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Georgia’s largest school district upgrades in-classroom technology with NEC projectors and displays

Putting technology into classrooms has been a focus for Gwinnett County Public Schools, located in a suburb of Atlanta, for decades. First it was using overhead or slide projectors, and later televisions. Before the district made the decision to add projectors to all classrooms, schools would buy a few on their own, but there was no standardization across schools. 

In the early 2000s, the district decided to replace all CRT TVs in classrooms with digital projectors, beginning with the middle schools, but the district saw mixed results with the type of projector and brand it chose. 

“We were using digital light processing projectors, but the manufacturer couldn’t get a particular chip stabilized, and the projector would pixelate at times,” says Greg LaHatte, director of Gwinnett’s broadcast and distance learning department. “We needed something to last longer, and that started our search.” 

Projector wish list 

The elementary schools in the district would require 5,184 projectors, and the school couldn’t afford to take the decision lightly. They engaged a local integrator, Summit Systems (now Summit Solutionz, Inc.), to help them in their quest for new LCD projectors to replace the DLPs. 

“When you’re deploying that many of anything, you want to make sure it works,” says Tim Gorisek, president of Summit Solutionz. “Otherwise, if there is an issue, you don’t have just one problem – you have thousands of problems.” 

LaHatte and his team had a number of requirements when searching for a solution, including a certain caliber of vendor. 

“We wanted a tier-one manufacturer, a company that makes their own product,” LaHatte says. “We didn’t want a company that buys projectors and puts its brand on them. We have such a large amount of projectors that we wanted to be able to lean on the company itself to help us work through any issues. When you deal with tier one, they own the problem and respond better to challenges.” 

Other requirements included selecting a bright, commercial-grade product with a good value for the price, a large footprint and robust chassis to disperse less heat, and of course, longevity. 

“We needed something with the potential to last a long time,” LaHatte says. “We were gun-shy about that after the DLP chip issues. We need our tech to last a long time because we don’t have the money and resources to replace it every three years. We need five, six or even seven years out of a projector.” 

Summit Solutionz helped present some products, and other vendors showed their own products to LaHatte’s team on site, including a sales team from NEC Display Solutions, which hosted a demonstration of the NEC projector. Summit and the tech team together evaluated a handful of manufacturers, and finally chose NEC Display Solutions’ NP-P401W as the winner. 

“There were some specific features to that model that made it Gwinnett’s choice, including that it was a proven model, which gave them a lot of confidence in it,” Gorisek says. 

“The lens shift for moving the image up and down was a real plus for us, which is important because of all the different environments we would be putting the projectors in, and also that the image would work with either a screen, whiteboard or interactive whiteboard,” LaHatte adds. 

The versatility of the projector model and its zoom range and optics capabilities meant that the school could deploy the NP-P401W in classrooms as well as larger venues like cafeterias and gymnasiums. 

“The zoom range and automatic lens shift gave us a great deal of flexibility, and we found more variety in zoom choices with NEC than the other vendors,” LaHatte says. “NEC is an established, well-known company with a reputation for standing behind its product.” 

Ongoing installation 

LaHatte says installation of projector technology has been almost ongoing since they first started installing classroom projectors in 2007. The latest elementary school retrofit project to install the NP-P401W models began in 2014 and finished in early 2017. 

The NP-P401W was able to adapt to the existing harness that was already in many of schools’ ceilings, which LaHatte says made it easy to swap them out with the previous projector. 

Despite the challenges that can arise in the supply chain from a manufacturer needing to fabricate and ship thousands of additional units, Gorisek says that NEC never missed a single shipment. 

“We never missed any deadlines because of product delays,” Gorisek adds. “NEC nicely forecasted our project and rose to the challenge on the production and supply chain aspects. From a service aspect, they were great to work with, too. Everything about their service offering works exactly as they describe it to the customer. They’re doing their job, which makes my job easier.” 

One technology led to another 

The NEC NP-P401W projectors are used in Gwinnett County classrooms to help teachers educate and to help students learn more effectively. Every classroom has a pull-down screen on which the projector can display, and additional whiteboards for projection display as needed. Some classrooms add interactive whiteboards to combine with the projectors to boost student engagement. The school can also show live broadcasts such as schools’ daily or morning news shows, as well as content from other sources. 

“The projectors provide a window into a world that the kids want to see and interact with,” LaHatte says. “What is shown in the classroom is based on a teacher’s creativity, and the options are extensive.” 

With the elementary schools finished, the high schools are now in line for another 3,107 NEC NP-P401W projectors, with that installation ongoing through April 2018. Other schools will get a total of 1,173 units. The NP-P401W has also satisfied Gwinnett County’s needs for most of the larger rooms, such as libraries and cafeterias. For the largest rooms—for example, the high school theaters—LaHatte’s team is installing new NEC NP-PX803UL-WH laser projectors while retrofitting those schools. Four have been installed so far, with 14 more to go. 

The success of the NEC projectors also steered Gwinnett County toward NEC flat-panel displays, with about 75 50-inch and larger commercial-grade flat panels already in schools, public areas and conference rooms. 

As the high schools are retrofitted, they will exclusively use NEC’s E Series flat-panel displays, with a final count somewhere in the hundreds once all schools are finished. 

Full-time use 

Gwinnett County high school buildings are in use from 6 a.m. to as late as 10 p.m., and often have weekend activities going on, which mean any displays in the common areas of the school can get up to 100 hours of use per week. 

In addition to classrooms, Gwinnett County is also using the E Series displays in smaller school conference rooms and various meeting rooms in central office locations. 

“The E Series projectors are some of the more highly rated products in the world of commercial operations with a lifespan that exceeds that of many others,” LaHatte says. 

LaHatte adds that NEC’s service and support staff helped Gwinnett County feel confident that they made the right decision about their projector and display purchases. 

“NEC has always been a partner to us, checking in to make sure things are going well,” he says. “In a school district this size, we need to be sure we can get that kind of support.” 

For more information, visit www.necdisplay.com