Panasonic's PT-ST10 is an extreme short-throw projector that needs less than two feet to operate.

Not every classroom is a vast lecture hall. There are many small rooms in schools and colleges that serve as meeting spaces—confined areas where projectors must be placed just a few feet away from a surface.

Casting a large, clear picture on a screen or wall is rarely a challenge in the most spacious of lecture halls; instructors can place their projector as far back into the room as needed to get a crisp image that supplements a class lesson.

For faculty members who don’t have the luxury of nearly unlimited space, however, there is a new generation of short-throw projectors that have adopted a new name: “ultra short throw” or “extreme short throw.”

These extreme versions of the short-throw projector can create images up to 80 inches diagonally across, sitting only two feet or less from a screen or wall—making the machines ideal for educators working in a tight space.

Having the projector so close to the wall also lets instructors roam the classroom or stand in front a whiteboard without casting shadows on the projection, experts say.

“This past year it’s been all about who puts the ‘short’ in short-throw projectors,” said Elizabeth Dourley, a researcher and writer for Projector Central, a website that tracks projector technology for entertainment and educational use. “Short throws are extremely popular for applications where space is tight, but they also prevent light hitting a presenter in the face or shadows obstructing the image.”

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Many extreme short-throw projectors require only about one foot to produce an image—a significant difference when compared to a standard projector used in education. Traditional projectors need at least eight feet to cast a clear image on a wall or screen, and many need several more feet to operate

Ultra short-throw projectors have developed a following both in K-12 schools and on college campuses, Dourley said. And she expects the educational fascination with short-throw projectors to continue in 2011.

“Short-throw projectors have always been favored by schools, because of space constraints and other issues,” she said.

The most extreme of the ‘extreme’ short-throw projectors

Many projector companies have unveiled their latest lines of ultra short-throw options in recent months, but few—if any—compare to the limited distance needed by the Dell S500wi projector, which hit the market in February.