Spotlight on projectors
Even with interest in display systems turned firmly towards ever-larger and cheaper LCD and plasma screens, projectors have continued to advance. Prices have dropped, and critical previous objections — such as brightness and viewing angle — have now been adequately dealt with.
For business presentations, projectors are now nonpareil. In minutes, a tiny portable projector can be linked with a laptop to provide a large-screen PowerPoint presentation that is viewable even in ordinary lighting conditions. This provides extreme flexibility for travelling workers needing a solution for meetings or product demonstrations in a hurry. Other new markets include special-purpose fixed displays. Meanwhile the traditional market for corporate projection rooms continues to grow.
In addition to influences from the business side, projector development is being fuelled by growing consumer awareness and development of home theatre systems. Just like the early PCs that were taken home and turned to other purposes, the corporate projector has become useful outside the office, for example playing DVDs at home. This has helped to grow a home market for premium projector products. As this market — potentially, much larger than corporate use — continues to develop, it will further drive down prices and push the need for advanced technology.
For resellers, projector sales require careful matching of need to technology, and some understanding of installation parameters. ANSI lumens (brightness) is of particular importance, and may be critical in brightly lit rooms. Keystone correction, or capability to maintain a square image if the display is projected at an angle, is an important mounting concern, particularly with ceiling mounts. There are also issues of distance, image size and screen type that need to be taken into consideration.
Brightness requirements, measured in ANSI lumens, vary according to the type of presentation, room size, audience size and room lighting. Video presentations, in general, require more lighting because there is generally more contrast — dark scenes, with low-projection lighting, may be entirely black. Typical recommendations are provided in Table 1, bearing in mind that these are only median figures and there may be vast differences in available lighting and presentation lighting requirements. In general, brighter is better, because it provides choice, although it may result in a shorter bulb life if output cannot be throttled down.
Table 1: Typical ANSI lumens values
Today’s projectors are getting increasingly brighter, and minimal acceptable values are climbing as users become accustomed to brighter, higher contrast results. Early projectors were commonly in the 800 ANSI lumens range, but today it is seldom possible to acquire anything below about 1,200.
Size and distance of the projector image also need to be calculated in advance to determine which projector is right for a situation, and where it can be mounted. This can be done with a ‘throw distance calculator’ for the projector, which can easily be found on the web (Table 2).Other factors also need serious consideration, including size and portability, capability to run for long sessions, bulb life and bulb cost. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Table 2: Throw distance calculators
|Vendor||Throw distance calculator|
Ahead of the pack
Boyd Audio Visuals has been importing and distributing presentation equipment for over 20 years. The company has specialised sales staff in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. It sells directly to major corporate and government accounts, but also supports an increasing number of specialist dealers and resellers. One of its main product lines is Hitachi projectors.
“As with a lot of technology products, it has been claimed that NZ has more projectors per head of population than any other country,” says product manager Peter Baldwin. “Unfortunately this cannot be verified from import data. However, on a pricing basis, New Zealand has one of the lowest price structures for projectors in the world.
“Projectors have been growing in popularity for a number of reasons. When compared with alternatives such as plasma screens on a cost-for-size basis, projectors still win hands down. Plus, who wants to look at a big grey screen when the plasma is turned off? A projection screen can be retracted out of sight when not required. Additionally, the standard 4:3 ratio is still the most popular for business presentations, which results in the image being distorted or cropped, or only part of the screen being used on a 16:9 plasma or LCD display.”
In the Hitachi line, Boyd currently offers a wide range of projectors, from the ultraportable RX-60 with 1,500 lumen XGA resolution, or the SVGA, 2000-lumen model CP-S240, through to the 4,500-lumen, XGA CP-X1250.
For high-resolution requirements, it has the Hitachi CP-SX1350 with native SXGA+ (1,400 x 1,050) resolution. The Hitachi PJ-TX200 High Definition projector is available for midrange home theatre applications. These units are provided with a continually developing range of new features, such as wireless presentation from PCs, auto vertical keystone correction, whiteboard and blackboard modes and new security features.
Business with pleasure
Hitachi has also been involved in a considerable amount of lens development work. This has resulted, for example, in corporate projectors with adjustable iris control — providing an increased contrast ratio and improved image quality. The cost of projectors continues to drop while the specification level increases. Lamp costs are also falling, though not as fast as the projectors themselves.
“Ease of use and connectivity are important to today's corporate users,” says Baldwin. “A lot of users are looking to combine pleasure with business, and like to take their projector home for a bit of relaxation time. They are now asking for component video or DVI inputs, in order to maximise the signal from their DVD players. This is also beneficial for business use, as more material is being distributed on DVD.
“Another recent development is that wireless connectivity is starting to come of age, offering faster wireless connections with superior results than previously available. A third area of interest is the growing popularity of PC-less presentation, where a presentation can be saved to a memory card and plugged directly into the projector. Hitachi has recently taken this one step further the inclusion of a reader for USB storage devices on their soon to be released CP-X268 Model.”
New drivers for projector sales include an increase in the number of projectors being permanently installed. This is partially due to the reduced cost per unit, meaning companies can now afford multiple units (although multiple units can result in security concerns, with portable projectors being stolen). Another driver is increased awareness and uptake of interactive screens, such as the Hitachi Starboard range. Current standard specifications for projectors are XGA resolution, typically in the 2,000 to 2,500 ANSI lumen range.
Get the right fit
For resellers, Baldwin advises looking at real customer needs. “The most important thing is to make sure the customer's true requirements are matched to a suitable projector,” he says. Just as you wouldn't recommend a Mini to tow a trailer, the small micro and ultraportable projectors are not suitable for running six to eight hours a day."
Sony offers a range of projectors, from bright 2,000-lumens entry models (the VPLES3 and VPLEX3) to small, light and compact models (the VPLCS21 and VPLCX21). It offers projectors that cover business use, home use, staging and rental use.
“The compact models are smaller than an A4 notebook, weigh only 1.9kg and have an out put of 2,100 ANSI,” says product manager Kane Silcock. “But the main aim is to be able to deliver features that the customer wants. This could be ‘Off & Go’, Auto setup, side shot or wireless operation, for example.”
Current standard specifications for best-selling units include brightness of about 2,000 ANSI lumens, low fan noise, short throwing distance, auto focus, auto input search options, auto keystone and three-LCD technology.
“The biggest advantage over plasma and LCD is screen size,” says Silcock. “You can get up to a 300-inch screen size where most plasma/LCD brands only offer up to 50 inches. Portability and flexibility are also important.
“Anyone can easily move a projector, and most projectors can handle the commonly used 4:3 and 16:9 screen formats and keep the screen size you need; plasma and LCD screens may handle these formats but only by changing the screen size. Power consumption on a Sony projector is also lower than that of plasma and LCD, and with plasma you face eventual screen burn.”
Overall, the cost of projectors is coming down as more and more people invest in this technology. With this investment, most brands are looking at ways to increase lamp life. Lamp cost can still be a considerable cost component of a projector purchase.
In general, the New Zealand market for projectors is faring well. “Resellers need to understand the market, however, and screen sizes and throw distances seem to be the area that needs the most help,” says Kane. “Luckily, there are resources such as websites to help with this.”