panasonic Projector Systems Co., are now touting "lens shift" as a cost-saving feature.

Panasonic says lens shift on its new PT-F series projectors–which have a brightness of 3,500 lumens–can cut installation costs. Lens shift, combined with a 2x powered zoom lens, "can reduce costs by relaxing placement and permitting the use of existing mounting positions," the company says.

Lens shift makes installing a projector easier, and therefore cheaper, manufacturers say. With lens shift, users can move the projector’s lens from side to side or up and down, giving the installer a wider range of positions to choose from to get the best screen geometry. Without lens shift, there is less flexibility–and only one place to mount the projector correctly.

Some projectors offer digital keystoning to align an image on the screen, instead of lens shift. The downside is that the image can appear distorted, and pixels are lost.

"Lens shift isn’t particularly new," said Tim Anderson, senior marketing manager of 3LCD, an industry group that markets the three-color chip technology used in LCD projectors for Epson, Sony, and other manufacturers. "It’s been around for a couple of years. [But] it’s not well known and not something customers are asking for."

Manufacturers are hoping to change that by promoting the technology’s benefits.

Better filters

Innovative new filter technologies promise to decrease a projector’s total cost of ownership (TCO). Several manufacturers are touting filterless projectors, new scrolling filters, and even filters that need changing less frequently.

Traditionally, DLP projectors do not require filters, whereas LCD projectors have a dust filter that needs cleaning or changing periodically. The cost of cleaning and replacing this filter increases the cost of owning the projector over its lifetime.

Panasonic’s PT-F series projectors have a second-generation rolling filter that advances automatically, like a scroll. Each filter provides 25 rotations before someone has to clean or replace the filter.

"When you figure in the cost of labor times 25 and the fact that the room cannot be in use for the service to be provided, this is a huge savings," said Frank Covelli, Panasonic’s national higher-education sales manager.

In the PT-FW100NTU model, the filter automatically rotates at set intervals. The standard setting is every 240 hours of use, but this can be adjusted to every 120 hours or every 60 hours for extremely dusty environments. In the PT-F200 series projectors, the filter rotates as needed, when heat sensors detect restricted airflow.

Hitachi Home Electronics Inc. has developed a filter that needs changing less frequently. Three new projectors announced May 8–the CP-X201, CP-X301, and CP-X401–feature a new "hybrid" filter, which reportedly lasts for 2,000 hours before needing to be replaced.

Industry watchers say these filter innovations address a recent marketing campaign by Texas Instruments, the maker of DLP technology. The company’s advertisements purport that total ownership costs typically are lower with a DLP projector, because it does not have a filter.

New color specification

3LCD and its partners are trying to devise a new metric for projectors, called Color Light Output.

"Currently, the biggest specification that people make their purchase decision on is brightness," Anderson said. "What people don’t understand is that the current specification only measures white."

Adding a measurement for color will let customers know how saturated and rich the picture will be. Ideally, the white light and color outputs should be equal. For example, if a projector has 2,000 lumens of white-light brightness, the color output should be the same.

"Where the customer wants to be wary is where you have a 3,000-lumen projector with a 1,500 color projection," Anderson said. That means manufacturers are adding white to get an artificially high lumen number, he explained, adding: "They are actually trading off color to get a higher lumen output." This new metric, the Color Light Output, aims to prevent this kind of fudging, he said.

Epson will be the first manufacturer to include Color Light Output on its specifications, Anderson said. Customers might even find this new metric available for projectors released at the annual InfoComm conference in June, he said. Other manufacturers, such as Hitachi, ViewSonic, and Panasonic, are expected to follow suit.

Lower prices, and other features

Many SGVA projectors are now available for less than $500–a phenomenon that seems to break a new price barrier for projectors.

In April, ViewSonic Corp. unveiled a DLP projector with an estimated street price of $499. The PJ513DB features 2,200 lumens, 800×600 native resolution, and a 2,000-to-1 contrast ratio.

"One of the key changes in technology supporting the lower cost trend is the overall acceptance of DLP light engines," said Terry Reavis, director of sales for ViewSonic’s public sector. "This technology shift has helped bring the chip cost down, the overall prices down, and–in turn–has resulted in larger volumes of key components."
 
"There are several [models] that have gone below $500," says Evan Powell, editor of ProjectorCentral.com, a web site that reviews projectors and keeps a searchable database of every projector manufactured. "They are typically SVGA, 800×600 pixels, and most laptops and computers [have resolutions] higher than that."

A search of ProjectorCentral’s database produces 80 projectors that sell for less than $1,000. Most of those are low-resolution projectors, Powell said.

Most sub-$500 projectors are SVGA, meaning they have a resolution of 800×600. SVGA is fine for applications that display large text, such as PowerPoint presentations. But XGA is better for viewing small text, Powell said, like that found on an Excel spreadsheet or on the web.

"We all recognize that $499 is an important price point in any market … remember when the PC market went to $499? Sales jumped significantly," Anderson said. "We are probably 18 to 24 months away from mainstream projectors being under $500."

Higher-resolution projectors are better for using spreadsheets and web surfing, but they’re not essential, said Art Feierman, editor and owner of ProjectorReviews.com.

Considering how a school district can get 50 SGVA projectors for the price of 35 XGA projectors, the K-12 market mostly buys SVGA-quality, he said.

"Five hundred dollars is not rare for SVGA–and XGA is popping up now at $600," said Feierman.
 
Another trend to watch: The cost of widescreen projectors will drop over the next year, Feierman said. "From a teaching standpoint, widescreen is better and easier to read," he said.

Wireless projectors are handy for navigating back-to-back PowerPoint presentations and other similar activities, Feierman said. Wireless projectors, such as Panasonic’s PT-F series devices, can connect with up to 16 laptops. The teacher simply clicks from one presentation or laptop to the next.

Touch-screen monitors

As the price for touch-screen monitors drops, and more educational applications are developed, touch screens will crop up in a growing number of classrooms, predicts Jack Flaherty, director of channel markets and system integrator for LG Electronics.

"I think that’s going to be the new wave," Flaherty said. "[By the middle of] next year, touch screens will be everywhere."

Using an interactive, touch-screen monitor is a more expensive way of navigating applications than using a mouse and keyboard–but for some applications, it makes sense, Flaherty explained. Medical and science tutorials, for example, could allow a student to interact directly with the diagram. In a classroom setting, multiple students can manipulate a single screen at the same time while engaging their tactile senses.

The "cool" factor alone will help keep students engaged and involved in learning, Flaherty said.

In small spaces, Flaherty predicts, 50-inch LCD flat screens and plasma televisions will replace some projectors. Lower pricing means customers can buy three flat screens for the price of one mid-level projector and incur no maintenance or parts costs.

LG has two new LCD touch-screen display models, the 32-inch M3201T and the 42-inch M4210T, that are suitable for the education market. 
In small huddle spaces or breakout rooms, flat screens could work better than a projector, 3LCD’s Anderson said. However, in a classroom, where a minimum 120-inch image is required, projectors are the best solution.

Currently, universities such as Oklahoma and Ohio State are using touch-screen monitors as information kiosks. Students can look up faculty information or a campus map, read announcements, and more. "It’s limitless," Flaherty said of the technology’s potential.

Links:

3LCD

Panasonic Projector Systems Co.

Hitachi Home Electronics Inc.

ViewSonic Corp.

LG Electronics

Projector Central

ProjectorReviews.com