Unlike the Consumer Electronics Show, where the wow factor dominates and there are new gadgets galore all tailored to the lucrative consumer market, InfoComm focuses on the technology solutions required to build audio visual and information communications systems. So the showroom floor is packed with companies offering new solutions for display and projection, lighting and staging, digital signage, collaborative conferencing and telepresence, networking, signal distribution and digital content creation. They feature products for corporations and small businesses, schools and universities, as well as the religious institution market.
I attended InfoComm 2009 wearing the eyes and ears I was given by our publisher when we launched our Classroom Projectors section, and it was a good thing. The projector industry, it seems, is focusing on education whether in the classroom, lecture hall or auditorium. I witnessed nothing revolutionary. In fact, as far as projectors are concerned, the fall releases will likely include a lot of “refreshed” models (the euphemism for a near re-release with a few spec alterations and a new model number). I will declare that it is safe to say that the lumen wars have officially ended. The battle for the highest quality image is now raging. Evident at InfoComm were three overarching projection themes: Short throw, 3D, and LED with the latter two in their infancy and the former now giving birth to a widescreen version of itself. Whatever has inspired this, be it the federal stimulus money granted to schools to pursue 21st Century tools to achieve 21st Century skills, the resulting technology offers exciting possibilities that are hardly limited to education.
Content producers in film and television are putting ever greater resources into creating in 3D. It is the next frontier for entertainment viewing. But what I saw at InfoComm underlines that a growing number of end-users in the commercial world are also concluding that 3D can aid in productivity and the accuracy of their work. This is happening not just in traditional applications such as industrial and military, but in gaming design, medical, and education among others. For me, the realization began in Digital Projection's designated home theater in the corner of their booth. I saw multiple types of 3D content presented by their powerful WUXGA 3D displays, all giving me varying degrees of satisfaction. But when I experienced the Hollywood content I was so enthralled by my immersion in the action I was reluctant to take off my glasses and leave my seat. It became the standard by which I judged every other 3D projector on the showroom floor.
You might guess that I set myself up for disappointment but instead I found illumination. I looked down the left ventricle of a 3D heart projected by the Mitsubishi XD600U and realized that the quality of the content dictates the impact of the projector. With the price points being bandied about across the show floor it was clear that Texas Instruments is aiming to launch affordable 3D projectors in step with current classroom projector pricing and designed specifically for the classroom environment. The possibilities for realistic and living math and science instruction, not to mention the strides that could be made in special education were enough to keep TI’s Dave Duncan and I talking extensively about current and planned research on 3D in the classroom and its potential impact on worldwide learning. These discussions surrounding the future of classroom technology and its symbiotic relationship with consumer tech were the highlight of the show for me. We dubbed Dave, TI’s business development manager, the Visionary Geek for his certifiable geek credentials but incontrovertible business and public relations acuity.
Nine of DLP Products’ more than 30 manufacturers will have 3D Ready projectors on the market soon, including BenQ, InFocus, LightSpeed, Mitsubishi, Optoma, Sharp and ViewSonic, in addition to high-end products from projectiondesign and Christie Digital.
Catching my eye was the AV Rover, a collaboration between BenQ and AVRover, combining all the elements needed to project in 3D in a classroom setting. It offers audio, projector, computer - even storage and sanitization of 24 pairs of 3D glasses in a mobile and secure cart.It is just the kind of pre packaged solution schools might seek to simplify the complexity of this new technology.
Lowering projector maintenance is near and dear to all projector users, but especially to schools. InfoComm 2008 brought us lamp-free LED displays in power-efficient pocket and Pico projectors. This year we see increased brightness to such a degree as to truly enable the first lamp free projectors. Vivitek displayed a 1080p DLP LED with contrast, black levels and color uniformity so intense that it brought me abruptly out of my day’s end state of image ennui.
In the world of classroom and business projectors however,the interest in LED has much to do with the potential for lowering the maintenance costs associated with running a fleet of projectors in a school or business setting. Avoiding lamp changes and down time are enticing prospects with the potential for significant cost savings.
The education surge is thrusting short throw projectors into center stage. These projectors, of course, enable large images at a short distance from a screen or interactive whiteboards. A short throw projector means less distraction from spirited students flashing hand gestures on screen or walking in front of the image. With the new mandate for the technology equipped classroom, there is a keen awareness among all manufacturers of the need for widescreen short throw. This is due in part to the digital transition and the monitor aspect ratios of the newer laptops and desktops, as well as the natural view of widescreen which allows for more information to be seen on screen at once. SMART Technologies took me by surprise with their UX60 ultra short throw projector - the first projector produced by the whiteboard manufacturer. The projector sits just 16 inches from the screen and produces an 87-inch (221-cm) diagonal widescreen image. I’m sure all of the projector manufacturers are paying attention to this development from SMART.
There is a distinct move with all education projectors to address ease of use, space saving, simple wireless, and easy setup. The demand for new projection systems in both K-12 and higher education is such that Projector Central recently launched its own Classroom Projectors section to accommodate the rabid interest in the tools of the 21st Century classroom.
Keep checking back as our editors will be looking at many of the InfoComm releases with their critical eyes offering reviews and commentary and keeping you abreast of the latest developments in projection technology.