La Trobe University

Named after Charles Joseph La Trobe, the first Superintendent of the Port Phillip District (1839-1850) and first Lieutenant-Governor of the new colony of Victoria (1851-1854), La Trobe University was officially opened in 1967. The University has its main campus in Melbourne and operates a further six campuses in regional Victoria, all of which are linked to each other and to the main campus by various ICT facilities, including video-conferencing, ensuring that high quality teaching and research are available throughout the University.

Only the best
Just as the University focuses on providing high quality teaching and research, it maintains a practice of utilising leading technology to support that focus; and figuring prominently in this is the use of projectors. For Paul Materazzo, the University's Audio Visual (AV) Systems Manager, ensuring only the best and most appropriate technology is employed throughout the tertiary education industry is a major concern. So much so, that in 2001, he founded the Association of Educational Technology Managers (AETM), which provides a forum for all AV and multimedia technology managers who work in education.

"A big part of the AETM is that we share information, such as performance reports, on AV systems," Paul says. "And in this are the results of the annual 'shoot-outs' I conduct with projectors from various vendors."

When Paul joined the University in 1996, his brief was to introduce leading-edge AV and multimedia systems that help take La Trobe to the very forefront of high-tech tertiary education. Now, every year, he purchases a number of projectors for the University - but only after first putting them through a series of exhaustive tests designed specifically to push each projector to its absolute limits.

In early 2005, with over 17 projectors from numerous vendors tested, the clear winner was Epson, with its 3LCD technology and wide range of projectors, with the result that Paul brought in 27 new Epson projectors: 7 EMP-7900s, 8 EMP-81s and 15 EMP-830s.

The 3LCD Advantage
In testing the various projectors, Paul pays particular attention to the differences between the two current main projector technologies - 3LCD and DLP. "Without a doubt, Epson's 3LCD technology came out way in front in colour resolution on data image and as an overall best mix for balance of data and video data," he says.

Rather than base his 3LCD vs. DLP decision solely on vendor-supplied specifications, Paul utilises testing software developed by the International Communications Industry Association, which is recognised as the premier international trade association for the professional audiovisual communications industry.

"These are extremely comprehensive tests and are designed specifically to push each projector beyond the limits of its colour, pattern and video projection capabilities," Paul explains. "When I did the shoot-out this year, a number of the [DLP] projectors were automatically eliminated because of the noticeable shimmer they exhibited when trying to deal with high scan rates - they simply couldn't hold the configuration.

"At the end, it was the Epson 3LCD projectors that really showed they had what it takes to work in this [tertiary education] type of environment; and I seriously doubt there is one more taxing on projectors."

Wide Range and Networkability
Given the university's diverse range of environments in which projectors are required, the even greater diversity of Epson projector models gave Paul the ability to select the most suitable for each environment's particular characteristics. "In most of the lecture rooms we have high ambient light issues," he says. "In other areas, such as large lecture theatres, we need projectors that have a long throw rating without losing any image definition. Then, of course, there are some situations that require networkability; and others that require portable projectors that can be moved from location to location without any setup hassle.

"One of the definite factors that came down in Epson's favour was that the company had a range of projectors to cover every one of our requirements," Paul continues. "We use the EMP-7900s in the large lecture theatres where there are the needs for networkability, fixed mount, and long throw. For our video-conferencing and mobile projectors, the EMP-81s, with their 5-watt speaker and 2,000 ANSI lumens are used; and in the lecture rooms, the EMP-830s essentially cut right through the ambient light problem, delivering big bright images with great colour balance and definition."

Thousands per year saved
While performance is a prime consideration given by Paul in selecting projectors, running costs also figure prominently in his evaluations. "Reliability is one of the key indicators of how much a projector is going to cost in the long term," he says. "And with that, lamp life plays a big part."

"With the Epson projectors, we're looking to get at least twice the life out of every lamp in every projector than we do with other brands. The result is that I'm expecting a saving of around $12,000 per years just in lamps."

Adding further to the cost saving Paul expects to gain from purchasing the Epson projectors is the advanced networking features of the EMP-7900s and EMP-830s. With these features, Paul is able to monitor the performance and status of each of the projectors from any PC connected to the University's network.

"If something was to go wrong with one of the projectors, I would automatically receive an e-mail from the projector notifying me of the projector's location and problem." Paul says. "So, instead of having to try and identify a fault, I would only have to read the e-mail and know precisely which projector needs attention and what's required to resolve the issue."

"When you're dealing with an AV environment as complex as ours, then this level of functionality delivers major savings in money and time."

Customer Support
The logical follow-on from maintenance is vendor support; and this is something to which Paul pays particular attention. His reasoning is that regardless of how good a projector may be, if customer and technical support isn't every bit as good, then that vendor's projectors simply shouldn't be used by the University.

In commenting on the support he receives from Epson, Paul - who is not backward in criticising technology and vendors - states: "Exceptional! Over the past five years, the support I've had from Epson is the best from any projector vendor in the market - and I've worked with just about all of them. When I pick up the phone with a question or issue for Epson, there's a result within the hour.

"In education, there are an enormous number of factors that are involved in partnering with a projector vendor," Paul continues. "It's imperative that everything from product range, support, service and an understanding of the education market is there - and this is what we get with Epson!"