December 13 2010
For my money, the history of interactive display systems stalled somewhere around the invention of the blackboard. The blackboard wasn’t perfect, but it was clever. At some point in the middle of my school career, blackboards became greenboards – I don’t know why. Towards the end, we had those overhead projector things, with the scroll of plastic that the teacher would write on in blue marker pen. They were a shambles. They made a noise that drowned out most of our masters. And for the older ones, already challenged, as we would say now, by film projectors, they must have been a nightmare. On a good day, the more doddery ones would be able to get that evening’s prep notes projected upside down; on a bad day, not at all.
I haven’t seen an overhead projector in corporate land for a long while. The interactive display world appears now to be split between whiteboards, flip charts and, for those who really must do PowerPoints, various projectors. If you want to point out a feature on a PowerPoint, though, you may well end up with a laser pointer, which was fun when they came out in the 1990s, but a bit passé now.
These new projectors, from InFocus of Portland, Oregon are, however, a bit of a game changer to my mind. Its IN3914 and IN3916 models, which are PC and Mac compatible, come with an innovative “wand” that allows you, wherever you are in the presentation room, to interact – annotate, underline and all sorts – with the projected image from a distance of up to 18 metres, or up to 12 metres from the projector. The wand, in effect, is a mouse capable of doing everything a mouse can, from a distance. It has motion-stability software built in to help with the obvious wobble problem.
Now while technology sceptics could be excused for remarking that schoolteachers used to interact very successfully with a board rubber and a piece of chalk, there’s no doubting that these projectors offer a more elegant, striking and – most importantly – more didactic form of display. You can even plug in a microphone to use the projector as a small PA, thanks to its two 10W speakers.
InFocus, as you will see from the helpful video on its website, is promoting the IN3914 and IN3916 primarily for the education market. I wouldn’t be put off by that; these are fine business presentation tools, too – some of the finest I’ve seen.