2014-2015 Award Winners: Ultra-Short Throw Projectors

May 8, 2014

/ By Projector Reviews Staff

We wish to thank Epson America for sponsoring this year's Best Classroom Projectors report.

Epson BrightLink 585Wi: Best in Classroom - Ultra-Short Throw

The BrightLink 585Wi is more than a first class ultra short throw projector, WXGA projector with good edge to edge sharpness and at least, very good color in all but it’s brightest mode (with too much green/yellow).  It is a full featured interactive projector.  Even that mode can be easily adjusted to improve color without any dramatic hit to brightness.  The lamp is rated an impressive 4000 hours at full power and 6000 in eco, for low cost of operation.

Epson claims 3300 lumens on this projector, and was almost right on the money.  That’s plenty of horsepower for the typical 60 to 90 inch screen sizes used for most interactive classrooms.  Maximum size of screen is 97” for 720p, or 100” diagonal for WXGA (1280x800).  That’s larger screen sizes than most interactive projectors support.

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Over the last five years most of the interactive projectors have been reviewed by Tony, with me tackling one or two each year.  This year, there were only 3 interactive projectors that came in, so we didn’t break out interactive as a category.   Let’s just say that the 585Wi has the best picture of any of the three ultra-short throw projectors (although the NEC was close).  But it really is all the interactive abilities of the 585Wi that make it an award winning projector.   Epson uses a pen system with the 585Wi, and it works very well, with the provided tool bars.  There’s a great many tools including the ability to capture the sessions, which make this projector especially desirable in the classroom.  My only complaint about the 585Wi interactively is due not to what it can do, which basically it does very well, but what it can’t do.  Epson is also about to ship their new top of the line interactive ultra-short throw 595Wi, which has one fascinating difference – it can use pens, but also works well, no make that works great, with simple finger touch.  In fact you could have 4 students using that projector, using a total, working on 8 annotations at once, perhaps 6 fingers, and two pens, or some other combination.  And it works across quadrants.  Unfortunately for us, the 595 was not yet available.   That touch feature notwithstanding, the 585Wi is otherwise as capable, and costs less.  As is usual, Epson provides significant additional education discounts, and an extra year of warranty and replacement program on top of the standard two years of each.

Bottom line:  Bright, energy efficient, feature laden, very responsive interactive controls, ultra-short throw to not blind the presenter, and advanced networking (Wireless is optional via a $99 plug in module).   It’s the whole package.

NEC UM330W: Best in Classroom - Ultra-Short Throw - Value

Our second award for ultra-short throw projectors also goes out to a projector with a host of interactive features.  This WXGA NEC projector can project up to 110” diagonal (a little large for interactivity as that often means the screen is too tall for most folks to interact with the top of the screen.)  Even for that size, the front of the projector is only 20” from the screen.

What makes the NEC UM330W rather unique is that it starts out as an ultra-short throw projector with a $1299 list price, but a street price below $1000. That alone is very well priced.  If you want the UM330W to be interactive, there’s an optional kit for less than $500  that attaches.  The NEC partnered with the E-beam folks, who have been making interactive devices for projectors and white boards for more than a decade.  The E-beam provides the usual pen based features (one pen included) for annotating, and more.  All considered, with the interactive module, the NEC manages to still price well below the Epson, our other interactive – ultra short throw projector winner.

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We were impressed with the NEC’s edge to edge sharpness, a problem with many of the ultra short throw projectors to come though here.  We also liked that the NEC, with its standard wired networking and optional wireless networking, also has a basic media player on board.  It can do slideshow presentations from jpgs (you can, for example easily convert a Powerpoint presentation to jpgs for the purpose.  Oh, a more capable media player would have been nice, but rare on this type of projector.

Sound is big – 16 watts, suitable to handle all but the largest classrooms (and NEC even has a 30 watt optional speaker system that can plug in.

The NEC UM330W is dripping in features, and inputs.  One additional one worthy of note here, is the microphone input, so that a teacher or professor can use the projector’s speaker system to help them fill the room when speaking.

The NEC UM330W is an excellent value as a low cost ultra-short throw projector, that if needed, can have interactivity added at any time.  Although we consider this NEC to have a good value proposition as an interactive projector, it’s even a better value as a straight ultra-short throw!   Nicely done.

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