For more than a year, Casio has had the mainstream of the lampless projector market pretty much to itself. There has been competition at the pico level, and also at the high-end, but last month’s BETT show saw the introduction of new models in the volume education and business sectors. We take a look at what’s on offer and assess the impact of the growing lampless category on the channel.
In a business where competitive advantage can generally be measured in terms of weeks or months, Casio’s length of tenure as the sole provider of mainstream, ‘lampless’ education and business projectors is remarkable. The rate of acceptance of the company’s LED / laser hybrid technology by the normally conservative education market has been little short of astonishing.
With its extreme usage regime and limited resource for planned maintenance, the education market quickly recognised that it had the most to gain from lampless technology. In a video ‘vox pop’ recorded at BET 2012, education buyers showed a sophisticated appreciation of the impact of lamp degradation on colour. End-users also expressed concerns about the maintenance overhead associated with traditional projectors, and the need for calibration of the IWB after re-installation.
These issues that were never raised when the first generation of classroom projectors were installed, but the market is now much better informed. The growing appreciation of the benefits of lampless technology has prompted a number of projector vendors to enter the market. Nieve Cavanagh, Casio Projectors’ senior product marketing manager, sees their actions as vindication of the category:
“Since Casio first developed the laser / LED hybrid light source, and as our market position has developed, there has been an increased public interest in the benefits of lamp-free technology versus traditional (lamp-based) lightsources. People have realised that with the new technology it is possible to achieve a longer expected life span and a significantly lower total cost of ownership, without compromising on specification and performance. The fact that more vendors are choosing to develop lamp-free lightsources indicates a clear market acceptance of the new technology, and increasing demand for a mercury-free, cost-effective solution. “
The first of the new players showed their hand at BETT last month, where new models from BenQ and Optoma were featured on the Texas Instruments’ booth. The BenQ LW61ST (WXGA) / LX60ST (XGA) and the Optoma ZW210ST (WXGA) / ZX210ST (XGA) all offer 2000 lumens of brightness, are 3D-Ready, provide 10,000 hours of service before any perceptible degradation sets it, but the two vendors have opted for different lightsource technologies.
The original Casio lampless lightsource combines blue laser light and a fluorescent element to generate green light. The green light, blue laser light, and the light emitted by a red LED are projected through a DLP chip which, in turn, is passed through the projection lens to form an image.
Optoma has developed its lampless projector range around a similar concept. The ZW210ST LED / laser hybrid projector is a a short throw model, displaying a 60” image from 68 cm away. Photos, videos and office presentation files can be directly projected from an SD card or USB memory stick, without conversion. The ZW210ST is said to use less than 0.5W in standby – environmentally friendly and cost effective.
ViewSonic has also a hybrid model, but this one is for the residential market. The company has introduced the world’s first full HD 1080p LED / laser hybrid, designed to address consumers’ reluctance to invest in front projection because of the recurring cost of replacement lamps. ViewSonic says that the new projector delivers a lamp life of up to 20,000 hours.
In addition to longer lamp life, the ViewSonic hybrid is said to provide versatile colour modes from its 1,200 lumens. ViewSonic says that the lightsource generates absolutely authentic levels of the primary colours, significantly expanding the colour gamut. ViewSonic says its hybrid projector will be available in July 2012.
BenQ is taking in Casio directly, in the mainstream education and business market, but has opted for a laser-only technology (see the review opposite for full details). BenQ’s solution pairs a blue laser array with a six segment phosphor enhanced colour wheel. The combination of short throw (0.6:1 and 0.49:1) ratios, 2000 lumens of brightness and an 80,000:1 contrast ratio available from the new BenQs has attracted a lot of attention – not least because shipping is imminent.
But that’s not the whole story from BenQ. At the end of last year, the company introduced its ImageCare-like SmartEco energy-saving technology. This has been integrated in the new laser models. Along with the EcoBlank feature, SmartEco is said to reduce the power consumption associated with lampless models significantly, ticking another box on volume projector buyers’ wish lists.
But as both the pioneer and current market leader in the lampless projector sector, Casio was unlikely to take the presence of competition lying down, and, at CES, introduced a refreshed range of six upgraded models in the company’s Slim Series. Designated the XJ-A141, XJ-A146, XJ-A241, XJ-A246, XJ-A251 and XJ-A256, three of Casio’s new models, the XJ-A146, XJ-A246 and XJ-A256, are equipped with USB, MobiShow, Wireless Presentations and a presentation timer.
MobiShow is a feature that supports presentation from most popular mobile devices (Microsoft Windows Mobile, iPhone, iPad and Android) using a Wi-Fi connection. In addition, the USB models have the ability to make wireless presentations from Mac computers. Up to 32 computers can be connected at one time and users can also view up to four PCs on an individual screen simultaneously.
Also new to the Slim range is Intelligent Brightness Control, an eco function that reduces power consumption by using no more than the level of brightness actually required (similar to SmartEco). Intelligent Brightness Control utilises a built-in light sensor to automatically adjust the brightness level of the projection to suit lighting conditions.
In addition to new models, Casio has adopted an aggressive approach to warranty provision. In time for BETT, Casio announced extended warranty for all its projectors. The new warranty covers both the lightsource and hardware on all Casio Green Slim, Pro, Short Throw and Signature models for five years or 10,000 hours of use, whichever comes first.
“No one wants their shiny new classroom or lecture theatre projector to cost the earth through maintenance fees and failing components,” said Cavanagh. “This type of warranty gives schools and universities a better idea of their long term budgets and ensures their purchases pack more of a punch.”
So is Casio worried about increased competition? Cavanagh says that making lampless projector is one thing – selling it alongside a traditional range is another:
“Only time will tell if vendors can market both lamp-free and conventional lamp-based projectors, without directly contradicting themselves. The benefit of Laser & LED hybrid light source technology is that it resolves most of the problems with lamp-based products. Successfully merging the two ranges together will be a hard task for any marketer.”
“With recent research suggesting that projector shipments will grow globally by 31 per cent to 12.4 million units by the end of 2013, the projector market still represents significant opportunity for display manufacturers. However, as they look to expand their range, the challenge will be to balance their messaging between lamp-free and lamp-based models.”
“Additionally, as more businesses, schools and universities start to realise the cost and usability benefits that lamp-free technology offers, it’s easy to predict that laser and LED hybrid lightsource projectors continue to gain market share and start to challenge the dominance of traditional lamp-based projectors.”
But what are the implications of this migration of projector technologies for resellers and integrators? Martine Dodwell-Bennett, sales and marketing director at Steljes, agrees with Cavanagh’s contention that the move to lampless is inevitable, certainly in education:
“Projector lamps are a problem for users adding expense, unusable classrooms and meeting spaces and disruption across the industry. Manufacturers have made great strides in extending lamp life and users can extend the life on current models by compromising brightness but none of these solutions fix the fundamental issue.”
“Lampless projectors have been forecasted for a number of years with different manufacturers taking different approaches to the problem. LED, laser, hybrid laser technologies have all been introduced but, to date, all of had different problems such as cost, colour accuracy, power consumption, or image brightness.”
“2012 will be the year when this problem finally goes away with manufacturers – and in particular BenQ – finally introducing products with no compromise on performance or price and which actually saves money in use. For some resellers this could be seen a lost margin opportunity, but the improvements in user satisfaction and the savings in both lamps and power consumption frees up budget to spend on other, higher margin products and services within their customers.”
Product profile: BenQ LW61ST lampless projector
Having never reviewed a projector with a laser lightsource before it was difficult to know where to start, and so we decided that the best course of action was to review it as a projector first, and a lightsource second.
Adopting this approach we can say, unequivocally, that this is a very well thought out projector for its intended markets in education and business meeting rooms. The styling, which owes a lot to the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, might suffer a bit of negative reaction, on the basis that it’s ‘a bit fancy for schools, but, if buyers look at the features on offer, the LW61ST ticks just about every item on the wish list.
The ‘W’ in the model designation indicates that this is the WXGA model (1280 x 800 resolution) and, being short throw, the LW61ST projects an 80-inch (2032 mm) diagonal image from 842 mm from the wall. It weighs just over 5 kilos, and so could be moved from room to room, and, while the case has the shiny plastic look, it seems tough enough to withstand life in a school or office.
Where the new BenQ really excels is in the area of connectivity, audio and other features which make the LW61ST a flexible choice for either standalone or networked applications. Taking input options first, we have two RGB D-Sub slots for computers, S-Video, an RCA jack, HDMI, RGB component input, PC audio and RCA jacks and two Type A USB ports – and an additional Mini-B USB.
This is pretty generous for a projector designed for education and meeting room applications, as is the built-in audio facility. This is the first projector we have ever reviewed that attracted complaints from colleagues working in the building that the pair of 10W stereo loudspeakers were ‘too loud’ when turned up to 10. It’s certainly loud enough to use in the context of a classroom or small meeting room, and it has the advantage of making the unit self-contained for end-users sharing the projector across a number of rooms.
Other neat touches on this front are the built-in presentation timer and the laser pointer in the remote, and also some projection templates (for example a ruled grid for teaching handwriting) provided in blackboard and whiteboard modes. For customers choosing to install the LW61ST, control options include an RS232 serial connection, a PJ45 LAN control port, a 12v trigger and two IR receivers.
So, even if you knew nothing about BenQ’s new lightsource, the generously specified LW61ST compares favourably with the majority of projectors currently addressing this sector. But what’s really going to tickle the fancy of education buyers in particular is the idea that you never have to replace the lamp. or carry out any maintenance beyond periodically wiping the case.
Unlike Casio, Optoma and ViewSonic, each of which is using a variant on the original laser / LED hybrid, BenQ has developed a new technology based on an array of 24 Blue Laser diodes to create the light and a phosphor enhanced, six segment colour wheel to create the colour. While the generic benefits of lampless technology are detailed in the main feature of this piece, it is worth underlining that using the LW61ST really is quite a different experience if you are used to UHP lamps. The ability to simply turn the projector on and off, without worrying if you have let it cool down enough, is surprisingly satisfying.
In terms of performance, we tried the LW61ST with video, images and data, and results were more than satisfactory even though ours was a pre-production sample. Standard settings were all usable and, for those with a strong colour preference, we found the adjustments available in the easily-navigable menus sufficient. Useful features include the ability to present from a USB memory stick. We used the built-in slide show function which offers some natty transforms between slides and allows user to make a basic presentation from a series of JPEGs or PDFs without any real effort.
But as with most things sold into the education markets today, getting the green light will come down to cost of ownership. Here, BenQ is setting some fairly conservative figures for the anticipated life of the lightsource, claiming 10,000 – 20,000 hours. It should be possible for users to push this up to the top end of the bracket by using BenQ’s eco functions.
We obviously can’t assess a technology designed to last a minimum of 10,000 hours in two days, but BenQ is to be applauded for developing a new projector technology, and even more so for presenting in such a well thought out package. But the TCO calculation is far from a slam dunk. The LW61ST lists at 1990 euros inclusive of VAT, or about £1400 UK ex-VAT. It is certainly possible to find a competitive UHP projector for around half that price.
This would mean that the user would have to buy at least two replacement lamps in order to show a direct cost saving. But, factor in the downtime while the replacement lamp is sought and installed, the cost of getting someone to change the lamp and recalibrate the whiteboard, then the energy savings available from the projector’s eco functions, and the decision could come down to some fairly tight calculations, with anticipated usage being the key.
Product specification: BenQ LW61
- Resolution: WXGA (1280 x 800)
- Optics: DLP (6 segment phosphor colour wheel)
- Lightsource: 24 x Blue Laser Diode
- Brightness: 2000 lumens
- Contrast: 8000:1
- Connectivity: D-Sub 15-pin (female) x 1 Control: RS-232 serial control 9 pin x 1 / LAN control RJ45 x 1 / IR receiver x 2 / 12V trigger x 1 (Max. 1A) / Computer input: RGB input / D-Sub 15-pin (female) x 2 / Video signal input: S-VIDEO/ Mini DIN 4-pin port x 1: Video RCA jack x 1/ SD/HDTV signal input /Analog – Component RCA jack x 3 (through RGB input) / Digital – HDMI V1.3 x 1 / USB ports (Type-A x 2; Mini-B x 1)
Audio: Built-in speakers (Stereo) 10 watt x 2 / Audio in: PC audio jack x 2 / RCA audio jack (L/R) x 2 / Microphone x 1
Special features: SmartEco / EcoBlank / LAN display / USB display, / 2 x 10w built in speakers / Microphone input / Instant on-off / 3D-Ready