New projector technology changes paradigm of classroom AV management

The University of Minnesota installs new Sony laser projectors

As one of the nation’s largest public institutions, the University of Minnesota includes some 65,000 students on five campuses across the state, with its main campus in Minneapolis-St. Paul. In the year 2000, the leadership of the university began an ambitious plan to install video projectors in all 325 centrally scheduled classrooms and nearly 200 departmental classrooms on campus. Today, all classrooms have projectors installed, and they are maintained by the university’s Classroom Technical Services, which installs and maintains all classroom AV equipment on campus.

“From the outset, we chose Sony as our projector manufacturer, because of the superior picture quality and choice of lenses they offered,” says Ray Troyer, engineering manager for CTS for the past 15 years. “We’ve been very pleased with our Sony projectors overall, and with our partnership with them during that time.” There were some challenges which were inherent to a technology that uses bulbs, however. “Any projector that uses a bulb needs to have it replaced periodically,” says Troyer. “With the large number of projectors we use, that meant we were replacing a couple bulbs a week on an ongoing basis.” With each bulb costing $500-$600, plus the cost of labor, bulb replacement alone was a substantial cost to the university. In addition, the mercury content of the bulbs meant they had to be disposed of by the university’s hazardous waste team, which added time and work. “Plus, you have the added environmental concern because of the mercury,” Troyer adds.

In 2013, representatives from Sony demonstrated a new projector technology for Troyer and CTS, one that uses a laser light source instead of a traditional lamp and bulb. Troyer was immediately interested, because the technology would eliminate the high ongoing maintenance costs of bulbs. As soon as they were available, CTS purchased five Sony VPL-FHZ55 projectors. Sony’s first lamp-less projector, this model uses a laser light source instead of a bulb to achieve 4,000 lumens of brightness at WUXGA (1920 x 1200) resolution. The projector uses a 3LCD panel for color output, and combined with the laser light source and an advanced filter design, the new model can last up to an estimated 20,000 hours without requiring maintenance. “The picture quality of the laser model was just as good, if not better, than our existing projectors,” says Troyer, so CTS purchased an additional 20 projectors, in the first phase of introducing the new models across campus. There are additional features which make the VPL-FHZ55 a great choice, Troyer says. “This model boots up in about 6 seconds, which is about one-fifth of the time of a projector with a bulb. Instructors can start teaching that much faster.” The laser light source will also maintain its brightness far longer than bulbs, so the picture quality will remain more consistent over the life of the projector.

“One of our points of emphasis as a department is minimizing classroom downtime, so all of these features made the new laser projector a very attractive technology for us,” says Troyer. “We’re looking forward to rolling out more of Sony’s laser projectors on our campus,” says Troyer. “When we get to the point of having all laser projectors, it will save our department a lot of time, money and effort in maintenance, giving us more resources to devote to other support issues that contribute to instruction. I will have one less thing to worry about.”

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