Choosing Classroom Projectors
for Real World Needs and Budgets
The language arts teacher turns on the projector linked to a classroom computer and plays a video podcast from an author's Web site. Down the hall in biology lab, a projector displays a detailed image of the human muscular system via document camera. In the next classroom, a social studies teacher switches over to the projector's DVD connection, showing clips from a documentary with high fidelity sound.
Educators know that multimedia projectors and projector sound systems can boost attention levels and improve student performance, but the challenge is to choose projectors that meet real-world education needs and budgets. The good news is that there are now projector models specifically designed for the education community that offer lower pricing, more education-focused features, individualized service, and world-class support.
No matter how diverse the multimedia content or interactive the technology, a teacher using a projector with poor image or sound quality will not ignite classroom brain waves. Students must be able to clearly hear the lesson and see the projected image from any seat in a classroom. The clarity and brightness of the image really does make a big difference in how closely students pay attention and retain what they've learned.
Solutions like 3LCD, 3-chip technology, which power the majority of all education, business and home theater projectors, deliver vibrant, true-to-life and consistent images. To display a bright image in a typical classroom with ambient light, use a projector with 2,200 to 4,000 lumens of color and white light output. Match the projector resolution to your computer resolution, which most likely will be standard XGA (1024x768 resolution, 4:3 aspect ratio). There are classroom projectors available to meet your resolution needs, including the now less common SVGA (800 x 600, 4:3), and the growing in popularity WXGA (1280x768, 16:10) that is fully compatible with widescreen notebooks. Larger college lecture halls or school auditoriums are more suited to a broader range of brightness and resolution options.
Today, schools are able to find good value when choosing multimedia projectors for the classroom, with increased performance available at lower prices. Special programs offer discounts to education customers to promote effective integration of technology for better access to instructional content and compelling learning that engages all students.
Faced with tight budgets in today's economy, schools should not only consider the purchase price, but also the costs that span the projector's lifecycle. "We designed our classroom technology to be economical not only for the upgrade, but also for the total cost of ownership moving forward," said Larry Montagna, Associate Director of Classroom Technology at the University of San Francisco.
Purchasing projectors with less lamp wattage per lumen provides greater energy efficiency and will save money in the long run via lower energy bills and fewer lamp replacements. Choose projector models with extended lamp life, some up to 5,000 or 6,000 hours. Easy lamp and filter access also reduces overall maintenance costs and saves staff time.
From a lower cost of ownership perspective, it makes sense to protect your projector investment by choosing a projector with dust filters. The filters help extend the life of the lamp, which can be very costly to replace, as well as the lifespan of the projector. "There is a myth that filterless projectors have lower maintenance needs that translate into lower operating costs," said Chris Navadauskas, Technology Director at the Burgettstown Area School District, Burgettstown, PA. "But the simple routine of cleaning a dust filter is not a maintenance nightmare and does not lead to extra costs."
Before buying a projector, make sure you check out the features to get the best solution for your school. The projector must be "plug 'n play," so teachers don't waste valuable teaching time setting up their projectors and computers. Look for a projector designed to simplify the most essential steps of operation such as powering up, getting connected, and shutting down.
Sought-after features include auto keystone image adjustment for quick and easy setup, and direct power for light switch power control. If a teacher wants to direct class attention from a presentation, an A/V Mute slide with a power-down timer instantly switches off sound and images for a customizable prescribed time. Teachers also appreciate microphone input jacks with speakers to reach every student in the classroom without unnecessary strain on vocal chords.
Many innovations in projector development are the direct result of listening to educators. When schools spoke of the need to reach all students in the classroom, projector models were designed with 10-watt speakers and closed captioning decoders. Today, there are even projector-DVD-sound system combinations that allow educators to show DVD movies and other digital content without the need for additional equipment.
An important consideration in purchasing decisions is how a projector will be used in the classroom. For multifaceted classroom presentations, make sure you have multiple inputs including component video, S-video and composite video, USB, HDMI, and audio. The projector must work as part of a team with other classroom tools, including Internet-connected Macs and PCs, control systems, document cameras, digital cameras, printers, scanners, laptop docks, VHS/DVD players, handheld devices, among others. Easy hookups to technology like computers and A/V equipment link teachers to vast resources of lesson material via the Internet and media-rich elements like video clips and animations.
Some schools have the advantage of installing ceiling-mounted projectors in many classrooms. "Today, we have ceiling-mounted multimedia projectors throughout the campus that are connected to multiple computers and media sources," said Jim Bollenbach, head of Media Technical Services at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, IL. Ceiling-mounted projectors are not always an option in older school buildings, but schools can easily find projectors with the same image quality to put in different areas of the room, such as on desks or mounted on walls for short-throw projection.
Projectors can be used to display multimedia output on pull-down screens, interactive whiteboards, or less expensive options such as walls, chalkboards, and whiteboards. Many projectors are designed with the interactive capabilities to fit a variety of classroom scenarios. Decide how much connectivity you need, whether you will connect the projector wirelessly or to the wired network. You may choose to control the projector manually or to monitor multiple projectors through a control system or IP network. Schools can save technical support costs by using RJ-45 connectivity to remotely monitor and control projectors via the network. This allows staff to schedule necessary maintenance and to remotely turn off projectors after hours without actually visiting each room.
One innovative classroom scenario is to combine tablet PCs with wireless projectors. A teacher can freely walk about the room carrying a tablet PC and use a projector to display whatever is written with a digitizer pen on the tablet screen. Some schools even send the data wirelessly to the main wired network, which in turn sends it back to the projector. By communicating wirelessly with the network, the tablet PC output can be directed to any networkable projector at the school.
Make sure you choose to work with a projector manufacturer that understands the education market. Does the company provide projector models that are designed from the ground up with education in mind? Is it open to providing solutions for a variety of teaching scenarios? Does the company offer competitive pricing, extended warranties, and enhanced service and support for education customers?
"I can't tell you enough how important it is for a school to actually end up with the lower total cost of ownership it was looking for, along with high reliability, exceptional image quality and outstanding support," said Wes Burmark, Director, Instructional Technology, Tacoma Public Schools, Tacoma, WA.
The focus of many schools is to provide students with educational opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for a productive future. By making smart choices in classroom technology, schools can purchase projectors with outstanding image quality, connectivity and easy-to-use features, and still keep close watch on their bottom lines.