Writing on the wall
The final stage in the digital darkroom is where people's aspirations go public. At shows like BETT, the projectors battle for your attention, often against high light levels, printed leaflets land in your hand and we soon realise how discerning and quality-conscious we are about output.
One thing we never predicted was the uptake of PowerPoint - some schools even call their INSET sessions PowerPoint. Used in lessons, for video in the hall and school open days, projectors are a sought-after item. They are bought like cars: the next best is over-budget so you settle on something with four wheels and seats.
With projectors you weigh up brightness, resolution and whether you will install or move them; special features and higher specs solve most location problems. The Epson EMP 52 (pound;1,199) offers the SVGA screen resolution (800 x 600) you often find. It copes well with higher ratings, but if you switch your laptop to SVGA the image will be clearer still.
The Epson is also portable, beams 1,200 lumens and copes with ambient lighting. It may be ideal for the classroom and just needs to be seen beside the brighter, 1,500-lumens Toshiba TLP 260 (pound;1,300). The Toshiba TLP 261 (pound;1,635) is the same unit with a camera and it is so right for science, science teachers will never want to share it. It also has a short-throw lens so the projector can be close to the screen.
Guarantees vary by brand - some manufacturers offer a hot-swap if the projector gets sick. Toshiba says a dud lamp will fail early in its life, so you'll find them guaranteed for just three months and the machine for longer.
Higher resolution XGA (1024 x 768) adds to the detail, the cost and convenience. The Toshiba TLP-T500 (pound;2,600) not only has this, but it can be linked wirelessly over the network. For example, pupils could show their work from their network stations. Also there is an often overlooked PC card slot which, if you travel to "sell" the school, lets you do a slide show without a laptop.
Also worth seeing is the innovative NEC range with which slanted, distorted images can be clicked square again on some models using "3D reform". NEC's "Off-Centre Positioning" even lets you put the projector to the side of the screen. Sharp, Phillips, InFocus and Sanyo also have significant ranges. Bear in mind that projectors are shared and set up in a hurry, so one-button set-up is the limit. My impulsive tip is to discard the remote control, my other is to reduce the manual to a side of A4, so people know about, say, not moving it while hot. Do test drive your shortlist and match the projector to the job. Home cinema projectors, for example, are another species.
Paper, colour, print
For output on paper you can expect to see some changes as low-priced colour laser printers sweep the market. Use colour once for design work, school marketing or circulars and there is no turning back - it takes no fashion expert to see that colour will be the new black. But there are costs, some perceived and some real. For example, there's little cost difference between red, blue or black but the difference in impact can be striking. Figures from printer maker Tally (Time sells the Tally 8006 for pound;649) show full pages costing 25p or maybe half the cost of ink-jet. The bigger difference is about getting real value: will we use this to print web pages or pupils' work?
At the top end is Epson's Aculaser C2000 (from pound;1,050), with its beefy engine able to handle large print-runs. The memory of 160Mb on the top machine copes with demanding graphics - with less, printers often go into deep thought. HP has the Laserjet Colour 2500 (pound;825) and the speedy Laserjet Colour 4600 (from pound;1,360). The latter prints as fast in colour as it does in black.
New this year are the compact Epson Aculaser C900 (pound;499) and networked Epson C1900 (pound;695) which may remove the need for separate colour and monochrome printers. Colour and now photograph capable, both claim to print in black for less than a regular monochrome device.
To print glossy photos you can do no better than an ink-jet photo printer. With a digital camera, examples like the Epson Stylus Photo 925 (pound;215) offer the fastest route to paper in the classroom. It has slots to take most camera cards and an optional colour LCD preview screen (pound;67) is also available so you don't have to fire up a PC. Edge-to-edge A4 printing, printing from a paper roll and a paper cutter add value to school or home use.
Put this beside the HP Photosmart 7550 (pound;255) which offers seven instead of six-colour cartridges and a colour LCD as standard. Then again, Epson's Stylus Photo 950 has this (plus a grey) to improve image quality up to best. And although it has no camera card slots, it prints on CDs. The area has become competitive and includes ranges from Canon, Lexmark and Brother.
If there's change, stock up on spare cartridges and especially paper supplies. For example, Printasia (Ilford) produces matt, silk and glossy in all shapes - and with ink-jets the media is very much the message.
BETT stands D96H72. Tel: 0113 250 0500. www.accurate.plc.uk.
Stand C60. Tel: 01282 777799. www.timeeducation.com
Stand D50E50. Tel: 01235 826000. www.rm.com
Stand F10. Tel: 0115 846 4646. www.xma.co.uk
HP printers and projectors.
Stand W40. Tel: 0118 916 0282. www.hp.co.uk
Epson printers and projectors
Stand D120. Tel: 01442 61144. www.epson.co.uk.
Stand V40. Tel: 01276 694130. www.toshiba.co.uk
Canon printers and projectors
Stand A50, W98. Tel: 01737 220000. www.canon.co.uk