Finding the Best K-12 Classroom Projectors

Evan Powell, May 7, 2009

As a teacher or district tech coordinator, you have a special mission: get the most projector for the least money. Here is how to use the ProjectorCentral website to find the best classroom projectors, and then get the best prices possible.

First, let's talk some basics. Projectors come in a whole range of brightness performance, measured in ANSI lumens. These days, those buying for classrooms are frequently looking for projectors in the 2000 to 3000 lumen range.

Second, projectors come in several different grades of resolution. Typically, the higher the resolution, the better the projector will be for displaying fine details in a complex graphic or spreadsheet. Now, while high brightness is important for the classroom, super high resolution usually isn't. You don't want to waste money on projectors with more resolution than you need. The standard XGA (1024x768) resolution is very popular today, and it is just fine for almost all K-12 classroom applications. Spending extra money to get SXGA or higher resolution machines means you will get fewer projectors for the money you have in your budget.

In the past, SVGA (800x600) resolution was popular for classroom use since they were much less expensive than XGA models. But today, prices on XGA projectors have dropped so much that SVGA has lost much of its former cost-saving appeal. The SVGA resolution is on its way out, following the path of the even earlier generation VGA, which is now an antique.

Third, for classroom use, you probably won't care as much about weight as people who travel frequently with projectors. Some models weigh as little as two or three pounds these days. But their extreme portability can sometimes cost extra. Keep in mind that a projector that's a little bigger and heavier may be less expensive, and it works just as well in a classroom. And it has the added benefit of being harder for someone to conceal and walk off with. So selecting a projector that's in the range of 6 to 10 lbs may give you reasonable portability without wasting money on the ultra-light designs. Select the "Not Greater Than" weight limit that seems right for your purpose.

Now...print out a copy of this article (or open a separate browser window) and then click over to the Projector Database. The following instructions will take you step-by-step through the Projector Database search engine to find the best projectors for your particular needs.

Searching the Projector Database

There are about 1200 projectors in our database that are currently in production. You can use the search engine to find the models that match your key criteria. Notice that there are quite a few different criteria that you can define, including Price, Weight, Resolution, Aspect Ratio, and Brightness. Let's take them one at a time:

Price: You should have in mind an approximate budget amount for the projector you want to buy. Double that number, and that's about the maximum retail price (MSRP) that you want to select here. So if you want to spend $700 per unit, select the range of $1000 to $1500 MSRP because you can assume street prices on those units will be close to your budget amount. Once you do that, the page will look like this.

Weight: You probably want a projector that any teacher can lift without much problem. So projectors between 5 and 10 lbs are good starting points. To enter this range, select "Enter Custom Range" in the Weight pulldown list, and enter 5 and 10 respectively. If you want other weight ranges, enter whatever you want and the database will give you a list of models that meet that spec. Normally, the system will automatically update the search list when you select a predefined option in the pulldown list. But when you use the Enter Custom Range feature, you need to enter the values you want, then click the Update Search Results button.

Following our example, if you had entered 5 and 10 lbs as the minimum and maximum weight limits and then clicked the Update Search Results button, the page now looks like this. By the way, if you want to change the weight range after having entered 5 and 10 lbs, you need to click the underlined lbs, and it will revert back to Any Weight.

Resolution: At the present time, most projectors being acquired for K12 classroom are XGA resolution. To narrow your search to just XGA products, find and select "1024x768 (XGA)" in the pulldown list. If you want the cheapest projectors possible, select "800x600 (SVGA)", as there are still a few dozen models of those on the market. They are somewhat less expensive than than the XGAs, although the cost savings is not what it used to be. Adding XGA resolution to the search will narrow the number of projectors in the list, and the page now looks like this.

Aspect Ratio: In the past, almost all projectors used in classrooms were either SVGA or XGA resolution, both of which are 4:3 aspect ratios. That means the picture is four units wide for every three units of height, or the same as a conventional television. But today, you have the option to select widescreen projectors that can be either 16:9 or 16:10. These give you a wider picture, like the new HDTVs on the market. If you want to know what your widescreen options are, select either 16:9 or 16:10 in the Aspect Ratio pulldown list.

One note of caution here: make sure that the Resolution pulldown is set to "Any". Since we have already selected XGA in the Resolution list, if you also select 16:9 in the Aspect Ratio list, you will get zero results. That is because there is no such thing as a standard XGA projector that is 16:9. For now, we will stick with the XGA search. You can experiment with the 16:9 options at your leisure.

Brightness: Each projector has a brightness rating calibrated in ANSI lumens. Here you can specify projectors with a minimum and a maximum ANSI lumen rating. These days, the range many buyers are looking for is 2000 to 3000 lumens. If that is what you want, select 2000 - 3000 in the Brightness pulldown list. If you want a wider range of brightness options, select "Enter custom range" and enter the values that you want. But if you go with 2000 to 3000 lumens, the page will automatically update with these results.

One last note - the search engine is already pre-set to show you only projectors currently in production. At this writing, with the criteria selected, the system indicates that there are 38 models that meet your criteria (this number will change almost daily as projectors are added to the database, or moved into discontinued status). However, if you want to see discontinued models also, you can change the setting by checking the "Show Discontinued Models" box. Checking that box, and the page will automatically regenerate your list. At this writing, the search results show that the number of models models in your search has increased from 38 to 122. Any model that is discontinued will be noted with a red asterisk. This is how it looks. Since you probably have no interest in discontinued models, you can uncheck the Show Discontinued Models box, and it will automatically revert to showing just the current models in production.

Having entered the most important criteria of Price, Weight, Resolution, and Brightness, our example (at this writing) still shows 38 models. You can further reduce the list by narrowing your ranges in the Criteria selections, or by specifying other attributes like Technology, Audible Noise, Contrast, etc.

The system automatically generates your list of results in order of popularity. But you can reorder the list on a variety of parameters by using the "Sort by" pulldown list.

Once you get the search results, you can click on any model name to get detailed specifications. Quite often a picture of the unit is online as well, along with the vendor's product sheets, user's manual, and press releases.

Using ProjectorCentral to get the best deal

Now that you have found some popular projectors that meet your criteria in your general price range, it's time to get the best deal possible. That means finding dealers who offer the best combination of prices, services, and support policies. You have two options:

1. Current Prices: In our Current Prices section you will find dealers posting today's prices of makes and models of just about every projector on the market. Search on each of the models you are interested in, and simply contact those dealers.

Each dealer will explain their support programs. Many have education discounts, and will quote you a price over the phone that is even better price than the one posted. So make sure to call for your final price!

2. Get a Quote: If you don't want to visit each of the dealers, you can post a Request for Bid in the Get A Quote section.

Here you simply supply some basic information about who you are and the school organization you represent. State which projector (or projectors) you are interested in getting bids on and post it. Dealers who view your request may respond with bids, and that in turn can start a dialog which leads to a final acquisition price.

Good luck! And after you have used these free services, please don't forget to tell us about your experience with our site, and how we might be able to improve the service to you!

and remember...

please forward this article to education tech coordinators
and teachers who may be buying projectors sometime soon.

Thank you!