Sunday, 30 September 2007

What future for the projector?

There was a time not so long ago when we dreamed of being able to afford a projector in a classroom so that everyone in the class could see what was being displayed by the computer.

I remember when we bought our first projector for the ICT training room at the Westbury Centre - a phenomenal £4500 which represented much more in today's money. Now a much more powerful and sophisticated version costs just £500.

However, in spite of the technological developments over the intervening years, we still need to sit in a darkened room to get a decent image. That is why active panels (LCD or Plasma) are so attractive because they don't require the lights to be dimmed and the blinds drawn. At the moment though they are too expensive and too small. There is little possibility in the next few years of screens the size we have come to expect when using projectors being either possible or affordable as active panels.

Up to now when we have had the opportunity to build new schools or classrooms we have had to design to overcome the limitations of projectors by cutting down on the natural light hitting the display wall - and actually cutting down on light altogether, so that the displayed image is as clear as possible. It seems problematical to continue to do this, especially for the Building Schools for the Future programme, when the new classrooms are expected to last up to 30 years. During this timescale it is highly likely that we will be able to afford large active panels of some kind. Maybe even LED technology with a high enough reslution which doesn't mind bright sunlight on it.

At last there appears to be a solution to this problem. It doesn't involve making the projectors even brighter and it will allow designers to make the windows bigger. The answer lies in the projection screen - a hitherto neglected component of the interactive whole class teaching kit.

There are not one, but three competing technologies, all designed to allow high contrast and bright images in well lit rooms. They all work by having a surface that absorbs light coming from the top and the sides, while reflecting light from the projector. This gives an image as bright as you would normally only get when the lights are off and the blinds are drawn.

Two of these new products are flexible and one uses a 4mm glass panel behind the surface and therefore only suitable for fixed screens.

We are currently evaluating these new screen technolgies and they look very promising indeed. I'll give an update on this in a future post.