Displays vs. Projectors—a Clear Look at the Where’s and Why’s

So your district is ready to enhance lesson plans and engage students with multi-media assets and programs, or perhaps a grant benefitting students who learn in different ways has been awarded. How do you pick between a Flat Screen Display and a Projector? Or perhaps you can opt for a combination, but where would your new tech have the most impact in your school. We look at the nitty gritty of panels vs. projectors to give you a clear vision to how to make the most of your purchases.


Where to use: Large classrooms, study areas where ambient light can be controlled, lecture halls and band rooms, gyms or public areas for use in assemblies.

Projectors are the perfect tool for teaching or engaging an audience in larger spaces. At roughly half the cost of similarly sized flat panels, a projected image can cover a wall. The clarity is certainly more affected by the natural light in the room, but in cases of theatres or auditoriums, this isn’t an issue. Some models offer a higher lumens option to cut back on visibility problems.

The flexibility of a projector is a big plus for many schools. The size of the image or media can be controlled to scale, letting a teacher use one section of a wall for the display while taking advantage of a traditional chalkboard or static white board at the same time. It can also be a mobile option for schools with a tight budget, allowing teachers to schedule and sign out the tech to use when it is needed in their own teaching space rather than having to move their entire class.

While some newer models of projectors offer interactivity, there are minor issues with obscured images as students or teachers block the projected image. (Ceiling mounts and ultra-short throw options can help with those issues.) Newer lamp-less options also make using a projector easier, and often feature an instant on/off system rather than the old school options that could take precious minutes away from teaching time to amp up or cool off.

The downside: Lighting can affect the user experience during sunny days. Maintenance needs in terms of time and costs are more involved with traditional lamp projectors (changing filters, bulbs, installing ceiling mounted models), accessories such as carts and other cords might be additional purchases.

Flat Panel Displays

Where to use: Study spaces designed for group projects and interaction, classrooms that might face lighting issues, settings where multiple students need to use simultaneously or as digital signage for school auditoriums/lunchrooms/foyers that can be easily changed remotely.

Using flat panel displays offers a host of benefits. When working with groups of students, interactivity can be enhanced to include the whole class or a number of kids simultaneously using digital markers or finger drawing. This can help overloaded teachers to work through lessons more quickly and in a more engaging manner. One group can come up to the display to practice their capital letters, rather than the interactivity only allowing for a single sensor at a time registering one child’s work.

Group projects can also go digital with an entire table of students working collaboratively, for instance on creating a book report poster, piece of art or “object find” puzzle. Teachers also can teach in a more natural manner from the front of the class, since the projected image won’t be altered by the shadow they cast.

Because the panel’s display isn’t born of a reflected image focused by a projector, lighting issues in classrooms and study spaces where dimming the overheads or blocking out natural light from windows won’t have the same negative effect on visibility as one might find in a projected image. The latest advances in high definition tech also can be taken advantage of when opting for panels. The end result is the overall quality of the image for detailed projects can outdo projectors.

Although massive display panels can certainly be had, another option some schools prefer is to have a multi-paneled approach. This allows teachers to design lessons in which the entire screen can be used as a whole or certain screens can be programmed independently, to run video that is complementary to the graph or other displayed material, or an enhanced zoomed-in view. Students can also digitally cast their work from laptops and devices to particular screens, to compare and contrast with the teacher’s posted image for assessment or to offer a variety of perspectives on the lesson being taught.

The downside: The initial financial hit can be daunting as flat panels could run up to double what a similar sized projector option involves, though operating costs are usually far less for panels so this can be averaged out for a long term investment. If a school’s budget is geared toward shared resources, the fixed nature of a display panel would be a hindrance.

Sascha Zuger

Sascha has nearly two decades of experience as a freelance journalist writing for national magazines, including The Washington Post, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic Traveler, and others. She writes about education, travel and culinary topics.