Decisions, decisions. Windows or Macintosh computers? Inkjet or laser printers? DLP or LCD projectors? While it's fairly simple to choose PCs and printers, the projector question can be a stumper. That's because there are advantages and disadvantages to both technologies.
Of the criteria to consider, first is price. While Digital Light Processing projectors usually cost more than their Liquid Crystal Display counterparts, the gap is narrowing rapidly. For instance, at the InfoComm trade show held this June in Orlando, companies including Epson and NEC rolled out LCD projectors priced at just $999--a new low for the traditionally high-end products. But right behind them came the InFocus X1, a DLP model also priced at $999. It may not be long before there's little or no cost variance between DLP and LCD. Mid-range models for each type of projector run about $1,500 to $2,000.
Price is one thing--brightness and color quality are other considerations. According to ProjectorCentral.com's Evan Powell, LCDs tend to deliver better color saturation and sharper images than DLPs, though the latter are gaining ground. LCDs also produce somewhat brighter images because they are capable of higher lumen outputs, Powell adds.
DLP projectors do offer two important advantages: mobility and contrast. The nature of DLP technology allows the projectors themselves to be made smaller than LCD models, which benefits business travelers--but has less impact for schools. As for contrast, "LCD still lags behind DLP by a considerable margin," Powell notes. Consequently, DLP projectors are better able to tolerate extraneous room light--like in classrooms where it's not always easy or practical to turn overhead lights off.
Finally, there's the issue of projector longevity. A recent study conducted by Texas Instruments concluded that LCD projectors are likely to degrade over time, while DLP models will not. However, because TI is the exclusive maker of DLP technology, the reliability of this study has been called into question.
When it comes to choosing a projector for the classroom, LCD maintains a slight edge in terms of price, sharpness and brightness. But LCDs may not last as long as DLP projectors, which generally deliver better contrast--an important consideration for school settings.
Creating a Media-Rich Classroom
In the past, trying to put together different pieces of classroom technology was a headache for educators and technology administrators. This often caused them to keep equipment separate rather than suffer through integration and compatibility problems. Now, because of advances in the equipment, as well as districts' familiarity with how it can be used, the pieces are coming together.
Dietrich School, in Dietrich (Idaho) School District #314, is a good example of how projectors, interactive whiteboards and computers are beginning to be used as an integrated whole. The K-12 school is small, with about 15 classrooms. Teachers use a wired whiteboard from SMART Technologies that allows them to tap into the Internet while speaking. A projector puts the images from the classroom's computer onto the interactive board that can function like a giant computer screen.
Students use the setup to do presentations, and the result has been more than gratifying, according to Ryan Smith, who handles the school's technology and teaches business classes. "As a teacher, I think it's a fabulous aid for the classroom. Every teacher here uses them every day, and the students are excited about having them."
The system was put in place in 1998 before the technology director, J. Wanless Southwick, retired. He had seen the interactive combo at a conference, and fell in love with the idea of every classroom having a media-rich station. He applied for grants to foot the bill, which came to around $10,000 per classroom. The Albertson Foundation gave Southwick the money to wire the school.
The largest challenge to implementing the technology, Southwick says, didn't involve a single plug or wire. "We had some teachers that were computer-phobic," he notes. "They were apprehensive because they weren't sure if it would work with their teaching style. But with regular training, and a weekly staff meeting where people shared their success stories with the technology, even the computer-phobic teachers came around."
Recently more school districts are inquiring about the system, says Nancy Knowlton, president of SMART Technologies. Educators are beginning to realize how AV equipment and computers can be successfully wedded, she says. "In the past few years especially, as teachers are more trained in basic technology, these kinds of products are being far better utilized."
Indianapolis' HDTV Experiment
If you've ever looked longingly at a high-definition television in an electronics store, the nagging question in your mind is probably, "Does anybody really own one of these?" Well, you might be surprised to find out that there's a bunch of public high school students in Indianapolis, Ind., who not only watch HDTV, but also create it.
"Being in education doesn't mean we should have low-end equipment," says Earl Harris, telecommunications manager in the district's instructional media department.
The Indianapolis Public Schools has a long history of helping students create TV programming. It built a state-of-the-art television studio back in 1969. It went to HDTV three years ago when it bought a Panasonic VariCam HD Cinema camera and DVCPRO HD production recorder. The 41,000-student district upgraded because it regularly broadcasts live meetings, two magazine-style shows and uses a bevy of distance learning resources.
Harris worked with Indianapolis' media director Dorothy Crenshaw to take the HD leap. Using borrowed equipment, Harris compiled a seven-minute HD production on foreign language distance learning. Senior administrators liked what they saw and agreed to purchase $106,000 of equipment to get started. One selling point: VariCam can produce sharp time-lapse and slow-motion images, which are particularly handy for science programming, says Marc Wellington, former chief engineer in the telecommunications department.
The purchases also fit long-term district goals. Crenshaw hopes to provide 24/7 access to content via CD and the Internet. Another use is more practical: "We'll be getting students ready so they can work in the field," Harris says. www.ips.k12.in.us/telecom/