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What is an Elmo™ Projector?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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An Elmo™ projector is a document camera and projection system that is commonly used as a descriptive name for all such systems, regardless of who manufactures them. This is not a correct use of the term and many companies fear when a situation like this develops that they could actually lose the value of their name. In most cases, if the brand is unknown, using the term document camera or document projector is advisable.

The main purpose of this type of projector is to display documents and other objects that are not translucent — in other words, documents that are not made with transparencies. This requires a video camera, which is usually digital, and a projection lens in order to work properly. Projectors are able to display more than just documents, however, and in many cases, they can be used to display three-dimensional objects as well, though they will be rendered in two dimensions on the screen.

The thought behind the Elmo™ projector is similar to that of the overhead projector, which came into widespread use during the late 1950s and continued through the 1990s. Such projectors were useful in making materials available to a wide audience in a classroom or group setting, but could only display documents put on transparent material. While duplication to transparencies is easily done, it requires an additional step. Further, three-dimensional objects could not be displayed; they would instead be rendered as a black shadow in the area where they were blocking light from passing through.

A document projector changes all of those limitations. In fact, it is not only possible to display documents and objects, it is possible to even display moving pictures, such as movies. This is by no means the most effective way of displaying such media, however, since the camera used for a document projector does not operate with as many frames per second as standard video cameras, which would make any movement appear jumpy. That is one reason they are often called document cameras, because it is understood that motion is not important in displaying documents.

Likewise, when looking at three-dimensional objects with document cameras, they should be kept still, or moved very slowly. Often, this is not a problem, and if another side of the object needs displayed, it can simply be moved to face the camera. In such cases, the motion is not important and is only used to facilitate the change in the point of view.

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Discussion Comments
By anon103690 — On Aug 13, 2010

I do GPS training for large groups. I co-taught a course with another instructor who had an ELMO, and it completely changed the dynamic of the class!

Instead of describing which buttons to push, then walking around the room to make everyone had it correct, he just ran and placed the GPS unit on the projector, showed the steps, then asked "does anyone not see this?" I'm going to buy one! --Chris at the National Park Service

By wesley91 — On Aug 08, 2010

I had never seen, or even heard of an Elmo projector until this past semester at school. My sociology professor used it in our class for presentations. It has amazing clarity. She said that it was the best thing since sliced bread.

In this fast moving technology era where PowerPoint presentations are so famous, it was nice to see a change. It reminded me of being in grade school where we used the plain overhead projectors.

I was very impressed with the Elmo projector and think that it is a great tool.

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