At Projector Reviews, choosing the projectors to be included in the Classroom Projector report each year is more of an art, than a science. This year was typical. Here's some of what makes it all come together.
This report's objective is to include reviews of projectors that are, in one way or another, particularly suitable for some aspect of the education market.
In our regular reviews we do not specifically write for education. Each projector brought in is reviewed for what it is, it may be ideal for education, not so hot for business, or it could be a projector that's very good in different environments - such as a small fixed install / portable projector that might end up in a K-12 classroom, or being carried around by a sales person, from customer to customer. In this report, however, we look at each projector from the perspective of how it fits into and education environment, classroom, or other uses, but ultimately of interest to educational institutions.
We try to be selective. Most major manufacturers have between 20 and 60 business and education projectors in their lineup (many similar but with different resolutions or brightness). The largest collection - Epson, has well more than 100 models, with more than half aimed at the education market. (They offer over 30 models under $1000! - Yes, that sounds crazy, especially when you realize they have a dozen different models selling to schools within a $200 range, with different features, resolution, brightness, and networking.
As with all projectors we review, we look first, for those we consider "a cut above." When talking to a manufacturer about bringing in a projector for review, we are selective. I'll routinely pass over many possible projectors, and pick one that I hope will stand out, not just another "me too" with average performance or value proposition. That's the reason why we rarely publish a "bad review." We've even brought in projectors and decided not to review them after a first look, for just that reason. With hundreds of projectors to choose from, we do try to avoid the weakest entries and most of the mediocrity. For that reason we believe that most of the projectors in this report are overall, very good, to top performers when viewed against the hundreds of models available.
The Criteria - Timing
A key criteria that matters for our Education Projector report is that the projectors we want to include in the report should all be available for purchase in the June-September timeframe by schools, when K-12 schools purchase most of their projectors. This year, all the entries will still be current product at least until the end of the 2016 summer.
True, much of the higher education buying is during the same timeframe, but it seems less organized, less huge purchases, and they tend to happen more all year round, especially also in the fall. Not all of these projectors may still be available when schools let out in May-June 2017, but most will.
Why Some Brands Are Missing
There are really just a couple of factors:
First is availability. There have been times we wanted to review a projector but due to timing, it doesn't work out. This tends to happen because many new models don't hit until early summer. But, we have to have our reviews finished by mid-May at the very latest.
In the past few years, we've had Proxima, Casio, and others simply not have what we are looking for available in time.
Or, there may be a scheduling issue. Or, as was the case a a few years ago, with Hitachi - they simply told us they were no longer sending out review units.
With Sony, were were recently able to get in a large venue model, but when looking for a mainstream, the timing wasn't good.
Another factor is the companies themselves. We're a small shop, with limited resources. Some manufacturers are constantly hounding us to review models. (That can change from year to year, as to who is.) Other companies, I'll run into at a trade show and go, we'd love to review one of these, get in touch with me... And I never hear from them. Poor communications from their PR companies (they often handle review projectors), or their product management, (sometimes due to turn over), results in no contact, no reviews.
For example we like reviewing InFocus products, and we are doing one later this summer, but I had to make several calls to find anyone to talk to, to even find out who's in charge now. (Fortunately, in their case, one of the folks I used to work with for several years, just returned to InFocus so we're back communicating.)
Then there's Panasonic: We've had Panasonic projectors represented in this report in most years, (and they've won a couple of key awards) but in the past year Panasonic hasn't been interested in sending us any projectors. I had requested their newest laser, got the cold shoulder. No one attempts to contact me from Panasonic anymore. Not sure why. We will survive, there are plenty of other brands. They were an early leader in laser projectors but there are plenty of Sonys, Epsons and others these days.
This Year's Report - Who's In It, Who's Missing
Here's the scoop for the current report: These ten projector manufacturers are represented based on reviews performed in the last year:
Acer BenQ, Canon, Casio, Canon, LG, NEC, Optoma Sony, and Viewsonic.
With Epson being the far largest manufacturer in the industry, and far more models, this year they comprised 5 of those in this report, which is a more normal representation than only 3 last year. (Epson has about 44% of the total North American market, and as mentioned 2 to 4 times as many models as most other brands. (Hey, from a market share basis, the math says we should have reviewed 7 or 8 of theirs.)
NEC - a good year for NEC - with 3 models in this year's report. Didn't plan it that way, but it just worked out. NEC is one of those companies that does a great job of advising of all new models, and "harassing" us to review them. Their persistent effort paid off this year.
Missing again year is Proxima, a respected old brand that had disappeared, but re-emerged as a Chinese owned company last year. They rolled out a brand new line, and we reviewed two. Last year though, they said they had nothing new for us to review. I asked again this year. They release models about this time of year - late for the report - which has been a key problem.
Also Panasonic, as mentioned above.
Hitachi - We'll try to bring them back in for next year, after all, they are one of the manufacturers that does a lot with the education market. If there was one major brand missing in this year's report that I would have liked to see, it is Hitachi.
Dell - one of those companies that we lost communications with. Hey Dell projector marketing folks - if you are reading this - call or email me.
Vivitek - Working on it.
HP, Sanyo, Mitsubishi - quitters - they are gone from the wonderful world of projectors (well, Sanyo's gone from planet earth, for that matter).
A last thought - My independent contractor reviewers do the bulk of the reviews that are covered in this report. I've had two for years: Ron is a retired engineer, and so is Mike. Mike is also a certified THX calibrator, and does our calibrations of the home theater projectors I review. Well Mike only did a few for this year - he just retired on me (gone to Napa to drink wine - good for him, I'm jealous).
We have two entries in this report being done by Brian, who is new to us, but has reviewed projectors in the past for PC Magazine and others. He knows his stuff.
I normally handle all the interfacing with the manufacturers, except for sometimes a fact checking conversation between our reviewers and the manufacturer, right before publication. As a result, they have little direct access, or biases for any particular brand, so no axes to grind.
I rely on their reviews and additional feedback in determining the awards we hand out. Myself, I manage to review a few of the projectors each year that end up in this report, but focus most of my reviewing on the home segment. OK, that's more explanation of what's going on than is probably needed. So, let's talk projectors!
We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring this year's Best Classroom Projectors report.