Powerful, flexible projection solutions for conference rooms, exhibitions and experiential events are attracting mainstream manufacturers to take on the established high-end specialists. We take a look at what’s available on the market post-InfoComm, and whether there is sufficient justification to look outside the catalogues of the traditional market leaders in the sector.
One of the defining trends of this year’s InfoComm was the near universal march upmarket by mainstream projector manufacturers in search of the richer margins available in the enterprise and organisational space. Once the preserve of the high-end specialists, the large venue market is now increasingly in the sites of mainstream makers.
This isn’t to say that we have a clutch of new models in the 12,000 lumens plus category. Typical of the recent releases are:
- Vivitek’s D8800 projector, described as “designed for the Pro AV staging business” and offering native WUXGA (1920 x 1200) resolution in16:10 format and with 8000 ANSI Lumen. The D8800 is a single chip DLP model with dual lamps. Features include built-in hardware edge blending and interchangeable lens.
- BenQ’s SH963 and SX914 projectors have 6,000 lumens of dual-lamp power with XGA resolution (SX914). The full HD 1080p models feature contrast ratios of 50,000:1, HQV processors, zoom capabilities, horizontal/vertical lens shifting, 2D keystone correction, and throw ratios of up to 2.43.
- ViewSonic’s Pro10100 with its 6,000 lumens, XGA DLP projector also features interchangeable lens options, motorized zoom and focus, plus powered vertical and horizontal lens-shift functions and network management capability. Optional features include warping and geometric adjustment for image-correction technology and edge-blending.
In addition, AV News recently tried out new models in Optoma’s ProScene range, but it is probably the firm favourites among resellers, like NEC, Epson, Panasonic and Hitachi that pose the most immediate threat to the high-end specialists, except perhaps at the extremes of the brightness spectrum.
RGB’s CTO David Webster gives his take on what’s going on: “Historically, many of the mainstream manufacturers have typically produced lower to medium brightness projectors making use of single chip DLP or LCD technology. In recent years there has been a trend for a number of these mainstream manufactures to follow in the steps of the traditional market leaders by producing brighter and higher resolution projectors, often using 3 chip DLP technology.”
“For example”, Webster observes, “NEC launched the PH1000U around 18 months ago which was its first 11,000 Lumen, 3 Chip DLP projector for the ProAV and rental market. This wasn’t an entirely new venture for NEC. It was already a market leader for high-end projectors, producing many of the UK’s digital cinema projectors using the higher 2K and 4K resolution. NEC has shown commitment to moving into brighter projection by releasing the PH1400U, at InfoComm, which features 13,500 Lumens plus active 3D as standard.”
While mainstream manufacturers are now offering brighter projectors, traditional manufacturers, such as Barco, are still able to go far brighter – up to 40,000 lumens with their HDQ platform. At InfoComm, Barco added the HDX W20 ‘flex’ which offers 20,000 lumens brightness and ‘flexible light output’ functionality as standard which allows the venue to adjust the brightness to match the exact requirement.
The HDX platform is modular in design and built around five core components which can be removed for servicing or replacement in the field very quickly. This also means that additional connectivity or functionality can be added as and when required (such as 3D and GSM modules).
Webster comments that large venue projectors, from traditional manufacturers, typically, fulfil a requirement for high brightness from a largely standalone single unit within venues of the concert hall, auditorium or stadium – somewhere there is unlikely to be an extensive network of AV assets. The primary concern of manufacturers, such as Barco, has been to overcome the problems associated with high levels of ambient light in these environments.
For the owners of these venues, there was little choice but to go with the established players in ultra-bright projection, but today NEC and others have brought enterprise level solutions to the large venue market. Webster believes that this new category of products fully justifies its place in the market, particularly where, for example, an education campus demands a large number of projectors or displays that need to be managed centrally.
Despite these other advantages that the new players in the venue space bring to the market, none is yet able to match the sheer horsepower that a Christie or a Barco is able to muster in a single unit. Solving this problem has seen a renewed interest in projector stacking. Stacking was widely discussed as a cost-effective solution for passive 3D, where one projector provides the right eye stereoscopic image and the other the left eye.
Today, stacking in back on the agenda because of an anomaly in the AV market which can see two 8,000 lumen projectors costing less than one 15,000 lumen unit. In addition customers are reassured by the redundancy offered by multiple projector units.
If one unit in a stack breaks down, it is often possible for the show to continue using the other unit. Rental and staging companies moving an event from venue to venue are never entirely sure how many projectors to use until they get to the gig. A multiple projector stack can be varied with the size of the venue.
Where budgets are tight, AV News has heard of instances where individual projectors are used elsewhere in an organisation most of the time, with the stack reassembled only when needed in the main auditorium. Most stacking technologies can now adjust for projectors of different brightness ratings and lamp life, so supporting hybrid stacks.
While setting up a stack used to take a skilled technician an hour or two, automated camera stacking tools have reduced the process to two or three minutes per projector. Interfaces have been simplified to the point where setting up a projector stack can reasonably be undertaken by a trained end-user.
Gerd Kaiser, NEC’s product line manager for large venue projectors, argues that the technology has now evolved to the point where a stacked solution can compete in the heart of the super high brightness market:
“A really powerful projector is necessary for getting a large, bright projection. Unfortunately, these projectors are big, bulky boxes and are not easy to transport or to install. Using up to four smaller PH1400U projectors using the stacking application is much easier to realise. Only rough mechanical alignment is necessary for preparation.”
“The free camera based NEC Multi Screen Tool software can manage complete alignment automatically within just a few minutes. After the short set-up, audiences can enjoy excellent picture quality at brightness levels of up to 54,000 lumens. This arrangement is fully scalable and the number of projectors can vary depending on the demand for brightness.”
“In addition, this multi-projector stacking solution offers the user some redundancy. Should one of the projectors fail, the other projector/s in the system continue to operate for continued projection.”
Flexible, potentially lower cost solutions of the PH1400U variety will find a market among enterprises and organisations with a requirement to manage their AV networks centrally; rental companies with a need to adapt their solutions from venue to venue; and those customers with an occasional need for super high brightness, using a flexible stack configuration.
At the extreme high-end, recent results from Barco (see the box below) suggest there is no immediate decline in demand for the most powerful of projection technologies. The company’s range of large venue projectors ranges between 8,000 and 40,000 lumens, and with the ongoing integration of the projectiondesign business Barco is expecting growth in the ProAV sector to compensate for a maturing D-cinema market.
Panasonic’s large venue range spans 10,600 to 20,000 lumens of brightness. The PT-DZ21K is the company’s flagship. This 20,000 lumen 3-chip DLP projector has WUXGA (1,920 x 1,200) resolution. The projector has a lamp replacement cycle of up to 2,000 hours (1,000 is not unusual at this level) and has 3D compatibility.
But perhaps the most interesting recent news from the big lumens specialists comes from Christie, with the announcement of the company’s Mirage 4K25 and Mirage 4K35 projectors for 3D. These new 3-chip DLP projectors offer full 4096 by 2160 resolution at 120Hz for 3D. The Christie Mirage 4K25 and 4K35 offer brightness ranging from 10,000 to 35,000 lumens from their Xenon lamp technology from Ushio. While the new models are more likely to find a market in visualisation, their 24/7 also commends them to entertainment venues.
With developments of this kind and a growing market worldwide it is unlikely that the demand for super high-end projectors will disappear. More likely, the new entrants in the venue projector space will grow the overall market for large venue projectors in the corporate and institutional sectors.