A Buyers' Guide to Business Projectors - Page 2

By Jamie Bsales
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Short-throw Technology
One annoyance with data projectors is their placement in relation to the screen in order to create a large image. Typically, a unit has to sit on a table six to eight feet from the screen to project an image suitable for a conference-table full of viewers. So you have a power cord running from the wall to the device (a tripping hazard in a darkened room), and you need to be mindful not to walk in front of the light beam while also trying to be in front of your audience.

But in the past few years new optics technologies have solved this problem. These “short-throw” projectors can be placed three feet or so from the screen and still generate an 80-inch image. This lets you place them on a console or cart close to the wall, with less worry about cable clutter or people walking between the projector and the screen. Available from Epson, NEC, Toshiba and others, short-throw projectors carry a price premium versus long-throw units, but the positioning flexibility they provide could make them attractive choices.

The connectivity options a projector comes equipped with should also be on your radar. They can make the difference between breezing into a room and getting started effortlessly, or fumbling with cables and settings in front of your audience and wasting their valuable time.

Toshiba TDP-EX20U
Toshiba’s TDP-EX20U features 2,300 ANSI lumens, and it delivers 60-inch image when placed a mere three feet from the screen.

The most common way to connect a laptop PC to a projector is via a VGA cable; almost every laptop has a VGA-out port, and every projector has a VGA input. Many projectors now support USB connectivity, letting you use a thin USB cable rather than a bulky VGA cable. And an even newer choice is an HDMI connector, which caries both the audio and video over a single thin cable. HDMI out ports are now appearing on high-end laptops, and on multimedia-centric projectors, as well.

Many conference-room projectors now also support wireless connections, letting you send the presentation data to the device via Wi-Fi. This is ideal at times when several colleagues need to connect during the course of the meeting, as it avoids the painful laptop-and-cable shuffle as presenters switch off.

Of course, the easiest way to connect is not to have to bother at all. If you don’t need to present “live” material, look for a projector that can play back your canned presentation from a USB memory device or a memory card. This lets you pop in the memory device and present, no cables or PC required.

Other Considerations
As you narrow your choices, there are other features to consider. One of our favorites is an “instant-off” feature. With a typical projector, the bulb needs a few minutes to cool down before you can unplug the unit and pack it up. This can be awkward at the end of a meeting, as your hosts check their watches while you wait for the projector to cool down. With an instant-off projector, there is no cool-down period required; turn it off and you’re ready to go.

Color fidelity is another consideration. With a PowerPoint slide, it may not matter if sun yellow gets reproduced as mustard yellow. But for video and photographic images, where natural flesh tones and other color attributes are important, a projector’s color accuracy becomes more important.

Another thing to keep in mind is the noise of the projector fan. The bulbs produce a lot of heat, so efficient cooling is important. But a less than ideal design will result in fan noise that may be distracting to your audience. And speaking of bulbs, look for a unit with a long rated life for the bulb, as replacements typically cost a couple hundred dollars. Some manufacturers now offer 4,000-hour bulbs, which should equal years of use before you need to replace it.

Finally, consider the service and support the various manufacturers provide. If you depend on your projector for make-or-break deals, look for a warranty that offers a next-business-day replacement unit: You ship a broken projector back (under warranty), while they send a replacement unit to you. And 24/7 live tech support is also helpful, since you’ll usually discover any problems on the Sunday night before that big Monday morning pitch.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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This article was originally published on February 13, 2008
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