This year's InfoComm pro A/V trade show in Orlando, set to begin today and run through Friday, is anything but "normal." Despite early commitments by most of the usual high-profile projector makers, the ongoing pandemic wreaked havoc again and resulted in a wave of withdrawals in the weeks before the show. For the projection industry, at least, it promises to be a show remembered more for who wasn't there than who was.
Fortunately, that hasn't stopped ProjectorCentral from attending, or from collecting data in advance from both the exhibitors and would-be exhibitors to find the season's most interesting and innovative products. This year's 2021 InfoComm Best of Show Awards honor 17 winners from 11 brands, including 14 projectors and three screens or screen-related products. As usual, they represent a snapshot of current industry trends. I think you'll recognize the themes. Most of the awards went to laser projectors that either pushed the limits in the 20,000-lumen and above classes, or made claims to being the "smallest and lightest" at a variety of lesser lumen counts as manufacturers found ways to squeeze more light out of smaller boxes. The list this year also reflects short-throw options as projector brands jockey to position themselves for the emerging signage market. And the application of ambient light-rejecting (ALR) screen materials to niche commercial environments continues to drive new product development. Taken together, it's an interesting mix of gear and proof that, pandemic or not, the projector industry continues to thrive. —Rob Sabin, editor
Barco UDM Series 3DLP Laser Projectors
After a pandemic-induced delay, Barco's UDM series of large-venue, 3DLP laser projectors finally rolled out earlier this year with five models covering 15,000 to 22,000 lumens in both WUXGA and 4K resolutions. Given their laser-phosphor light source, they represent a value proposition of sorts next to Barco's pure RGB laser projectors. We honored this line last spring with one of our Projection Expo Best of Show Awards, and it remains worthy of the spotlight at InfoComm thanks to Barco's usual breathtaking build quality and loaded feature set—which at the time of introduction made these the first projectors to offer wireless monitoring via a phone-chip connected to the cloud and Barco Projector Management Suite software. View Projector Details
Barco XDX-4K40 3DLP Laser Projector
Barco continues to push the limits of technology in this new 36,500-lumen powerhouse designed with theme parks and entertainment venues in mind. The 3DLP, RGB laser design manages to acheive 98.5% of the full Rec.2020 color gamut, guaranteeing that audiences enjoy the full immersion that bright, saturated, color-accurate images can deliver. Notably, the XDX-4K40 is designed for minimal maintenance and quick service with minimal downtime in the event that's required, due to a modular design that allows key components to be swapped quickly on site. That even includes individual "laser plates" within the RGB light source. And with an unusual rated life of 40,000 hours with typical use, the 4K40 virtually doubles the run time of most laser projectors. View Projector Details
BenQ LK936ST Golf Sim Laser Projector
BenQ gets the kudos here not just for a solid 5,100-lumen laser-driven installation projector, but for aggressively targeting this model at the exploding golf simulator market. It starts with the sealed, IP5X rated blue-phosphor light engine that never needs replacement, and moves on to 4K resolution—two highly desirable features for golf sims thanks to zero maintenance and the enhanced course detail at close range from the 936ST's short throw lens. The kicker is a dedicated picture mode that takes full advantage of the projector's 92% Rec.709 gamut to render the most realistic imagery from golf simulation software. It's also well equipped to handle the rigors of home entertainment in a combined simulator/theater setup. View Projector Details
BenQ X3000i LED Gaming Projector
BenQ is taking advantage of recent advances in DLP chip technology to drive projection into the competitive gaming community like never before. The X3000i is an innovative 4K projector that combines an advanced high-output LED light source (3,000 true ANSI lumens) with several gaming-centric features, including low input lag and high refresh rate capability that results in lag as low as 4.16 milliseconds with 1080p/240 Hz signals. BenQ Game Setting picture modes take a cue from the company's Zowie gaming monitors by providing tuned images and sound (via the on-board treVolo-tuned speakers) for specific game categories: first-person shooters (FPS), role-playing games (RPG), and sports games (SPG). These are made all the more immersive thanks to BenQ's CinematicColor, which in this case guarantees certified-accurate color with up to 100% DCI-P3 gamut for HDR.
Christie M 4K25 RGB 3DLP Laser Projector
Christie's M series is known for packing a lot of punch in a small package, but this latest addition pulls out the stops. Its 22,500 ANSI lumens doubles the brightness of its predecessor while fitting into a relatively compact 92-pound chassis; it's said to be the smallest and quietest pure RGB laser projector on the market. The 4K UHD resolution, delivered by a trio of DLP chips, also ups the game. The M 4K25 is rated for greater than 96% Rec.2020 gamut, which users can apply to Rec.709 and DCI-P3 content for enhanced color. Christie even includes its TruLife+ connectivity package, which puts a wide range of inputs at your fingertips and eliminates the need to buy additional input cards. And the projector will accept M, J, and Crimson series lenses to facilitate upgrades. Overall, it's a thoughtful all-in-one package that's sure to amplify the M series' already stellar repulation. View Projector Details
Elite ProAV Saker Tab-Tension DarkUST Motorized ALR Screen
This screen from Elite's pro/installer division brings two key benefits to both the commercial and home theater markets. First, it's one of very few retractables that offer a true lenticular design for the very best performance with ultra-short-throw projectors; the 0.6 gain DarkUST material rejects 95% of overhead light for a 100x contrast improvement over a matte white screen and a wide 180-degree viewing angle. The second benefit—and it's big, literally and figuratively—is that its also the only motorized UST screen of its type available at the larger 120-inch diagonal, 16:9 size that most USTs can accommodate. If you're looking to go large with a UST screen that disappears when it's not needed, this is the one. View Product Details
Elite ProAV WhiteBoardScreen Thin Edge CLR2 ALR Screen
The mouthful of a name for this whiteboard screen says it all. When you think about it, there's nothing logical about using a conventional, glossy whiteboard for a UST projector in a lit-up classroom or conference room, and even an ultra-bright, high-powered laser projector can only do so much with black level and contrast in those conditions. So, Elite has developed a CLR (ceiling light rejecting) screen that is scratch-resistant and dry-erase capable for table-mounted UST and short-throw projectors. It rejects 90% of overhead light to vastly improve contrast, and its material is ISF-certified for color accuracy. The "Thin Edge" piece of its title refers to the stylish 0.2-inch black bezel. View Product Details
Epson EB-PU2010 3LCD Laser Projector
The EB-PU2010 (available in black or white) is Epson's next-gen large venue installation projector, and it follows the latest industry trend of packing more into less by squeezing all its brightness into what remains for now the world's smallest and lightest 10,000-lumen projector, measuring just 21.5 x 6.5 x 17.2 inches (WHD) and weighing 37 pounds. It's three WUXGA LCD imaging chips guarantee equal white and color brightness plus immunity from rainbows, and resolution is goosed with Epson's 4K Enhancement pixel-shifting technology. If this isn't enough, Epson has also packed the projector with advanced set-up features typically only found in brighter large venue models, such as optional camera-equipped stacking and blending to speed multi-projector installs, and NFC mating that lets you quickly use a mobile phone to transfer settings from one projector to another. Nine optional powered lenses, including a 0.35:1 ultra short-throw option, and a jack-pack that includes both SDI and HDBaseT connections, further add to the flexibility. View Projector Details
Epson PowerLite L635SU 3LCD Short-Throw Laser Projector
The push to engage retail and entertainment patrons with engaging, experiential digital signage has been driving a need for more compact, short-throw projector solutions, and the PowerLite L635SU directly addresses this emerging niche. It delivers a hefty 6,000 lumens in a small and lightweight all-in-one package (5.4 x 17.3 x 5.4 x 12.6 inches, 18.5 pounds) that includes an attached manual 1.25X zoom with a 0.85:1 - 1.07:1 throw. It'll throw a 100-inch image from between 6'0" and 7'7" from the screen, or a max 200-inch image from as close as 12 feet. Resolution is WUXGA, so viewers will see nice high-res pictures when they get close up. Espon includes facilities for split-screen use from multiple inputs and for blending multiple projectors, and there's a built in media player and a content creation app with templates, color filters, and effects as well as playlist functions for content management. View Projector Details
LG ProBeam BU60PST 4K Laser Projector
LG has been long known for its compact lifestyle and pico projectors, but in the last two years the company's projector division has been on a tear and emerged as a disruptive force in both the home theater and business segments. The BU60PST, which we reviewed last spring, is notable both for being unusually compact (14.6 x 6.1 x 12.8 inches WHD) and lightweight (21.4 pounds) for its 6,000-lumen laser class. But its $4,999 price tag also makes it by far the least expensive UHD 4K-resolution projector at its brightness. Extras like built-in WiFi and an integrated web browser and file player just add to the tremendous value. View Projector Details
Optoma Ultra Bright ZU2200 Laser Projector
Optoma joined the big boys in more way than one this fall with the introduction of its brightest projector ever, the 22,000-lumen (18,500 ANSI) Ultra Bright ZU2200. Competing in this category calls for solid build quality and a ton of features and flexibility, which the ZU2200 delivers in spades. It starts with high definition WUXGA resolution (as well as 4K and HDR signal compatibility). A MultiColor Laser (MCL) DuraCore light engine with a red laser added to the usual blue provides bright, accurate color; it's got a no-maintenance sealed design with an IP5X dustproof rating and up to 30,000 hours of 24/7 operation. The other bells and whistles include fast automatic input switching to guard against signal source failures in mission critical installations, integrated warping and edge-blending assisted by a built-in camera and Optoma's Visual Suite software, and compatibility with recently introduced Optoma Management Suite fleet software that allows monitoring and adjustment of multiple projectors on the network. Eight interchangeable powered lenses provide for virtually any installation requirement. View Projector Details
Optoma ProScene ZU720TST Short-Throw Laser Projector
We've previously recognized this projector's long-throw sibling, the ProScene ZU720T, as the world's first 7,500-lumen projector with a permanently attached zoom lens and a crazy attractive $4,999 ticket price. The ZU720TST short-throw version costs more at $6,299 and comes in with 7,000 lumens, but shares the honor of also being the world's first projector in its class with an attached lens, along with the same small, lightweight chassis (28 pounds) and ultra-quiet 27 dB operation in Eco mode (or just 29 dB at full power). The 1.26x powered zoom with 0.76-0.97:1 ratio throws a 100-inch 16:10 WUXGA high def image from 5'4" to 6'9", and up to a 300 inch image from as close as 16 feet. Also carried over from the ZU720T is an integrated Android operating system and media player, and Optoma's DuraCore sealed blue-laser-plus-phosphor light engine with an IP5X dustproof rating and a 30,000 hour lifespan in Eco mode. View Projector Details
Screen Innovations TRO.Y Motorized Screen/Shade Control Gateway
Screen Innovations has in recent years applied its creative engineering resources to building motorized shades and support electronics. TRO.Y is a clever extension of that work as well as a unique solution for quickly programming motorized screens, especially multiples of motorized screens in the same facility. Hours of time typically associated with programming on a dedicated PC to synchronize screen motors, establish setpoints, and integrate with automation systems is reduced to minutes spent in a single self-contained interface that is accessible via any web-enabled device. Programming can be handled prior to installation, and post-install adjustments are easily made on site. For large, multi-screen installs, a unique ID address can be assigned to an entire group of screens, eliminating redundant programming. Troy integrates seamlessly with SI's range of 485, Zigbee 3.0, and RTS screen motors, and facilitates connectivity with control systems from leading manufacturers including Control4, Crestron, Savant, and others. View Product Details
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Sharp NEC NP-PA804UL 3LCD Laser Projector
Sharp NEC continues to build out its thoughfully featured PA series installation projectors at different brightness levels, and the new NP-PA804UL adds a model at 8,200 lumens that should hit a sweet spot for high ambient light applications in corporate, higher education, and rental/staging environments. Color fidelity is a big selling point: the projector's dual blue-laser light engine is said to offer best-in-class white balance over the life of the projector, and the use of inorganic optical components insures long life. The PA series is known for its sealed cooling scheme that not only keeps dust out and elimnates the need for a filter, but also results in whisper quiet operation: the PA804UL is rated for just 30 dB of fan noise in Normal mode and 28 dB in Eco. A flexible connection panel includes HDBaseT and a wide range of analog and digital inputs, and there are nine motorized and manual bayonet-mount lenses available. Keystone and geometric correction, built-in stacking correction for up to four projectors, and compatibility with NEC's ProAssist adjustment and control software for multi-projection installs are all included...as is a generous five-year warranty. View Projector Details
Sony VPL-GTZ380 SXRD Laser Projector
Sony's new 10,000 lumen flagship commercial and home theater projector is so packed with cool tech that it can't help but look good on paper, but that didn't prepare us for what we found on screen when we reviewed it last summer. Thanks to its combination of LCoS-based imagers, ultra high brightness, a sophisticated triple-laser light engine, and advanced signal processing driven by a new "X1 Ultimate for projector" chip, it handles SDR and especially HDR with remarkable finess and truly impactful highlights backed by class-leading contrast. It's a remarkable achievement and a great fit for large venues and high end home theaters that demand reference-quality images. View Projector Details
Sony VPL-FHZ85 3LCD Laser Projector
Sony's recent expansion of its LCD projector line-up brought two new models, the VPL-FHZ80 at 6,000 ANSI lumens (6,500 lumens center) and the VPL-FHZ85 at 7,300 ANSI (8,000 center). The FHZ85, in particular, is said to be the smallest and lightest 3LCD projector in its brightness class, measuring in at 18.1 x 6.75 x 19.5 inches (WHD) and 29 pounds. Sony has carried over its Intelligent Settings control that allows installers to instantly tune several projector parameters for specific environments, and has integrated its Reality Creation scaling engine for crisply scaled images up to 4K/60 Hz at the projector's native WUXGA resolution. Six bayonet-style lenses are available, along with a class-leading vertical +70% lens shift for installation flexibility. View Projector Details
ViewSonic LS500W LED Projector
ViewSonic continues to push its second-generation RGBB LED technology into the market as an alternative to laser and lamp models, and the LS500W, at just $700, is an interesting option. With 2,000 ANSI lumens it won't set the screen on fire (though "LED lumens" do appear brighter than their ANSI measurments suggest). But, putting aside brightness, the LS500W otherwise mimics pretty much all the benefits of a laser projector for small to mid-size conference and meeting rooms, not to mention some possible signage applications. It's got a 30,000-hour, solid state light source in a sealed IP5X-rated engine that requires no lamp replacements or filter maintenance. It's got as good or better color fidelity than most single-laser phosphor projectors, with a rating for greater than 125% Rec.709 gamut thanks to ViewSonic's Cinema Super Color+ technology. Like most laser projectors, it allows 360-degree tilt angle projection for creative applications on walls, ceilings, or signage, and it's designed to run 24/7. If you're careful to spec it for the right environments, the LS500W makes for an intriguing value play.