Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  October 2003

Friendly Advice for Projector Manufacturers

Designing AV systems for rooms that won’t be installed for a couple of years is tough. But it could be easier if projector manufacturers would heed this advice.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

As a consultant, I meet with a lot of manufacturers who want to keep me informed about their most recent product introductions. While it’s great to know what’s current, I also need to know what’s going to be available in the future since I often design AV systems for rooms that won’t be installed for a year or two. While many of the basic building-block products — distribution amplifiers, DSP processors, and video switchers — that consultants use don’t have a huge impact on the room design, other products, especially video projectors, influence how we put rooms together.

A presentation or videoconferencing room’s shape, ceiling height, and seating layout should be determined by the application and tasks to be performed in the room. The subsequent design issues, such as image height, image aspect ratio, optimum viewing areas, and equipment mounting locations are largely determined by the projector and the screen used. Planning for a screen that will be around in two years isn’t too difficult, but designing around a projector available in a couple of years can be tricky.

When manufacturers visit consultants, we explain what we need and want, and what we think the future products should do. While some of the manufacturers are starting to address pro AV needs, there’s still more that could be done. Recognizing some of the issues that relate to projectors and system/facility design may be helpful.

Aspect ratio hell

Designing a room for video projection is complicated by the fact that we’re living in what I call “Aspect Ratio Hell.” Though we were living in a mostly 4:3 world for much of the last century, other formats have crept in. Computer video fit the 4:3 mold at first, but as pixels multiplied, we went from CGA to VGA to SVGA to XGA (all 4:3) and then to SXGA (5:4), UXGA (4:3), WXGA (16:9, almost), WUXGA (16:10), and QXGA (4:3); and on the broadcast side, HDTV (16:9). We also have movie formats to consider, such as 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 letterboxed down to 4:3 or 16:9, which are roughly 1.33:1 and 1.78:1, respectively. Without going into slides and other movie formats, that pretty much completes our trip to Hades.

So not only do we have to design for the correct image size vertically — primarily for viewing of text-rich images — but we also have to make a compromise concerning aspect ratio. The question is: Does it make sense to design around a 4:3 aspect ratio screen now for a room that may not be operational until 2005 or 2006, given the increasing availability of widescreen video content and computer displays? I think not.

Entertainment content will certainly continue to migrate to widescreen formats. Notebook computers from Apple and Windows-based manufacturers are increasingly available with native widescreen displays. Furthermore, the vast majority of installed, direct-view flat-screen displays larger than 20-inches-diagonal available today are widescreen. And most business users who have home theaters expect the same wide aspect ratio and surround sound in their workplaces.

Despite these compelling trends, very few native 16:9 projectors currently available are designed for mainstream pro AV applications. There are 16:9 home theater projectors in the 1,000 ANSI lumen range and large-venue 16:9 projectors at 10,000 ANSI lumens and beyond, but in between there’s only one projector at 2,200 ANSI lumens. A few more are being introduced this fall and winter, but we need more.

Looking at the array of display formats we have to accommodate, we also have to think about how the video signal gets to the projector. We have composite, Y/C, component, RGBHV, analog HDTV, SDI, HD-SDI, DVI analog and digital, and VESA M1 standards that dictate both signal format and input connections to a projector. Not only that, but we may also have an onboard computer processor to connect to, plus any RS232 and/or Ethernet connections to be made, and possibly mouse, keyboard, and USB connections as well.

There are still other concerns: Can’t we get something designed to mount below the ceiling? Exposed cables and connectors don’t make for good interior design, though a few manufacturers do offer covers for the connector plates. And although filter changing is critical to projector and lamp life, many projector designs don’t allow easy access to the filter, or the lamp, when ceiling-mounted.

What I want

Given all that ranting, here’s what my ideal projector would look like:

• Native 16:9 aspect ratio at 3,000-4,000 ANSI lumens; and maybe a second one at 6,000- 8,000 ANSI lumens

• A ceiling-mountable light engine that has only one signal cable and one power cable attached

• Standardized lens options that have overlapping zoom ranges

• Upgradeable/replaceable input cards at the rack with only one cable to the light engine

• Lens shift and zoom with memory presets

• Easily replaceable filters and lamps, along with education for end-users and service contractors about the importance of filter changing

• Optional and upgradeable network card and computer processor that provides simultaneous IP and RS232 access and control unless locked out

• Multiple password levels to allow for separate, password-protected consultant setup recall, installer setup recall, factory default reset, IR lockout, hard-button lockout, and firewall control on the IP access

• Built-in, externally accessible, structural, frame-integrated security attachment point for use with aircraft security cable loops• Software for centralized, cross-manufacturer projector monitoring and setup with the ability to copy and paste setups from one projector to others with an auto-discovery mechanism to find networked projectors for setup



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