A canvas for big ideas

GCN Lab Review: Interactive whiteboards capture brainstorming sessions

GCN

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GCN

AS THE OFFICE WORKER diaspora
increases because of telecommuting,
organizations are looking closely at
ways to make the collaboration
process easier and more productive.
To that end, the GCN Lab tested
three whiteboard systems that let you
make presentations and collaborate
with a group contained within a conference
room while including farflung
employees via the Web, using
conferencing tools such as WebEx or
NetMeeting. All of the systems in this
review cost less than $3,000.


Click here for a photo slideshow of the GCN Lab's whiteboards review



The products were tested using a
Toshiba conference room projector
and a laptop PC. All the whiteboards,
however, had the same flaw.
You have to step in front of the projector
to write on the board, and
your shadow blocks what you're
writing. Some people in the audience
could miss part of your presentation.
That's the price you pay to achieve whiteboard
technology at this relatively low
cost. You could invest in something more
expensive, such as a rear projection system
or a large plasma touch screen, but
then you are talking about an initial investment
that will be much more than
$3,000.

Of the three interactive whiteboards
we tested, Panasonic's Interactive
Panaboard gave us the best collaborative
experience, in both the physical world of
paper and ink markers and the virtual
world of computer screens and digital
ink. With a Panaboard, projector, conference
room and laptop, you can send
your collaborative efforts to the
Panaboard's built-in printer or to the
ends of the Earth.

The Panaboard can operate as a standard
whiteboard or interactive digital
board, equipped with an electronic pen
and software. The Panaboard's software
lets you click on an icon of a whiteboard,
which enables standard whiteboard features,
or a projector, which launches its
electronic pen and digital features.

It's a large board, measuring 54.6
inches high and 61 inches diagonally.
It's available on a stand with
wheels, so you can move it from
room to room or mount it on a
wall.

Setup was fairly easy. You install
the software and connect the
whiteboard to your laptop via a
USB connection. Connect the projector
to your laptop, hit Function
+ F4, and you are ready to collaborate.

[IMGCAP(1)]The Panaboard comes with an
electronic pen that also holds a
real-ink Expo market pen inside,
so you can toggle back and
forth between the physical and
digital whiteboard worlds. It
also has an eraser that can erase
digital images from the interactive
whiteboard and real ink images from the
standard whiteboard. At times, the
boundaries between the two worlds, digital
and real, got a little blurry. It's probably
easier to work only with one or the
other at a time.

What distinguishes the Panaboard is
its built-in printer. Sometimes you don't
want to wait to e-mail the results of your
collaborative brilliance ' you want a
printout right then and there. The muse
is fickle; it alights quickly and flies away
even faster. Think of some of the great
collaborators in history: Marie and Pierre Curie, James Watson
and Francis Crick, Gilbert and
Sullivan. Do you think they
would want to have to save
their ideas as a JPEG and email
a PowerPoint presentation
to one another? Rather, they
would more likely prefer a hard
copy printout of their ideas as
soon as possible. True collaboration,
I think, would benefit
greatly from having this immediate,
tangible record of ideas,
processes and results.

To that end, the Panaboard
doubles as a giant scanner. Press a button
near the built-in printer, and the
Panaboard scans everything you've
written on the whiteboard, creating a
file you can save, send or print directly
to the built-in printer. The Panaboard
can print a black-and-white copy onto
standard paper, and its
paper tray holds as many
as 100 sheets, ample for
distributing notes to
everyone in a midsize
conference room.

The print quality is legible
and definitely adequate
for most conference
and classroom
purposes. The
Panaboard also has an
on-screen keyboard that
lets you type numbers or
letters on the whiteboard
screen. And it has handwriting
recognition capabilities
that can translate
your handwriting
with the electronic pen
into text.

Like all of the whiteboards tested
here, the Panaboard software installs a
floating on-screen palette of pens,
tools and other features. You can use
the electronic pen to click on the digital
ink color or feature you want to use.
It lets you modify colors and adjust the
thickness and opacity of the line.

The Panaboard lets you save your
presentation and collaboration efforts
as a movie, so you can easily review all
your changes. By clicking on a red dot
on the on-screen features toolbar, it
records all your markings and annotations.
You can save that file, e-mail it or
post it on a Web site.

The electronic pen and
the whiteboard work together
through ultrasonic
and infrared technologies
to sense the pen's location
on the screen, said Bob
Curci, Panasonic product
manager. We tested the
Panaboard with all major
office applications, such
as Microsoft PowerPoint
and Excel. You can open a
PowerPoint presentation,
mark it up on the whiteboard
and save it as a
movie, a JPEG image or a
new presentation. Or you
can write, scan and print
your presentation without
even connecting to a
computer.

The dual worlds the Panaboard comfortably
inhabits ' physical and virtual
' make it a worthy contender for
any enterprise whiteboard. The instant
gratification of the print button also
gives it an edge for whiteboard shoppers.

Panasonic, 954-647-7528, www.panasonic.
com


Smart Technologies
SB680 Front Projection
SmartBoard


THE SMART TECHNOLOGIES SB680
interactive whiteboard is not kidding
about being a smart board. The
SmartBoard and its pen tray have smarts
built right into them. They use infrared
sensors and analog resistive technology to
detect the pen's position on the board. The
whiteboard comes with four plastic pens
or styli, in red, blue, green and black that
fit into a pen tray in a corresponding color.

The intellectual prowess of the board
more than makes up for the lack of smarts
in the pens. Their colors might be bright,
but these pens are anything but. And
that's by design. Don't be fooled by the
word pens. These styli are inkless. They
get their cues from Smart's Notebook
software and the infrared sensors embedded
in the pen tray and board. The Smart-
Board is different in that 'there's nothing
special about the pens,' said Gary Waliszewski,
regional manager of Smart
Technologies federal systems group.
Other interactive whiteboards are stylusdriven,
he said. If you lose the stylus, the
board won't work. With the Smart Board,
you're not drawing with the blue pen, the
board senses that the blue pen is out of its
holder, so your writing is blue.

[IMGCAP(2)]Replacing all four Smart styli costs about
$13. In a pinch, you could use dry-erase
markers such as the Expo markers that
ship with other products. You can even use
your finger instead of a pen, by clicking on
the on-screen palette of pen colors and
tools that comes with the software, which
ships with every Smart product. The
board's embedded analog resistive technology
responds to the user's touch.

Like the Panaboard, the SB680 can be
set up on a stand with wheels or mounted
on a wall. Assembly was basically the
same as for the Panaboard. Connect the
whiteboard to your laptop via a USB connection,
and connect a projector to your
laptop via a video input jack. The SB680
was the largest whiteboard we tested,
measuring 77 inches diagonally.

All three whiteboards in this review
require you to calibrate the screen with
your projector so that the mouse, pen
and keyboard all align
properly. The Smart-
Board also comes with an
orientation screen, which
prompts you to press targets
on the four corners of
the screen and center so
that it aligns correctly.

Everything you write on
the SmartBoard becomes
an object you can move,
copy and flip. Like the
Panaboard, it works with
PowerPoint and other popular
office applications.
The SmartBoard also gives
users access to the Smart
Web site, from which they
can download free graphics,
images and sounds.

The SmartBoard on-screen toolbar offered
the best variety of pen widths and
styles of the three whiteboards. It offered
a crazy pen of rainbow colors and also a
stamp feature that would let you stamp
images onto your presentation. Like the
Panaboard, the SmartBoard lets you
choose to use it in a nonprojector mode as
a regular whiteboard. It also can translate
your handwriting into text
and numbers and lets you
save your presentation as a
QuickTime movie. It
comes with an eraser that,
like the Panaboard's, doubles
as an ink eraser and a
digital eraser.

Another plus for the
SmartBoard is that it's
been field-tested for
ruggedness, which makes
it popular among military
personnel. 'We had a unit
in the original Desert
Storm,' Waliszewski said.
'It took a bullet, and it's
still operating.'

Loaded with features,
easy to use and hard to
destroy, the SB680 would be a great interactive
choice for K-12 or GS-12.

Smart Technologies, 703-516-7627,
www.smarttech.com


Mimio interactive system


[IMGCAP(3)]

WHEN THE FEDEX LADY delivered the other two whiteboards, the
bulky Panaboard and the SmartBoard whiteboards, to the GCN Lab, she
grumbled. But when she delivered the mimio, she almost smiled.


The mimio came in a small box that could have barely contained a
lady's hat. It was easily the best value, starting at $729.
Its setup was similar to the other whiteboards': it came with
software, a USB cable that connects to a laptop and an assortment
of pens, both electronic and dry-erase ink markers.


The difference is that the mimio isn't a whiteboard. The
main device, called the mimio Xi, is smaller than a folding
umbrella and attaches to any whiteboard or chalkboard or wall by
suction cups or mounting brackets. The mimio even worked well on
our clean, white wall. 'As long as it's a flat surface,
it will work,' said Manuel Perez, director of research and
development at mimio.


The mimio system, like the Panaboard, relies on an electronic
pen, called the mimio mouse. For an additional $249, the mimio
offers a capture kit with electronic pen holders that can contain
an Expo dry erase marker and work as an ink pen and digital pen. It
lets you capture your ink notes as a PDF, JPEG file or HTML file.
You can attach the mimio to any smooth flat surface, but the
company recommends a whiteboard. As an experiment, we attached the
mimio to a tabletop we found in the break room, and it worked just
fine as a makeshift whiteboard.


The mimio employs ultrasound and infrared technology. When you
press the mimio pen down, it sends out an infrared signal and
ultrasonic pulse. Two receivers are in the mimio Xi, one at the top
and another at the bottom. The infrared signal arrives instantly at
the mimio Xi. A sound wave hits the top sensor and the bottom
sensor, traveling at the speed of sound. By triangulating the
signals, the mimio can determine the distance between the sensors
and the pen on the board.


The software gives you access to a huge assortment of pen
features, images and maps. It's clear the mimio's main
market is the kindergarten through 12th grade educational market,
but these images could be useful for many other applications. Some
of the features that are included in other systems must be bought
separately for the mimio, such as handwriting recognition and
recording features, though this keeps the price down for the
baseline unit.


The mimio would be great for a globetrotting presenter '
it's compact and light enough to fit in an airplane carry-on
bag. If you need a highly portable whiteboard system that you can
pick up and carry from room to room ' or even continent to
continent ' the mimio would be a solid choice. mimio,
877-696-4646, www.mimio.com



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