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5 Trends in Digital Projectors that Translate into Ease of Use in the Classroom

FROM WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY to light processing improvements, digital projectors have incorporated a number of technological advancements in recent years-- developments that have made the tools even easier for higher education technologists to use. We offer here some vendor insights about some of those trends, and the ways in which they might make a difference in teaching and learning in higher education classrooms.

Trend No. 1: Going Wireless

Perhaps the biggest development in digital projectors is the introduction of wireless connectivity. In years past, educators needed cords to connect the devices to laptop or desktop computers. Now, however, many projectors are equipped with the ability to access files remotely with the help of a USB device.

New projectors from Epson, for instance, incorporate the company's Quick Wireless Connection, which establishes an ad hoc 802.11a, b, or g wireless connection between the projector and a user's PC via a special wireless USB thumbstick preloaded with software drivers to facilitate the connection. Units come standard with one thumbstick.

Products from other vendors like Hitachi and Sanyo offer certain degrees of wireless connectivity as well. Sanyo's PLC-XU355 projector, for instance, comes with a USB key that visiting professors can pop into their laptops to display files on the projector. In addition, the company's DHT100 projector comes with an optional wireless high-definition transmitter and receiver that facilitates wireless transfer of high-definition video.

"Wireless simplifies installation," says Mark Holt, VP and general manager of Sanyo's Presentation Technologies Division. "Convenience is something that should never be overlooked."

Wireless capabilities could become even more streamlined over time. While most of the current solutions work with the help of USB devices, a number of vendors are enabling their products to work with internet protocols that will give them the ability to send and receive data over a campus's wireless local area network.

Trend No. 2: Better Light and Color

Light and color are two other areas in which digital projectors are improving by leaps and bounds. In the old days, brighter was better, and brightness was measured in lumens. Today, however, excellence isn't defined exclusively by the number of lumens a projector can boast; brilliant colors and improved detail have become important factors, too.

A number of new digital projectors feature one-chip digital light processing (DLP) technology, which utilizes an optical semiconductor and up to two million microscopic mirrors to reflect digital images on a screen. (Three-chip DLP projection systems are used in more industrial applications like cinema.)

Up Next

VENDORS OF DISPLAY PRODUCTS are always striving toward the next development. Here's a sampling of technologies coming down the pike.

  • Pens. Companies such as InFocus and AVer- Media are developing digital pens-- a cross between a laser pointer and a wireless slate-- to work with their projectors and document cameras. The products should hit the market by the end of this year.
  • Video. Though few digital projector vendors support full video at 30 frames per second, a number of trailblazers are almost there. Many vendors expect products to tackle more video (including HDMI) by 2010.
  • Closed-captioning. Those projectors and display devices that have the ability to broadcast audio and video along with images soon will incorporate technology to provide closed-captioning. Select products from Sony, for example, already boast this feature.
  • File support. The UF-130DX from Samsung includes an embedded Windows CE operating system, which allows instructors to walk into a classroom with files on a standard USB thumb drive, plug in the drive, and start presenting.

Texas Instruments, the developer of DLP, licenses the technology to a number of different vendors. Sharp's new PG-F267X projector, for instance, features both DLP BrilliantColor and 2,500 lumens of brightness.

Another technology that improves brightness and color is 3LCD, which incorporates three LCD chips in every projector. In a January 2009 comparison of 847 shipping models, those devices with 3LCD technology projected 26 percent more brightness per lamp watt of electricity than those with one-chip DLP. Devices incorporating this three-chip strategy include the CP-SX635 from Hitachi, the VPL-CX70 from Sony, and a variety of projectors from Epson.

As Epson's Heather Gareis points out, this kind of improved light has distinct educational advantages. "It really makes a difference when viewing content with color gradients and fine detail-- the kind of content in classes from biology to art history," says Gareis, senior product manager for higher education and business projectors. "With 3LCD technology, you're not compromising color output to achieve high white-light brightness."

Document Cameras Riding the Optical Curve

PROJECTORS AREN'T THE ONLY digital display technology to benefit from new developments. Document cameras (also known as digital presenters) also have experienced significant advancements, particularly in the area of optical and digital zoom. With most document cameras, standard zoom features magnify the object at hand by up to four times its ordinary size. The problem? Magnification is limited, and once users zoom in, they cannot pan; in order to get a larger perspective of a different part of the object, they need to move the object itself.

A handful of new technologies aim to make zoom technologies more powerful and flexible. Last year AVerMedia released AVerZoom, a proprietary digital technology that gives certain document cameras optical zoom quality of up to 20x and the ability to pan.

AVerMedia Marketing Director Grant Woods says this feature can make a huge difference in the middle of a lecture. "If an educator wants to change the emphasis, it's possible to do so with electronic controls, without having to manually adjust the document itself," he says.

While few other vendors offer customers the ability to pan while zoomed in, many have responded to customer demands by increasing the standard zoom. Elmo, which specializes in high-end digital presenters, has increased the standard zoom on some models to 16x.

In a totally different development, the PS-660 from Lumens offers users the ability to plug a microphone into the unit and record audio or video to accompany each slide. After class, educators can hand these files over to IT administrators for archiving or posting online.

Other vendors are focusing on solutions that are eco-friendly. Gone are the days of mercury vapor lamps; today, vendors are incorporating reflectors and other techniques to boost the brightness of LED lamps.

Casio, for instance, is looking into a variety of options in "greener" light. Joe Gillio, the company's director of product marketing, says that in addition to the environmental benefits of these alternative light sources, the new bulbs last much longer, helping customers cut costs on replacements.

"It turns out that in this case, being green probably can save people money, too," he says.

Trend No. 3: Remote Monitoring and Maintenance

As colleges and universities invest in more digital projectors, managing and maintaining the devices becomes increasingly tough. This is where developments in remote monitoring show their value.

Generally speaking, these features allow technologists to control devices from a central location: e.g., turn off projectors remotely to conserve power; monitor bulb life to allow proactive replacement of bulbs; and ensure the machines stay free from viruses and other forms of malware.

"At a time when IT staffs are shrinking, this kind of luxury makes everyone's job easier," says Rich McPherson, senior product manager for NEC Display Solutions. The company's newest projectors-- the NP400, NP500, and NP600-- all include features designed to facilitate management from afar; for instance, scheduling shut-downs to conserve energy.

New products from other vendors also include provisions for remote maintenance; Epson's new Easy Management software, for instance, alerts technicians when a projector is due for maintenance or if there is a problem with a particular device.

When it comes to filter maintenance, Sanyo is offering new projector devices with its Active Maintenance Filter (AMF) system. Instead of utilizing a single filter, these machines use a cartridge with 10 of them. An airflow sensor behind the cartridge reads when the filter is dirty and automatically advances to the next one in the cartridge.

"Colleges used to have to clean filters every 500 hours, but with this tool they can clean every 5,000 hours," says Sanyo's Holt. He adds that another technology-- automatic lamp selection system-- enables customers to program which of two lamps the projector should use first, thus prolonging lamp life across the board.

Of course, DLP projectors don't need filters in order to operate adequately; many of the devices, including the Sharp XR-32S and the ViewSonic PJ458D, can be "filterless." These particular models have sealed optical systems, eliminating the need for filter maintenance. They are ideal for ceiling-mounted installations and other difficult-to-reach locations.

Trend No. 4: Embracing Lens Shift

Projector vendors are also making advancements in lens shift, the process through which users adjust the lens to get the image to appear where they want it on a screen, whiteboard, or wall. Hitachi, for example, incorporates tiny motorized lens shifters in its CP-X10000, CP-WX11000, and CP-SX12000 projectors, that move the lens up, down, left, or right.

John Glad, product manager of the company's projectors and interactive whiteboards business group, says that with this technology, the lens doesn't have to be always pointing at the middle of the screen. "However you want the image," he notes, "you can manipulate it or move it to appear that way."

Another vendor, InFocus, includes both motorized and manual lens shift in projectors that comprise its IN5100 series. Projectors from Sanyo and a number of products from Epson offer the same luxury.

Trend No. 5: Mounting Efficiencies

Finally, a number of display vendors also have tweaked the way their products can be mounted. In the past, there weren't many options-- most products came only with ceiling mounts. Today, however, many new projectors are described as "short-throw," meaning they can be ceiling-mounted, mounted on a desk, or mounted on the wall immediately above a screen or whiteboard.

A number of vendors offer short-throw products, including Sharp, NEC, InFocus, and Sanyo.

Robert Detwiler, product manager at InFocus, points out that the new short-throw development eliminates the likelihood that educators will walk through the projected light, and provides faster mounting when the ceiling isn't a good option. The new technology also simplifies projector placement in classrooms with limited space and enables more interactive presentations.

"One of the traditional limitations to display technologies is that you have to be sequestered in the back of the room," Detwiler says. "We're trying to eliminate that by allowing our users to step up to the blackboard and give presentations as they would teach a regular lecture."


Listed below are web addresses for companies mentioned in this article. The URLs will take you to the company's appropriate product overview page, from where you can find the link to digital (sometimes called multimedia) projectors or document cameras.

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