Epson’s new ultra short-throw interactive projectors, the 475Wi, 480i, and 485Wi, allow educators to switch between input devices and still have interactivity, the company says. This frees up the teacher’s computer and allows the teacher to connect multiple devices directly to the projector. For instance, a DVD player can be connected to the projector, and then a teacher could ask a student to come up to the interactive surface and annotate an image from the DVD.

This is a significant advancement, said Claudine Wolas-Shiva, senior marketing manager for Epson projectors. Before, if teachers switched to another input source, they lost the ability to interact with the projected content. That’s because other projectors have relied on software installed on the user’s computer to drive their interactivity, whereas Epson’s latest devices have an annotation application built in. As a result, students and teachers can use them to create an “electronic wall”—even when there is no computer connected.

“We’ve heard from schools that this new level of interactivity, what we call Interactivity 3.0, has … improved classroom dynamics for one-to-one [computing],” Wolas-Shiva said.

Soon, DLP projectors will have a similar capability, as TI announced a new DLP chipset at InfoComm that can display content from almost any device. Projectors with the new chipset, which will be available in late summer, will be able to display content seamlessly in common 3D formats from virtually any mobile device, TI said—including tablets, smart phones, laptops, and Blu-ray players.

“Creating a chipset that makes 3D and interactive technologies more accessible for projector developers is a major step forward for the industry,” said Roger Carver, general manager of DLP front-projection technology for TI. “This helps our customers build off-the-shelf projectors while adding new capabilities at a comparable price point.”

For schools with networked projectors, or projectors with wireless functionality, Epson earlier this year released a free app called iProjection, which enables users to project content from an iPad or Android tablet. At InfoComm, NEC also previewed an app called ImageExpress, which will let users project content and control presentations wirelessly from their iPad.

Richard McPherson, senior product manager for NEC projectors, said educators can use the app to turn their NEC projector into a document camera, taking a photo with their iPad and showing it to the class through their projector.

Lamp-free projectors catching on

Two years ago, Casio introduced the first lamp-free projector: the Green Slim Projector, an eco-friendly DLP projector that uses a patented hybrid “solid state” light source—combining laser and LED technology to achieve high brightness—instead of a traditional mercury lamp.

Designed to last 20,000 hours, or about 18 school years, the Green Slim Projector aimed to save schools money by eliminating the need for expensive lamp replacements. A typical mercury lamp lasts roughly 2,000 hours and costs about $400 to replace—meaning schools could spend thousands of dollars in new lamps over the life of a projector.

The Green Slim Projector was only 1.7 inches thick. But its slim form factor also was somewhat limiting, so at last year’s InfoComm, Casio launched two new series of lampless projectors—a Pro and a Short Throw series—that “remove the shackles of the slim form factor,” said a Casio representative.

Now, other projector manufacturers have followed Casio’s lead: BenQ and Optoma earlier this year introduced lamp-free projectors of their own that use an LED/laser light source instead of lamps, and Panasonic announced four lamp-free models at InfoComm 2012.