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Article: Specifying projectors off the page?

18 April 2013

The background

In the early days of video and data projection, almost every sale required a demonstration to prove that the projector would be capable of displaying the image in the first place. Then just as importantly, would the resulting image be bright enough to actually be able to see it?


Displaying a computer image wasn’t so easy back then. Things called ‘interfaces’ were frequently required to generate a signal that the projector could process and display. Being able to see the resulting image usually required black-out conditions or the use of a very high gain projection screen, such as a parabolic screen (a rigid, silver surfaced, curved surface that had critical viewing angles in both the horizontal and vertical planes because it focussed light back into an optimum area).


Because the projectors were so expensive, quite often, we would find ourselves in a shoot-out with one or more competitors.


Now, everything has changed. The signal types and connectors are common & consumers trust the technology to work too. In the main, the projector prices have come down to the point where it doesn’t make financial sense for us to volunteer a demonstration either. Even half a day spent could demolish the margin. Who can afford to invest in a range of demonstration equipment in such a fast changing environment?


So, most projectors are sold over the phone now. The key questions now are:


·         portable or fixed?

·         the resolution required?

·         how many sources are there and what type are they?


Then we play it safe on the brightness and contrast required by suggesting something we know works (installed it before). How can that possibly go wrong?


Here’s a few things for you to consider:

·         No two installations are ever exactly the same

·         Projector specifications on paper  vary in reality. I’m not saying people lie, but there are no brightness or contrast police and the way it’s measured differs too. ANSI lumens (where the image is measured in a range of points) vs. ‘centre brightness’ where the image is only measured once in the centre (at the brightest point). Colour brightness is another. According to an article I read recently, the actual brightness can vary by as much as 20%

·         Contrast – In reality contrast is a greater function of environmental conditions such as ambient light so figures quoted are of little use and the end effect can only really be compared with an on-site demonstration

·         When using a zoom lens, the brightness can vary quite dramatically depending on where the projector is mounted. For it not to change, the lens must be ‘constant’. Many projectors offer a 2:1 zoom lens. As a rough example; in the case where the projector is expected to deliver a 100” diagonal image, you could put the projector anywhere between 10 foot and 20 foot away and at 20 foot the brightness could be halved

·         Colour accuracy might matter a lot to the user and that doesn’t get a look-in on a lot of specification sheets

·         Lens shift horizontal and vertical. Does the projector have this? If not, siting it where you want to might be a little awkward

·         Image Processing. All projectors have an in built scaler to handle a range of content however the way in which it operates will affect the image quality. This has to be seen

·         Using a projection screen or a white wall? An investment in a good quality screen (correct gain, tab tensioned) can make a £2k projector look better than a £5k one on a painted white wall. Having said that, a white wall with the right lighting conditions means there are no on-screen issues with changing aspect ratios

·         Consider technology v usage. DLP and LCOS are far better for high usage environments than LCD

·         Future ready? Resolutions are all moving widescreen (16:10 high res data) as opposed to traditional 4:3.  Even if customers think they need 4:3, new developments in BYOD (bring your own device) allow presentations from mobile devices and these are invariably widescreen format


In summary;

In my opinion, if your customer needs the best quality image, don’t specify it ‘off the page’. A site survey to decide what features are required, hence which projector best suits is essential. If their budget doesn’t stretch to the right projector, go and demonstrate the benefits of increasing it. If the margin isn’t great on this deal, don’t worry, you will make it back on future business from a client who trusts you to deliver the best solution for them. Even if they don’t have more business to place in the short term, they might just tell someone else what you did for them.



Thanks to Andy & Drew for their contributions.


The biased bit.

Of course, you won’t be surprised to know that we do distribute projectors, screens, mounts and signal distribution solutions;


Barco – 3 chip DLP technology for very high brightness and full colour spectrum.


Canon – LCOS technology for high contrast ratio. Canon lens technology for brightness consistency and sharp images. Digic4 image processing for natural colour reproduction.


NEC – Rich functionality and ease of installation features.


Draper – projection screens

Premier Mounts – projector and flat screen mounts

Kramer – switching and signal distribution

Celerity – fibre optic cables for HDMi

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