Theatrical light shining down onto the stage

Projection Pro Tip #4: Best Projector Manufacturers?

Theatre tech director Paul Ackerman discusses the best manufacturers for digital projections

This is part 4 of an interview with professional technical director Paul Ackerman. This interview will provide a series of tips for using theatrical projections—in a simple question and answer, ‘how do you go about it?’ type format.

Mitch: When it comes to projection gear, are there any manufacturers who seem to consistently be the best option?

Paul: You know, in terms of the manufacturers, my experience is that Barco and Digital Projection (DP) are the two quietest projectors. And that’s a big concern in a theatrical environment. In a musical it’s probably less important but even in Muscle Shoals (show which Paul served as a Technical Director) we’re now putting this projector right next to people (laughs). So fortunately it’s Barco and it’s a lot quieter than the Christie projectors that we have in our other space. Which are quite noisy. Barco is not the most supportive manufacturer, but they make some pretty good gear.

Mitch: Do they make it at the lower end (of cost), around the $1,000-$2,000 range?

Paul: My brother, who is very much into the corporate world (of technology), tells me that on the lower end, with all of the these different manufacturers, the ‘heart’ of the actual light engine within these projectors are actually all made by Sanyo. The rest of it’s just packaging around it. He said at that level just buy the one that seems to work for you. I think with the smaller projectors, Panasonic does a really good job. But again, you’ll find people who have different experiences and different opinions. But I think in general for me with the larger format, with brighter projectors, Barco and DP are better. I think Barco, DP, Christie and Panasonic, they have a pretty wide range (in type and cost). They’ll have the smaller scale as well because they sell a lot more of those. Because there are a lot more conference rooms being built than there are theaters.

The technology is changing so much that in 5 years, for the same amount of money you’re going to get something that’s 50% brighter.

Then some of these other manufacturers can do a little better on price because of savings in some of that ‘packaging’ around it. But my inclination is to go with some of the better known brand names than some of the less known. (Better known would be EpsonOptoma, BenQ) The technology is changing so much that in 5 years, for the same amount of money you’re going to get something that’s 50% brighter. That seems to be holding true over time. But I know for some schools renting is not as easy an option. Always getting the best. Even for us, we say ‘In 5-7 years, we’re going to get a new projector.’

My Main Takeaways:

• If you’re looking to buy a higher end projector, Barco and Digital Projection (DP) are great projectors. They are quiet, which is important.
• Christie projectors are good, but can be noisier.
• On the lower end of projectors, the inside tech of the projector is all made by the same company, Sanyo, so the brand may not matter as much—just buy what makes sense for you. Once again, the brightest projector you can afford.
• Do go with the better known brands, such as Panasonic, Epson, BenQ, Optoma
• Technology is always getting better, so don’t sweat the purchase. In 5 years for the same money you’ll be able to get something twice as bright.

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