How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s tough to find quality these days”?
Surprisingly, that’s become true of projectors, at least the majority of those going into schools.
“Until this last purchase, we were having a terrible time finding something that would last,” says Michael Murphy, Director of Technology for the Forrestville Central School District in upstate New York. “We’ve had projectors in every high school and middle school classroom for the past 15 years, but our luck turned sour. We would get a new model in and it would be fine for about a year – but after that we had major problems.”
Murphy believes the heat generated by projection lamps is a bad combination with the plastic parts and low-cost construction used by many manufacturers. “We would start having service problems, or the picture would degenerate, or both.”
That all changed in 2013 when Murphy switched to Casio XJ-M151 LampFree® projectors. The build quality is higher, he believes, but the main thing is, their hybrid LED/laser light source runs dramatically cooler.
“They look as good today as the day we put them in,” he says. “That speaks loudly given our experience with all these other projectors.”
The Search for Long Lasting Performance
Murphy believes that many of his problems stem from the fact that his teachers run their projectors all day long.
It makes sense to keep them running because, even though Forrestville is very small, it’s a high-tech district, with one-to-one iPad® use for all of its students. Murphy originally outfitted each classroom with an LCD projector, 100” Da-Lite screen, document camera, DVD player, TV tuner and sound system back in 2000, upgrading components as needed over the years. “We’ve gone to a really nice high-definition document camera, which is great for written materials, worksheets or textbooks,” he explains. He also added an AirPlay® receiver from AirServer®, which allows teachers to send images directly to the projectors from their iPads.
The original projectors he purchased used LCD technology, which may not have been a great choice given the amount of dust in semirural Forrestville. With the projectors running from morning to night, the filters tended to clog. That made the projectors run even hotter, and the LCD elements degraded more quickly than he had hoped.
When an LCD optical block degrades, the picture dims and the colors shift toward yellow, because the blue LCD degrades the fastest. Seeing the problem, Murphy switched to DLP technology for his next purchase. “Those projectors were really sweet, and they worked quite well. But the manufacturer, in its wisdom, did not offer anything comparable when it was time to replace them.”
He switched brands again but was careful to stay with DLP. “We thought our next projectors were pretty good, but after a year or so, the optics started to go permanently out of focus.” Murphy says the manufacturer replaced a few under the warranty, but then the warranty ran out. “We need to get four or five years out of our investment in a projector, but these were garbage. We had to replace them early.”
The fourth round was another DLP projector, but it turned out they broke down frequently, and as they aged, they dimmed as well. “It happened gradually, and the teachers got used to it, but they got dimmer and dimmer. They stayed dim even when we replaced the bulbs. By the end, our teachers would have to shut off the lights and close the shades in order to use them.” He says they limped along as best they could, swapping projectors out from time to time with older units that he had saved, holding out until they could fund another purchase.
A Night and Day Difference
After all his bad experiences, Murphy was determined to do better. A colleague in a neighboring district suggested Casio. “I bought one to try, and I was impressed.”
The LampFree® Casio, he says, was bright, sharp and had great contrast. “I really wanted a projector bright enough to leave the lights on, but I couldn’t spend tons of money. The Casio, with its 3,000 lumens and high contrast, made images pop. We found we could leave the lights on and the shades up, even on sunny days, and still get a good picture.”
He was happy, too, to see it was maintenance free. Not only are there no bulbs to replace, but no filters to change as well. He purchased 24 more LampFree units and hung them in every classroom. After 2 ½ years, he has not had a single issue. “With our other projectors, after a year or two we would have to ask, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’ But with the Casio, the picture still looks great, and I haven’t even had a warranty repair.”
Murphy is now nearing the point where he would have had to buy a second set of replacement lamps. “Since I’m not buying bulbs, I can buy an extra $200 device for every classroom every 18 months. That’s a great bonus.”
He says he’s happy, too, that the LampFree projectors are environmentally friendly, burning considerably less power than the old projectors, with no lamps –or defective projectors– going to the recycler. Still the main thing, for him, is that they keep doing their job.
“For the first time in years, I don’t have to worry about my projectors. They just work.”