Sharp's latest entry in the classroom projector market, the PG-F255W, is a compact 1280x800 DLP projector. It combines a bright, high-contrast image with great sharpness and clarity, then adds a dash of low maintenance and a dollop of great warranty. Bake at 2500 lumens for 4,000 hours. Once you taste it, you'll wonder how they can afford to give it away at street prices under $1,000.
Strained baking metaphors aside, the PG-F255W is an extremely capable projector, with 2500 ANSI lumens of brightness, a 2200:1 contrast ratio, 4,000 hour lamp life, $250 lamp replacements, and a three-year warranty with 24-hour turnaround replacement service. It is a hard deal to beat.
Lumen output. The PG-F255W is no slouch when it comes to brightness. Our test sample maxed out at 2195 ANSI lumens, in Presentation mode with the lamp on High. With low room lighting, the projector should be able to power a 80" to 100" screen with no problem at all, and a 120" screen is not too much of a stretch. However, if a larger screen size is desired, it would help to lower the room lighting accordingly. If you already have a darkened environment and want to conserve lamp life, switching to Eco + Quiet mode drops lumen output by 22%, to 1733 lumens. It also extends lamp life from 3,000 hours to 4,000 hours.
Good contrast. As is somewhat typical with DLP projectors, the PG-F255W clearly has high ANSI contrast. Any high-contrast image is displayed with wonderful dynamic range, especially in the image modes where BrilliantColor is active. The effect is lessened somewhat in Cinema and sRGB modes, where color is the most accurate, so anyone planning to use the projector for the display of photography should keep that in mind.
Edge-to-edge sharpness. The PG-F255W has a razor-sharp picture, all the way out to the very edges of the screen. While this sounds like something you'd take for granted - and indeed, we sometimes do - it only takes one bad experience with a projector that has inconsistent sharpness to cement the importance of this feature.
WXGA Resolution. We have mentioned this several times in the past, and we'll mention it again now - if you're looking for versatility in the classroom, 1280x800 is the way to go. A projector in this resolution can natively display data signals in 1280x800, 1280x768, and 1024x768 resolution, as well as 1280x720 HD video. There simply is not another resolution available with this kind of flexibility, especially not under $1,000.
Security. The PG-F255W has several standard security features, including the ubiquitous Kensington lock point. However, it also has a password protection function, labeled "Projector Lock," which can help keep unauthorized users from changing the projector's settings or making use of the equipment if it is ever stolen. It is recommended that someone take note of this password - such as your IT department - because there is no way to reset it without contacting Sharp support, who will charge a fee for the service even if the projector is under warranty.
There is a separate password on the Network screen, to prevent users from changing the settings on the Network screen specifically. This password can be reset by the user, though, so losing it is not as critical.
Finally, the control panel of the projector can be locked by holding the "Enter" key for five seconds, though this is more to prevent accidentally bumping the projector than anything else. It is unlocked in the same way.
Low maintenance, long life. The PG-F255W has a 4,000 hour estimated lamp life in Eco + Quiet mode. When put in terms of school days, this is a very long time indeed; even if the projector were run for the entire school day of six hours for every day of the school year, it would still take more than three years to run a lamp all the way down. Add to this the PG-F255W's filter-free design and it is easy to see that the maintenance schedule on this projector is as easy as it gets.
When you finally have to replace a lamp, there is more good news: replacements cost less than $250 from reputable resellers. For school districts on a tight budget, this projector is a dream come true.
Three-year warranty. The PG-F255W features Sharp's excellent three-year warranty, with the standard 90-day lamp guarantee as well. However, what really sets this warranty apart is the concurrent three years of Sharp's 24-hour turnaround replacement system. If your projector goes down, simply call Sharp and you'll be back in business within a day.
Good connectivity. The PG-F255W has both DVI-I and VGA ports, allowing for both analog and digital connections to be made. A monitor passthrough port lets teachers continue to use their desktop monitor while the projector is active. Wired networking and RS-232C connections allow for remote monitoring and control, which can help administrators save lamp life or order supplies in advance of them actually being needed. All in all, there are no areas in which the PG-F255W is seriously lacking in connectivity options.
Loud speaker. The projector's speaker is rated at only two watts, which isn't much when compared against the eight- and ten-watt speakers we've come across on the best education projectors. However, using our standard test tone, we measured 71 decibels at three feet, which is plenty loud -- in fact, you'll want to keep the projector a few more feet away from the students to avoid giving any of them a nasty headache.
Color brightness. As with many portable DLP projectors, the PG-F255W has a 2x-speed color wheel with a white segment. In Presentation mode, which is the brightest mode, the sum of the color brightness is only 44% of white. In Cinema mode, which theoretically should not make use of the white segment at all, color still only measured 95% of white.
That said, let's put this in perspective. What does color brightness actually mean? It means that if you have an image with a mix of solid colors and bright highlights, it will look as if the colors are washed out and lacking saturation. Unless you want to display photography and have a need for a perfectly balanced picture, or you want to watch movies (more on this in a second), chances are good that this will never become an issue for you. If you do want to have a more balanced picture, you must put the unit into Cinema mode to achieve better balance and saturation. However, you sacrifice a lot of brightness in the process.
3x-speed color wheel. Since this is a widescreen projector and has a digital input, some people might be inclined to use the PG-F255W for home entertainment or movie watching. These folks should know that the projector looks wonderful in its Cinema mode, but you will need to be aware of its 3x-speed color wheel with white segment. If you or someone in your audience is sensitive to color separation (or "rainbow") artifacts, they can be quite distracting, and can limit the enjoyment of a film or video presentation. This problem is pretty much restricted to video viewing. Rainbow artifacts do not normally affect users when displaying still content, since a viewer's eyes typically do not scan over the screen in the same manner that they do when viewing video.
Sharp's PG-F255W is a compact and capable 1280x800 DLP projector for the classroom. Its bright, high-contrast picture does not tell the whole story, though. It has excellent security features, an easygoing maintenance schedule, and cheap lamp replacements, making it ideal for the K12 classroom marketplace. Sharp's 24-hour turnaround warranty guarantees that you will never be without a projector for more than a day, which can help keep lessons on track. The PG-F255W sells at street prices under $950.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Sharp PG-F255W projector page.