GCN Lab Review: Smart Board interactive display frame

Pros: Converts your existing display monitor into a touch screen
Cons: Requires strong hands to set up

Performance: A
Features: A
Ease of use: A
Value: B+
Price as tested: $3,199; $2,804 GSA

We saw the Smart Board interactive display frame at FOSE this year and thought, as we often do, that it would be nice to have. It’s an interactive frame that fits over any 42-inch to 65-inch display monitor and turns a plasma display into a touch screen. You can write on it using Smart Technologies’ Notebook software and an electronic pencil that comes with it. You can even use your finger and can switch back and forth among pencil, finger, eraser and keyboard. Given that a screen that size with native touch capabilities would most likely cost well over $10,000, adding the display frame would save money, and make use of any older plasma displays you happen to have sitting around.

Nowadays you need a PC with Internet access when you’re making a presentation. A whiteboard, projector and few PowerPoint slides aren’t going to cut it anymore. The Smart Board interactive display frame lets you call up a Web site, at presentation size, to mark up.

Embedded in each bottom corner of the frame are cameras that register when a finger, pen or eraser touch the surface of the display. The electronic “pencil” that comes with it has one end for writing and one end for erasing, like a real pencil, and uses infrared signals to communicate with the interactive display. Touch the tip of the pencil to the plasma display and it produces digital ink on the screen. Flip to the eraser side, and it erases it.

We attached the frame to a Dell OptiPlex 745 with an Intel Core 2 duo processor running Windows XP. The frame fits over a number of plasma and hard-screen LCD panels. You attach it to the monitor by a clamp at each corner. The whole setup process, including frame, monitor and computer, is a pretty big job, requiring at least two people. All the pieces together, set up as we saw them at FOSE, weighed about 750 pounds. Even so, it would be heavier still if the frame were made of glass, which it isn’t.

Once we set everything up, it worked perfectly. You can call up Web sites, slides, spreadsheets, anything, and go to town marking them up. You can save your input with Smart’s Notebook software or its other products, Smart Meeting Pro and Smart Hub.

I preferred the electronic pencil to my finger on the frame surface. I kept wishing my finger was Teflon-coated because it kept snagging on the surface. Perhaps a glass frame surface would make for a smoother finger-screen interface, but that would cause a whole new set of problems.

The Smart Board interactive display frame would be a useful addition to the presentation toolbox of any business or agency.

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

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