BUYERS GUIDE - Presentation hardware

"All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players."

—William Shakespeare

Check this
list before you hit the road

If it’s important, carry a spare. If you
can’t, rethink your presentation.
Use a carrying case that can survive a drop by a
luggage handler.
Consider the size of your audience. Will you need a
built-in public-address system?
Does your presentation demand a whiteboard, and will
there be one at your destination?
Will you need a link to home base for updates?
Remember to pack your remote controller.
Consider that you may have to carry everything
through an airport.

Your office may not be center stage, but it’s likely that some men and women in it
are more than mere players. They’re probably called on to write, direct and at least
emcee a variety of presentations.

We can’t give you the Bard’s talent, but we can help you decide what hardware
you need to give a presentation in multiple venues. Although presentation software is an
important part of creating any presentation, this buyers guide assumes you already have
the software needed—after all, office suites all have presentation applications these

Instead, we’ll focus on what happens after you’ve developed the presentation
and have to take the show on the road.

Whether you need to walk down the hall to the conference room or visit a dozen branch
offices, you’ll need to choose from the same hardware categories. But each
presentation and each venue may require a different mix of tools.

To begin, you’ll need a way for your audience to view images. Methods to do so
range from using a large-screen, or presentation, notebook computer with a few people
gathered around it to using a high-end CRT projector for an auditorium full of people.
Arrangements for the latter may include linked monitors throughout the room to give back
rows a better view.

Because a permanent conference room installation can cost millions of dollars and few
readers will buy one this year, this guide concentrates on portable presentation hardware
for informal conference room presentations.

In addition to needing a way to display images, you’ll also need a source for the
images. Many people use notebook computers as a repository for images; others use
videotape. It seems everyone has a VCR, and taking advantage of the fact can make a road
trip easier, if only because there are no computer connections to make and no standards to
worry about.

If you go this route, be sure you have two or more copies of the tape. Murphy’s
Law says if you have only one copy, an old VCR somewhere will eat it. If the audience
won’t be using the notebook’s screen, almost any notebook computer that can run
your software and support peripherals such as a CD-ROM or DVD drive will do.

The same goes for VCRs. As long as you have a VHS tape and a VHS tape player or
recorder, you’re all set.

Although most presentation audiences consist of fewer than 500 people, we tend to
forget that many presentations and training sessions are given to groups of five or fewer.

But whether you’ve planned and prepared for two months to talk before a full
auditorium, give an off-the-cuff training session to three co-workers or make a formal
presentation to a single manager, you face the same problem: getting an image large enough
for everyone in the audience to see.

An often-ignored presentation tool is the large-screen notebook. Whether you travel
from room to room on the same floor or hit every three-person office your agency has
around the world, what could be better than carrying your entire presentation system in a
notebook computer?

Although people have done so for years, only recently did notebook screens become large
enough to effectively stand on their own, obviating the need to connect to a larger
desktop monitor.

If you’ll take your show on the road, perhaps with a small audience at one stop
and a full auditorium at the next, one of the presentation notebooks in this buyers guide
is probably your best bet.

In a single package, you get sound, software, a display screen and a way to feed your
images to a projector if you need to.

Using a notebook instead of a prerecorded videotape as the source of your images and
sound also has the advantage of allowing presentation updates while you’re on the

Consider a few points before choosing your presentation notebook.

Apple Computer Inc., for instance, still doesn’t offer a large-screen notebook
suitable for presentations.

Several computers powered by Intel Corp. chips meet the requirements for a
self-contained, small-audience presentation system:

Screen size and sound options are the most important features of presentation
notebooks. Speed, the amount of memory, modem, battery life and weight are all important.
But when your goal is to give a presentation to a small audience, such considerations must
take a back seat to the display size and sound. Size and sound determine how well your
audience can see and hear your presentation.

Because more RAM, longer battery life and a faster processor all add to the cost of a
notebook, most users will need to balance lower nonpresentation capabilities against the
need for greater screen size.

If you don’t put your images on CD or DVD, you can leave the drive at the office
and save battery life and weight.

All the presentation notebooks in this buyers guide include large screens, MPEG and
zoom video, SoundBlaster Pro audio compatibility and Musical Instrument Digital Interface
standard support.

A few even sport screens larger than an average 14-inch desktop monitor.

LCD panels are similar to the screens on notebook computers except that they’re
transparent. The panels are used with the conventional overhead projector found in most
larger offices. The LCD screen replaces the preprinted transparencies that for decades
were the standard presentation tool.

Although you can choose to create slide shows of still images exactly as you would with
transparencies, it would be a waste of resources.

Today’s sophisticated LCD panels are well-suited to showing simple computer
animation or even photographic images.

Because prices of LCD panels can vary widely, you should know what you’ll use one
for before you begin your search for the perfect panel.

At the low end, LCD panels can’t display full-motion video or smoothly show
complex animations but will easily handle simple still images.

If you need top performance multimedia presentation quality, look for an LCD panel that
has at least a 100-to-1 contrast ratio for black and white. Such a ratio is standard for
active-matrix screens, but active-matrix TFT and passive-matrix screens offer only half or
a quarter as much contrast. The few panels in this buyers guide have at least a 100-to-1
contrast ratio, and some have as much as 300-to-1.

For some basic applications, you can get away with the lower contrast offered by
passive-matrix panels.

Prices for LCD panels range from about $1,500 to nearly $10,000. Most have built-in
audio amplifiers, and some include speakers suitable for use in large rooms.

The major limitation of LCD panels is the power and quality of the overhead projector
you use with it. Even the brightest is usually unsuitable for viewing by more than a small

The next step up from LCD panels are projectors that include the image-generation
screen, a powerful light source and matched optics. Prices for good-quality projectors
start around $3,000.

The latest innovation in the field is digital light processing, in which images are
reflected rather than transmitted through the panel. Look for DLP technology in high-end

But LCD and DLP projectors, as well as the usually permanently installed CRT
projectors, sometimes provide disappointing images.

For instance, did you ever create what you thought was a great presentation with a
video camera and VCR only to be disappointed when you saw it projected 5 feet high?

You probably thought it was your camera or editing equipment. But if your project
looked OK on a 21-inch TV screen, the problem was the way TV works and the way
today’s projectors handle the North American Television Standards Committee standard
television signal.

Even the best NTSC video image has only 525 horizontal lines per frame at a rate of 30
frames per sec, but it works well even for big rear-projection TVs. What happens to it
when you try to use an LCD, CRT or DLP projector?

Limitations of early vacuum tube TVs made it difficult to project even 525 lines on a
screen. Images consisted of two 262.5-line images that alternate one-thirtieth of a second
apart; limitations of human vision let us see them as a complete picture.

Unfortunately, projectors can’t show interlaced images; all they can project are
red-green-blue video signals. It works fine for computer input, but if you use videotape
images, the projector must first convert the NTSC signal into RGB, which many projectors
don’t do at all well.

A quick test of whether it will be a problem with your hardware is to project a
spreadsheet with thin cell-division lines.

If you see what appear to be color worms following the thin lines—chroma
crawl—expect problems.

How color TV was made compatible with the millions of black-and-white TVs around when
color was introduced presents other problems.

An NTSC signal consists of a luminance component, which black-and-white TVs use, and
two chroma signals that, when combined with the luminance signal, create color TV.

Because TV bandwidth couldn’t be expanded without making old TV sets obsolete,
chrominance signals were given much less broadcast spectrum space than black-and-white
signals, with blue-yellow getting even less space than red-green.

Until digital TV becomes common, doublers and scalers provide the best workaround for
LCD, DLP and CRT projectors.

Scalers are LCD and DLP enhancers. They operate by scaling the signal to match the
number of pixel elements in the projector’s array.

An SVGA signal, for example, has 800 by 600 pixels per inch, but a typical projector
has as much as 10 percent more pixel elements available. A scaler can adjust the SVGA
signal to spread over all available elements.

For CRT projectors, doublers or quadruplers provide a more elegant fix. A doubler takes
the original signal and combines the alternating scan lines into a single image; a
quadrupler multiplies them to produce 1,050 lines per frame.

Although there is no additional information in the image, its appearance on a large
screen is dramatically improved. You can use a doubler or quadrupler with an LCD or DLP
projector, but the improvement will be minimal.

Even more than with the projector, you get what you test for with these devices. Before
you buy one, test it with your projector using samples of the images you’ll show.

The CSI Deuce video scaler from Communications Specialties
Inc. is used with VGA and SVGA LCD and DLP projectors; it converts video to six
output rates from 640 by 480 pixels up to 1,280 by 1,024 pixels. The price is $2,195.

Communications Specialties Inc.
89K Cabot Court
Hauppauge, N.Y. 11788
tel. 516-273-0404

The Lancia xi line doubler from Extron Electronics/RGB Systems Inc.
has analog controls and motion compensation circuitry. Its price is $2,495.

Extron’s Sentosa xi, a line doubler and quadrupler, has a decoder
with motion compensation circuitry. The price is $5,995.

Extron Electronics/RGB Systems Inc.
230 S. Lewis St.
Anaheim, Calif. 92805
tel. 714-491-1500

The IN1024 from Inline Inc. is a line doubler and
video switcher with VGA resolution. It costs $1,495.

Inline Inc.
22850 Savi Ranch Parkway
Yorba Linda, Calif. 92887
tel. 800-882-7117

The IDC 3000 from NEC Technologies Inc. is a line
doubler with a built-in switcher and RGB passthrough. It costs $2,595.

NEC Technologies Inc.
1250 N. Arlington Heights
Itasca, Ill. 60143
tel. 800-632-4636

The Sony DSC 1024G is a multifunction line doubler, quadrupler and
video scaler with a built-in switcher. Its price is $4.990.

Sony Electronics Inc.
3300 Zanker Road
San Jose, Calif. 95134
tel. 800-686-7669

Another display option is to use an inexpensive scan converter that accepts standard
computer monitor output and converts it into NTSC video.

The inexpensive devices let you connect to any TV that has line video and audio inputs
or is attached to a VCR with standard RCA video and audio input jacks. With a converter,
you can use the VCR’s built-in radio frequency converter and any standard TV.

Quality of converted images is a step below those on LCD panels and projectors, but may
meet your needs. And converters are a cheap way to connect your computer to a large-screen
or projection TV.

Most of the following converters have several special effects; all include remote
wireless controllers.

TV SuperScan 2 from ADS Technologies Inc. includes
software that runs under MS-DOS and all Microsoft Windows. It supports input of up to 800-
by 600-pixel resolution and displays it on NTSC and S-video. Its price is $239.

ADS Technologies Inc.
13909 Bettencourt St.
Cerritos, Calif. 90703
tel. 562-926-1928

Pro PC/TV Remote from AITech International Corp.
comes with software for Microsoft Windows 3.1, Windows 95, MS-DOS and Apple Macintosh. It
converts from a maximum of 640 by 480 pixels to NTSC, S-video and European standard TVs.
It costs $199.

AITech International Corp.
47971 Fremont Blvd.
Fremont, Calif. 94538
tel. 510-226-8960

TView Silver from Focus Enhancements Inc. supports up
to 800 by 600 pixels per inch. The included software only runs under Windows. Output is
NTSC, S-video and European standard TV. The price is $249.

Focus Enhancements Inc.
142 North Road
Sudbury, Mass. 01776
tel. 978-371-2000

The Maxmedia from Umax Technologies Inc. was easy to
set up. Despite its low price, it produced a remarkably good-quality image—about as
good as you can expect when converting from a computer-video standard to the lower
standard you get on TVs.

Maxmedia supports 800-by-600 resolution input from PCs, 640-by-480 on Macintosh
systems, no software supplied, NTSC,

S-video and European standard TV. It costs $169.

Umax Technologies Inc.
3561 Gateway Blvd.
Fremont, Calif. 94538
tel. 510-651-4000

Sometimes you need more interaction with your audience, which is where a whiteboard
comes into the picture.

A whiteboard is a white drawing surface that offers better contrast with black and
color inks than the old school blackboard did.

Copyboards are standalone whiteboards that respond to your input by displaying images.
Most come with built-in printers so you can create handouts for your audience.

PC peripheral whiteboards are basically giant computer screens and must be connected to
a PC. You can store their images on floppy or hard disks.

Interactive PC whiteboards do the same things as PC peripheral boards but add the
ability to link with projectors.

For some of these boards, you write on paper and the image is scanned. For others you
use a special pen or, with touch-sensitive boards, use a stylus or conventional marker.

Some of the boards are mounted to a wall, others use rolling stands. Some can be used
as either a wall-mount or mobile display. But with a minimum width of about 40 inches,
they aren’t something you want to take along on a road trip.

Let’s say at this point you have a prerecorded presentation and a notebook
computer on which to play it back. Maybe you’ve copied it to a videotape and bought a
suitable projector and some image-enhancing hardware. You have everything you need, but
you may want a few other tools.

Although you can do a presentation from a notebook perched on a lectern, most of us
prefer to move around a bit. To do so, you’ll need a remote control device to operate
the computer.

The two choices are wired and wireless; wireless is available with RF or infrared

Perhaps the most comfortable controller is the GyroMouse from Diamond Multimedia Inc.
of San Jose, Calif. The GyroMouse is a conventional wired desktop mouse that also houses a
gyroscope. You can use it as a regular mouse or by waving it around in the air, aiming and

But most people will prefer a wireless controller. Several brands are available,
varying in shape and the macro buttons they sport.

Macro buttons seem like a great idea, but in a darkened auditorium, when you’re
trying by touch to tell which button you’re pressing, they tend to lose their charm.
Usually, the best controller is the simplest one.

Diamond Multimedia Systems Inc.’s GyroMouse works like a regular
mouse, or you can wave it around in midair, but it is hard-wired to your PC or notebook.
It is $100.

Diamond Multimedia Systems Inc.
2880 Junction Ave.
San Jose, Calif. 95134
tel. 408-325-7000

RemotePoint Cordless Handheld Mouse from Interlink Electronics Inc. has a 60-foot range
infrared controller. It uses one button and a disk-shaped mouse/cursor control. It runs
under Windows 3.1 and Win95, and is available for serial PS/2 ports. It costs $160.

RemotePoint Programmable is the same as RemotePoint but includes four programmable
buttons. Its price is $200.

Interlink Electronics Inc.
549 Flynn Road
Camarillo, Calif. 93012
tel. 805-484-1331

The Gyropoint Pro II from Gyration Inc. has an internal gyroscope that detects motion.
Line of sight is not required as it operates with IR controllers. The tool costs $299.

Gyration Inc.
12930 Saratoga Ave.
Saratoga, Calif. 95070
tel. 408-255-3016

The three-button Cordless MouseMan from Logitech Inc.
is a remote controller that looks and works like a conventional PC mouse. It costs $45.

Logitech Inc.
6505 Kaiser Drive
Fremont, Calif. 94555
tel. 510-795-8500

For some presentations, you’ll need a way to display images on-the-fly;
you’ll need a presentation scanner. Presentation scanners are a special class of
scanners or document cameras for creating prerecorded or live presentation images.

Although the devices appear at first to be overhead projectors, most have neither an
under-table light nor projection optics. Instead of the usual optics cantilevered over the
tablet, they use a camera that can feed images directly to a projector or a computer.
Unlike ordinary scanners, these devices are designed to handle 3-D objects.

The RE350 from Canon USA Inc. offers 12X zoom,
S-video and RGB output with an RS-232 port for control. Includes light arms and provides
450 lines-per-inch resolution. The price is $3,665.

Canon USA Inc.
1 Canon Plaza
New Hyde Park, N.Y. 11042
tel. 516-382-5960

The EV-6000AF from Elmo Manufacturing Corp. includes
Joint Photographic Experts Group file format image capture and storage, RS-232 control, a
remote control, mouse port, built-in lights and two cameras—one facing the presenter,
the other suspended above the platform. It costs $5,595.

Elmo Manufacturing Corp.
70 New Hyde Park Road
New Hyde Park, N.Y. 11040
tel. 516-775-3200

JVC Professional Computer Products Corp.’s AV-P700U has no
freeze-frame, but does include a single 35-mm slide holder with zoom capabilities. It also
can image 3-D objects. The price is $3,500.

JVC Professional Computer Products Corp.
5665 Corporate Ave.
Cypress, Calif. 90630
tel. 714-816-6500

The SVP-5000 from Samsung Electronics America Inc.
has an RS-232 port and 16X zoom, and features a separate platform and camera arm that
allows an extreme range of movement. It costs $3,600.

Samsung Electronics America Inc.
105 Challenger Road
Ridgefield Park, N.J. 07660
tel. 201-229-4000

WolfVision Inc.’s VZ-45b Visualizer provides a maximum resolution
of 800 lines per inch. Because the light source surrounds the camera, it even illuminates
hollow objects placed on the platform. It costs $6,900.

The VZ-7, a smaller, more portable Visualizer, includes autofocus and a 12X zoom lens,
and folds easily for transport. It is $4,390.

WolfVision Inc.
655 Sky Way
San Carlos, Calif. 94070
tel. 650-802-0786

After you’ve created your presentation and assembled your hardware, one crucial
step remains: a dress rehearsal. On location before an audience is no time to find
you’re missing the cable to connect notebook and projector.

Break a leg.  

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.

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