It's true that video projectors gradually have been losing ground in the marketplace to large flat panels. But for applications that require ultra-large screen sizes, projectors remain the way to go.
There's a perfect projector for every scenario. There are dozens of manufacturers developing and selling these devices, but not every projector will be right for you and your organization.
More to the point, not every application requires a traditional business or large-venue projector. Such devices are typically ceiling- or wall-mounted in the backs or centers of rooms, or placed on a table tops, and they aren't the best fit for a small areas.
For one, there's the familiar, annoying scenario of people walking in front of the lens or screen and creating shadows. Then there's the issue of the presenter or teacher getting persistently distracted by a tabletop or ceiling-mounted projector light, not to mention the prospect of less-than-sharp images due to the throw distance to the projection screen.
Simply stated, in more intimate settings such as classrooms, boardrooms and conference rooms, more intimate projectors make sense. That's where short-throw (ST) and ultra-short throw (UST) projectors excel. These devices are made specifically for applications where the distance from the projector to the projection screen must be, or preferably should be, short. If space is tight, think of these handy projectors. For those who stand in front of a projector screen or whiteboard many hours a day, these projectors are an excellent choice (SEE Buying Tip #1).
Short-throw and ultra-short-throw projectors remove shadows and glare issues from the equation entirely because they can be mounted or placed very close to the screen. For all intents and purposes, all barriers between the projector light and the screen are removed from the equation. For short-throw projectors, this is accomplished by using a wide-angle lens that shines down at a sharp angle. The distance between the lens and the screen is typically as low as two feet or so.
Recently, short-throw projectors have been joined in the marketplace by ultra-short-throw projectors. Where ST projectors use a wide-angle lens, UST projectors use a curved mirror. You can tell the difference between the two categories from the "throw ratio" specification, which is the distance from the projector to the screen divided by
the width of the projected image. Most sources identify a UST projector as one with a throw ratio of 0.38 or lower. For an ST projector, the throw ratio range is 0.38 to 0.75. Traditional projectors offer throw ratios in the 1.5 to 3.5 throw ratio range.
So if an ST projector has a throw ratio of 0.5, and you want to project a 60-inch-wide image, the projector should be placed 30 inches from the screen. That's just two-and-a-half feet from the screen, mounted from the ceiling if you'd like.
Most ST and UST projectors are based on tried and true Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology, which is lit by a replaceable bulb. But more and more models are coming on line that use Light-emitting diode (LED) technology, lasers, or a combination of the two, to provide longer-lasting, more consistent and energy-efficient light (SEE Buying Tip #2).
Adding further to the attraction of ST and UST projectors is the interactivity available with many models.
Using a special pen, presenters and viewers gain the ability to annotate what's on the screen from anywhere in the room. This takes the concept of the whiteboard to new heights. Some of these projectors are even 3D-capable. Many offer support for tablets and smartphones (SEE Buying Tip #3).
Another variable is audio. Many ST and UST projectors come with built-in speakers and amplifiers.
Not surprisingly, UST projectors are priced at a premium when compared with ST projectors (SEE Buying Tip #4), but as time passes and more models come online, prices of USTs are dropping (while STs are getting even less costly). According to high-tech market research firm PMA Research, sales of short-throw projectors accounted for 20 percent of overall projector sales volume in the first quarter of 2013. PMA characterized short-throw as showing "strong momentum."
When purchasing any projector make sure to check the warranty. Most vendors list their offerings in the specifications (SEE Buying Tip #5).
Two things are for certain: Short-throw projection is here to stay, and ultra-short throw projection is likely to become more dominant in the coming years.
Continue for ultra-short-throw and short-throw projector buying tips…
How to Choose Short-Throw and Ultra-Short-Throw Projectors: 5 Buying Tips to Streamline Your Application
Buying Tip #1
Do your projection measurements before you buy. The ability to project large images from short distances is the calling card of short-throw and ultra-short-throw projectors, but those sizes and distances vary from projector to projector. It's a very good idea to measure how large you want images to be and how far away you want the projector to be from the screen, before you buy.
"Prospective buyers looking for either a short throw or ultra-short-throw projector must first determine the room size and throw distance where they’d like to install the projector," says Roger Chien, product manager with ViewSonic. "The short-throw and ultra-short-throw projector has a smaller throw ratio than a regular throw projector, which is determined by throw distance divided by the screen width. You want to determine where the projector will go to create the best image possible. Before making a purchase, arrive with this information in hand to assist in your selection."
Buying Tip #2
Note the lighting source that the projector employs. Most of the short-throw and ultra-short-throw projectors we've found use traditional lamp bulbs as their lighting source. As proven light sources in real-world applications, lamp bulbs are the safe choice. The downside of bulbs, however, is that they need to be replaced from time to time; they also lose light in the long run as the bulb gets older. To address the issue of light degradation as well as maintenance requirements, increasing numbers of projectors now offer "solid-state illumination" laser, LED or a combination of the two. With these projectors, there are no bulbs to replace.
"Through the use of alternative light source technologies the maintenance issues associated with conventional projection virtually disappear," says Sander Phipps, senior product manager, Professional Projectors for Sony Electronics. "The new solid-state illumination technologies provide a tremendous value, both in terms of initial purchase and cost of ownership," adds Jon Grodem, senior director of Product and Marketing with Optoma Technologies. "The illumination components not only last longer, but the brightness levels at which they project at stay truer and more consistent over time, making for a more satisfying user experience.” Most manufacturers offer estimates of how many hours the lighting source will last. While these stats are useful for comparison's sake, keep in mind that your actual mileage might vary.
Buying Tip #3
Does the projector offer interactive features (and do interactive features matter to you)?
Many ultra-short-throw projectors (and a smaller number of short-throw projectors) offer standard or optional interactive features. These features allow the presenter and even viewers to use an interactive pen to annotate and collaborate, right on the screen. Think of the pen as a mouse, except it doesn't need to be connected to a laptop, and it can write like a stylus.
"Ultra-short-throw projectors add new levels of flexibility and interactivity to classrooms, meeting rooms and a range of commercial applications, transforming most flat surfaces into interactive screens," says Sander Phipps, senior product manager, Professional Projectors for Sony Electronics. "The newest models add interactive writing capabilities and simultaneous, dual-touch, interactive annotation on the projection screen with a special pen and drawing software." Determine if you'd like to pay a premium for interactive features and purchase accordingly.
Buying Tip #4What is the projector's brightness? A projector's brightness spec can provide useful information for comparison's sake. Brightness is usually measured in lumens, or light output, with many projectors in the short-throw and ultra-short-throw categories offering 3,000 Lumens brightness. Consider that the average. As a rule, "the larger the screen and the more ambient light in the room, the more lumens you will need," says Phipps.
Buying Tip #5How important are energy savings to you? If your organization is looking to cut costs or become more environmentally friendly, you're not alone. Many short-throw and ultra-short-throw projectors boast energy efficiency features. Seek them out when considering different models. "In conventional projectors, energy use is primarily from the lamp," says Phipps. "So the more efficient a projector is at turning the lamp wattage into available light on the screen, the more energy efficient the projector is." Newer models that use LED and/or laser are more energy efficient in addition to being easier to maintain. Phipps adds, "Another maintenance issue that should be considered is filter cleaning cycles. Projectors that only require filters to be cleaned or changed at the same intervals as the lamp can lessen maintenance headaches."