Introduction – The current situation
I have seen quite a few churches, community organisations and other small businesses use different kinds of video and data projectors for their video-display needs. This ranges from an activist group showing a video as part of their public campaign through churches that I have worshipped at showing the lyrics for songs that are part of the worship service to cafes even using the projector to create a dynamic wallpaper.
Similarly, businesses across the board, especially small businesses, are seeing the local café as an extension of their office and some of the cafes are answering this need. For example, a few of the “second-office” cafes in the trendy areas are implementing conference rooms or areas and they could set up projectors and screens in these areas, with the projectors showing sports or interesting TV during the non-business hours for the leisure traffic.
But a lot of these organisations typically run on hairline budgets and cannot afford the projectors that can do the job properly. So they often head towards cheaper (AUD$300-400) projectors such as the low-end InFocus models which can be limited in a lot of ways. For example, they miss out on HDMI or DVI-D connectivity which is becoming the norm on consumer video equipment and computer equipment.
As well, most of the manufacturers focus their design and marketing efforts on “boardroom” projectors for large business or “home theatre” projectors for people who have got the money to set up the ultimate home theatre in their MTV-style “dream crib”. This is not forgetting the vertical-market digital projectors that are implemented in cinemas and similar applications.
These classes of projectors are typically too costly for the small business or the non-profit organisation and may not even satisfy their needs exactly. For example, the “home theatre” units don’t even perform well in regular room lighting which can impair use of these units in applications such as worship, education, “dynamic wallpaper” or “hire-out” conference rooms. As well, the “boardroom” projectors come with more functionality than these users will really need.
Similarly, a lot of these projectors offer very awkward user interfaces that require a lot of training for people who aren’t familiar with these machines. The latter problem can be of concern with volunteer-driven organisations or businesses with high staff-turnover levels where the machine can be handled by people unfamiliar with it too easily. Examples of this include a lack of obvious on-machine visual indication that shows that the fan in the projector is running to cool the lamp down after the unit is turned off at the end of the show or hard-to-understand image setup routines.
Features that could be implemented in economy data projectors
16:9 display surface
Most video displays and content are moving towards the 16:9 aspect ratio but these economy projectors use a display surface that is at the 4:3 aspect ratio. If a video that was filmed at 16:9 was shown on these projectors with proper proportions, the resulting image appears too small and you may have to increase the throw (the distance between the screen and the projector’s lens) for a large image.
This is more of concern with this class of projector as most such units have a limited zoom and/or only work at their best with ideal image size and brightness when placed at a certain throw. It also may not be practical for certain viewing setups like small rooms.
HDMI input with HDCP support
The analogue VGA/SVGA RGB connector is on its way out as far as computer equipment is concerned and it is rare to find a DVD / Blu-Ray player, network media player or digital-TV tuner with such a connector. Infact most small businesses and community organisations typically buy video equipment from large electronics chains like Best Buy, JB Hi-Fi or Currys / Dixons and the sales assistants at these stores and the people purchasing the video equipment find it hard to get the right equipment at the right cost with the right connections unless they are technologically “clued up”.
The HDMI connector with HDCP support can make this class of projector a highly flexible machine that is able to work with all the video equipment that is on the market or in circulation. This can even help with integration with environments like cafes or bars where there is a desire to connect to pay TV so as to show sports for example and you want to use the set-top box’s HDMI connector for best display.
A cheaper implementation could be the use of a DVI-D connector with HDCP support and this could be offered as a user-installable retrofit kit so users can buy the cheaper projector but upgrade it when they can afford it.
Improved operation experience
Another feature that could benefit this class of projector would be an improved operation interface. For example, there could be a one-touch setup mode which shows a focus/keystone grid image which you use for adjusting the focus and keystone correction by using the arrow keys on the remote control.
Similarly, the projector could benefit from an indicator that shows when the unit is cooling down after being switched off at the end of the show. Typically, most projectors run their cooling fan for up to a few minutes after the user switches them off in order to cool the lamp and display surface down. In some situations, you may not hear if the fan has switched off at the end of this cycle, especially if the room is busy and you may find that in your hurry to pack the projector away, you haven’t allowed the unit to cool down properly thus reducing the lamp’s lifespan.
These kind of features can work well for equipment that is used in volunteer-driven organisations or businesses with high staff turnover levels where the people who may be handling the equipment may have differing levels of technical expertise and familiarity with this class of equipment.
Similarly, projectors equipped with zoom lenses could benefit from a zoom tab similar to that used on some SLR zoom lenses which allow you to differentiate the focus adjustment from the zoom adjustment easily.
HDMI-equipped projectors could implement the CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) standards to make them easier to use. This could then make it feasible for the presenter to avoid the need to juggle remote controls and control surfaces to manage the flow of the show.
Companies who design and manufacture video / data projectors need to look at the small-business and non-profit-organisation user-base and assess what this class of user needs and deliver future-proof easy-to-use projectors that provide what this class of user needs at a price they can afford.
They can also look at the projectors to be adaptable to changing user needs and allow for upgradability over their long service life.