Liquid Crystal Projection Keeps Pace with Higher Ed
- By Linda L. Briggs
As digital image resolutions creep higher and high-definition videos become the norm for classroom display, projector technologies need to keep pace. A technology called LCoS, or liquid crystal on silicon, has been a key advancement because it results in dramatic image improvements over older projection technologies. Owing to its price tag, LCoS has often been overlooked in higher education, but that has changed in the last several years.
Technology advances have brought prices down, making LCoS projectors a realistic choice for colleges and universities that need to show bright, high-resolution images at an affordable price. LCoS images are ideal for displaying the fine lines needed to read a projected spreadsheet or other document, for example. A variety of schools are finding other, more specialized uses for the technology as well.
Optics for Ocular Diseases
As director of the Applied Vision Research Lab at the Institute of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the New Jersey Medical School, Bernard Szirth often takes to the streets. He's checking places like soup kitchens and churches for anyone with potentially blinding diseases like diabetes, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. The aim of the community screenings is to catch and control potentially blinding diseases, often in homeless and extremely low-income patients, in time to save vision.
Szirth uses an array of Canon products to scan eyes for problems, including a special camera and a device to check eye pressure for signs of glaucoma. Integral to it all is a Canon REALiS SX7 LCoS multimedia projector back in the lab. "From what we've seen on the market, this projector offers the highest resolution," Szirth said. "We can see details that, with a lot of other projectors, we just can't see."
With ever-increasing image resolution levels and high-definition video more and more the norm, LCoS technology has been a key advancement for projectors because it results in dramatic image improvements over older technologies. Because of its price tag, LCoS technology tended to be overlooked in higher education, but that has changed. Technology changes in the last several years have brought prices down, making LCoS a realistic choice for classrooms that need to show high-resolution images at an affordable price.
From the perspective of someone teaching future eye doctors, Szirth said that images from the Canon LCoS digital projector were immediately so much better than those from a relatively new previous projector that it was "as if the eye doctors themselves suddenly had corrective lenses ... [or] as if somebody had washed the windows. It was amazing."
Working at the only ophthalmology university in New Jersey, Szirth has students who study with the institute for three years to become eye doctors. "For us to be able to show [high-resolution eye images] is critical," he said. When the vision lab added the Canon projector, "we went from just seeing an image, to seeing the best image possible."
Once state funding improves, he said, he hopes to eventually equip all seven of the university's ophthalmology centers with the same high-resolution projector. "One of the highlights of our program is being able to teach small differences [in eye scans] that are often missed," Szirth said. "We would miss something [by] using a generic projector."
An added benefit, Szirth said, is the projector's ability to alter its optics automatically to adjust to imperfections in the projection screen, which hangs from the ceiling. "No matter how the actual screen moves ... [the projector] can adjust the optics to match the screen. If the screen is distorted, the projector can adjust the image."
At the University of Maryland/College Park, Quint Gregory, Curator of the Department of Art History and Archaeology's Visual Resource Center, said that the high image quality of Canon's REALiS LCoS multimedia projector was the key in his selection of the digital projector for art history classes, where image quality is paramount.
Gregory, a specialist in seventeenth-century Dutch painting, said the Canon projector is used for art history classes held in a small space that seats just six to eight people comfortably. It is mounted in a custom cabinet along with an older-style projector for professors who still prefer slides. The Canon REALis projects an image approximately 6 feet high and 12 feet wide, Gregory said. "It's an intimate space ... with this huge screen." Faculty typically bring a flash drive with images and connect that to the computer; a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard and mouse are included.
High-quality image reproduction was key in his choice of projectors, Gregory said, along with an affordable price. "We wanted something that could handle stills. The quality of images is supremely important." The Canon can also project moving images as needed.
Gregory said he has recommended the product to colleagues both on campus and elsewhere, including a curator at the National Gallery of Art.
For the price, Gregory said, he didn't find anything remotely close in projection quality during his research and demonstrations. When he projected images from the Canon next to those from an earlier high-quality projector the university was using, "it was a night and day difference." Another feature that sold him: the ability to adjust color settings to a granular level. "The fact that I can control the color balance down to a very fine level of detail appeals greatly," Gregory said. "That's important to me ... to be able to say, 'Look, purple's slightly off, let me see what I can do.'"
Standardizing on LCoS
Partly to simplify the issue of stocking and replacing projector lamps, Hamilton College, a top-ranked private liberal arts college in Clinton, NY, has been moving to a single main projector brand for its everyday classrooms--Canon. Specifically, the 1,800-student college, on a hilltop campus near the Adirondacks, is using close to 80 Canon REALiS LCoS projectors, both SX50s and SX60s, according to Tim Hicks, Director of A/V Services at Hamilton.
The college installed 28 Canon SX50s, Canon's first LCoS-enhanced projector, three years ago in its new science center, Hicks said, when the Canon was one of the first affordable cameras the college reviewed that accepted a DVI signal, resulting in extremely high resolution. The projector's brightness (2,500 ANSI lumens) is such that the room needn't be completely dark in order for the screen to be visible, allowing students enough light to still take notes.
"The sharpness of the image was pretty dramatic" viewed next to a VGA projector, Hicks said. Hamilton is now using the Canon REALiS projectors to project onto 8- to 10-foot screens in classrooms throughout the campus, ranging from a 15-seat seminar-style room to a 40-seat flat-floor classroom. A range of class types are using the systems; Hicks said that in particular, "Art history faculty really like the images that these projectors are putting out."