Here’s an easy reference guide for investing in your first (or 15th) projector.
If you have been to a TDCAA seminar, you probably noticed that most of our speakers show all sorts of images up on the screens during their presentations; they are using LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) projectors owned by the association. Many simply use text, others venture into projecting images, and some actually play video clips. Using visual images aids an audience in learning and retention, whether you’re speaking to a group of peers at a seminar or presenting your case-in-chief to jurors at trial. Projecting your exhibits and charts onto a large screen in the courtroom gives everyone, including the jury, a clear view of your evidence and will help them retain the information you’re presenting. Buying a good projector for trial use is an excellent investment in educating the judge and jury at trial.
This article will aid you in purchasing an LCD projector for your office that you can carry into your courtroom (if your judge allows it) so you can help your juries understand your case. I’ll also pass on a few tips I’ve learned from doing the audio-visual work at the association for over eight years. I have probably purchased 10 or more projectors for the association and they have come down considerably in price during my tenure. What used to cost over $5,000 can now be purchased for around $2,000 or less. It’s not that hard to pull off or all that intimidating—no one here at the association, including me, has ever had any formal training in using an LCD projector. We have merely learned as we go along.
1. How powerful (bright) of a projector do I need?
When you shop for an LCD projector, a very important thing to consider is how bright it will project an image onto your screen. The brightness is measured in lumens, or brightness measured in candles. Candles aside, just remember that the higher the lumens an LCD projector is rated, the brighter the image it will project. Brighter is always better (and consequently more expensive, but we’ll cover expense later in the article). A good benchmark for a courtroom projector is between 2,500 and 3,000 lumens; a projector rated at 3,000 lumens should certainly enable you to keep the lights on in the courtroom and not have your audience struggling to see what you are presenting.
2. What will my projector cost and where do I get it?
Projectors’ prices vary somewhat depending on brand, but a projector rated in the 2,500- to 3,000-lumen range will run anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000. Good brands will be those you generally recognize for their electronics: Sony, Epson, NEC, Toshiba, Sharp and Proxima, although there is at least a half dozen more to choose from. You can buy the projector online from your favorite computer hardware website, such as www.pcmall.com, where they are likely to be under the hardware category.
Another avenue to purchase a projector is from a local business, which can come with advantages. This is what I actually recommend. People at a local shop might know how to use it really well, pass on some of this knowledge to you, and come to your office or courthouse to help you set it up the first time or give you a demonstration before you buy. And, as an incentive to buy locally, these shops sometimes have a spare projector to loan out if yours needs servicing. I’ve actually borrowed one from a local company when one of the association’s projectors was in repair.
Another cost factor you might want to take into consideration is a replacement lamp for the projector. I have had only one lamp “zap” on me during one of our speaker’s presentations, and luckily I had a spare lamp on hand and changed it in about 10 minutes, and we were back in business. Spare lamps are nice to have around, but they are somewhat expensive: They can cost hundreds of dollars each. Don’t be alarmed. Lamp life can range all the way up to 2,000 hours (250 eight-hour days), which would be a heck of a long time in a courtroom. Just check the specifications of a projector you are interested in to see if its lamp life seems reasonable.
I have had good experiences with NEC, Proxima, and Viewsonic projectors. For those of you who already use projectors in your courtrooms, please e-mail me with the make, model, and lumens rating along with what you like and dislike about your current projectors. I can then pass this information on to others who are ready to take the plunge. My e-mail address is [email protected] tdcaa.com.
3. Tips and other things to keep in mind.
Showing videos: Most, if not all, new projectors can project videos from VCR tapes. Just make sure the specifications of the projector in the projector’s manual list RCA inputs. To show the video on a screen, simply connect your VCR to the projector with RCA cables (which can be found in any electronics store). Then put the projector into “video” mode, either with a remote control or by pushing a button on the projector itself.
The audio from a VCR tape is a different matter. You’ll need to purchase a small set of computer speakers to play the audio portion of a tape in court; Bose makes a great small set that I have used in rooms of up to 75 people.
Keep an eye on weight: If you are in a jurisdiction with courtrooms on more than one floor or more than one building, choose a projector that is not too heavy to lug around. Once you have narrowed your possible choices to two or three, I’d pick the lightest of the bunch. I’ve hauled big projectors around, and it is no fun at all when you have a bunch of other stuff to drag along with it.
Do a dry run: Long before our first speaker shows up at a seminar, we have set up the projectors and screens to make sure everything is placed properly and working. Cords have been taped down with gaffer’s tape (a tough, fabric-backed tape) so that no one will trip during the presentation. If you have access to your courtroom when it is not in use, go ahead and set up your equipment to see how it will all lay out. Run through your presentation to see one important thing: how easy is it to read. Often, the image you see on your laptop or desktop does not look quite the same once it is projected on the screen. The wrong combination of background color mixed with text color can lead to some pretty unreadable images on the screen—although they look just fine on your computer monitor. Oh, and if it is set up and turned on and you don’t see anything coming through the projector, there’s usually a keystroke or two that will get the image up on the screen. (On most Dells, for instance, holding down the function key and pressing F8 does the trick.)
LCD projectors make great visual aids. Don’t be afraid of trying one out in the courtroom. The technology has come such a long way that they are practically “plug and play.” Good luck.
Editor’s note: Todd Smith, an investigator at the Lubbock County Criminal DA’s Office, has had great success in their courtrooms with his projectors purchased locally. Todd will happily pass on his experiences to you. Contact him at [email protected].