Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  April 2002

Is the Mainstream Ready for Wireless?

As projector manufacturers incorporated wireless networking into their projectors, is it something that end-users will actually use?

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

I’m a geek. I admit it. I like gadgets and get excited about electronic doodads that non-geeks just can’t appreciate. As a result, I’ll try something out and have fun with it for a while, but only the truly useful things stick with me—my PDA, for example. It’s long outlasted its initial thrill as a geek toy to become a indispensable tool.

But some things just fall by the wayside after the newness wears off. Take wireless networked projectors for instance, and in particular, the on-board presentation capabilities that come with them.

First some background: A few years ago when LCD projectors burst onto the market, CRTs became passé almost immediately for many. Selection of a non-CRT projector wasn’t easy, though.

There were vast differences is display quality between manufacturers and models, especially when it came to NTSC video. This is what made the Projector Shootout at Infocomm such an attraction.

Not so today. Brightness is up, video quality is up, resolution is up, everything is looking up, and the differences between the projectors are less than ever before.

In many cases, what has become more important for selecting projectors—and many other pieces of AV equipment—for an integrated project is the feature set. Not just the complement of inputs, but the non-video part: controllability, networking capability, the look of the case, the noise output, the on-board computing.

After a good picture, the most important feature I look for in a projector is the control capability. What can the projector do besides project? Are there discrete RS-232 commands? Is there IP capability? Can we use both ports at the same time? Is lamp life readily available without having to know the secret handshake?

Is there on-board picture-in-picture? Is there email capability? These are the things that differentiate projectors these days for an integrated application.

Then there’s the on-board computing. The concept of putting the presentation capability on the projector certainly seems attractive.

No need for the computer. No need for a video cable. No need for a wireless mouse for the computer—just use the projector’s remote.

Besides, all the technology is there to provide these capabilities, so why not do it, right?

I have tried out a few of these projectors with the manufacturer’s help and once it’s working, it’s cool. But even without any glitches, the setup and infrastructure required for these types of devices to work takes some dedication even for us geeks.

Can we expect the average presenter to embrace this effort? A presenter or instructor wants a tool, not a project, to be able to display their presentation.

We see and hear that many people seek demos of this technology, but no one is using it. Is it ahead of its time, or just too hard?

I believe that it’s a matter of perceived simplicity vs. real simplicity.

It seems that getting a presentation to a projector from a computer would be simpler without RGBHV cables, or even without cables at all.

But it turns out that it’s more like trying to swim across a river when the bridge across it is right next to you. It would be a lot easier to stay out of the water for now.

Like many aspects of our business, this is another transitional growing pain. The idea of a laptop that’s also a projector may not be far off, but today’s offerings don’t have quite enough power to do more than standard PowerPoint at 8-bit color, and there are few, if any, that are upgradeable.

It’s possible to playback video files on these systems, too, but the performance doesn’t hack it. And if you want to upgrade the projector’s built-in computer, you’ll have to buy a new projector.

The projector features that are really differentiators for me are the control features, not the computer or even wireless networking.

But all the manufacturers feel a need to offer these options because a few have.

I’d rather see more options in modularity like separate lenses, light engines and input modules so you don’t need a whole new projector to get a new feature or accommodate a new input standard or additional sources. How about an installation-grade native 16:9 projector?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Luddite by a long shot.

It’s just that computing on a projector has a long way to go before more than the geekiest of presenters will be using this feature with regularity or before it becomes useful for installed systems.

One day this concept will be viable. For now though, it’s the control, management and diagnostic abilities that a processor brings to the projector that keep me interested, not the ability to present the hard way, wirelessly or not.

 

 

 
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