Sneak Peek: New NEC Projectors Ready For Education Close-Up

Earlier this month, NEC Display debuted two new portable short-throw projectors, the NP500WS and NP600S (pictured). Both are designed to address short-throw distance needs in education settings, SMBs and corporate conference rooms and training facilities.

"The main feedback you hear typically in the education market is the fact that most people are going to whiteboards -- either interactive or on the wall to begin with," said Rich McPherson, NEC Display's product manager. "What typically happens in that application, with a normal front-projection system, is that it's either blocking some of the image with the shadow or in some cases the light coming from the projector is more or less in the presenter's eyes."

Both the NP500WS and NP600S create a 77-inch diagonal image, yet are mounted only 46 inches (or just shy of four feet) from the wall.

Each projector includes a virtual remote (DDC/CI) that controls it directly from a computer without need for additional cables. The remote function also allows a user to determine and then fix problems to the projector without having to physically go up to it.

As in any presentation scenario, McPherson suggested, the ideal projector gets the job done without interrupting the flow of the presentation or creating a lot of work for anyone in the room.

"They need to have something that's not going to be a distraction to the presenter or the audience," McPherson explained. "That's the pushback typically received on short-throw [projectors]."

Pictured: The NP500WS

According to NEC, the NP500WS is a wide-aspect ratio projector and features 1,280 x 800 native resolution at 2,100 lumens.

The NP600S (pictured) includes 1,024 x 768 native resolution at 2,600 lumens. Both projectors have a contrast ratio of 600:1.

The brightness plus the short-throw function are the first immediate hooks for the projectors, said Justun Vickers, sales manager at Computerland Texas, a solution provider in Wichita Falls, Texas.

"To me, that's the first thing I see real beneficial moving in that direction," Vickers said. "You're still keeping a very bright projector, but the short-throw right there on the wall, straight down, that caught me off-guard. And the virtual remote means that a teacher's workstation is right there. Hands-on remotes, you know, they get lost real quick. Basing it off a computer like that is a huge benefit."

Just as in any setting with a tightly scrutinized budget, the ability to demonstrate power savings and efficiency is crucial for business. To that end, both the NP500WS and NP600S (pictured) provide up to 4,000 hours of lamp life with ECO Mode technology, which automatically lowers power consumption on the devices and keeps them at a noise level of 29 decibels.

"We haven't seen a huge, huge loss in A/V business. It's more a thing where we were coming in before bidding full schools and now we might be doing more individual classrooms and pieces like that," Vickers said. "But ECO Mode technology is the type of thing that will now help step up what we have lost. It's going to be this remote management and power consumption that drive most of these projector sales from here on out."

"It's tighter budgets and limited dollars to be sure," said Betsy Larson, NEC's senior director of channel sales. "I think the lamp life, the longevity -- those are the things [our resellers] are asking about. Whatever's helpful to the schools because they're being very frugal in their dollars right now."

Larson said NEC Display hopes to arm its resellers with the tools to make education sales in a down economy, including squaring the release of the new projectors with what right now is a critical buying period for educators, especially in K-12 settings.

"It is challenging," Larson said. "The education bidding season is happening right now, so schools are actively looking for product they're going to procure."

It isn't just education, either, she said. Tighter budgets in everything from SMB operations to houses of worship mean that VARs can't wait around to make their bids and watch fewer-and-farther-between sales opportunities for projectors like the NP600S (pictured) slip by.

Both the NP500WS and NP600S feature:

-- Closed captioning;

-- Automatic Vertical Keystone Correction, allowing a projector to be tilted up or down and still produce a square image, thus saving a presenter having to adjust it manually;

-- Dual computer inputs (VGA and DVI-I);

-- Integrated RJ45 connection;

-- Top-cover lamp change, meaning an easy lamp change while the projector is still in the mount;

-- A 7-watt speaker to hit volume requirements between small classrooms and big conference rooms;

-- An optional wall-mount kit.

According to Larson and NEC Display, both the NP500WS and NP600S (pictured) come with standard 2-year limited parts and labor warranties, and registered education users quality for 3-year limited parts and labor warranties.

The projectors will start shipping in April 2009, and through the end of March, registered users of NEC's Star Student program can qualify for $40 cash-back reward incentives plus a 4-year limited parts and labor warranty.

Projectors will street for $1,199 each, according to NEC Display. For VARs, it means pushing the benefits of those four-figure investments a long way.

"It's sinking in and it is becoming a problem," said Vickers when asked about how the recession is affecting education accounts for his business. "I can tell you people are holding out, and while there are projects, the kind of business where people are calling in and getting quotes has died down. We're going to buckle down and do the best we can with this year. If it means cutting a little to keep pushing forward, well, I think there's a light at the end of the tunnel."