Projection Systems Help Educators Bring More Information to Light

Holding the attention of an entire class is always a challenge. Nowadays, most students not only have grown up with cable TV, they've witnessed the proliferation of CD-ROMs, the Internet and other multi-sensory technologies. As a result, students often expect more from instructors than lectures punctuated by writing on a blackboard. Luckily, a new generation of projection products allows educators to meet or exceed the audience's expectations for visually stimulating information. And the benefits are real: Whether in small staff meetings or large lecture halls, studies show, participants who are engaged enjoy an increased retention of the materials presented. Of the many presentation devices available, this article will focus on video/data projectors, LCD panels and document cameras. Over two dozen firms, from big-name electronics corporations to less-familiar display specialists, now offer a range of products that suit the needs and budgets of all educators. And the industry continues to evolve each year, as technologies mature and more customers demand higher-quality images. Since we last covered this subject, developers have introduced a host of new projection products that better display full-motion video in both real time and true color. This article will highlight some of the latest models as well as trends for 1995 and beyond. It should be noted that space limitations prevent a full listing of all available projection systems, and many of the vendors listed in one category also offer products that fit another. With that, let's begin by examining the contenders in the LCD panels arena. n LCD Panels Enter Video Age Creating an impressive presentation is only half the battle; one must also deliver it in a way that captivates the audience, sometimes for an hour or more. Even large-screen monitors are usually inadequate for reaching large groups of people. Placed on top of overhead projectors, LCD panels rival monitors in display quality and are more portable and flexible. A few short years ago, panels were limited to monochrome pictures or, at best, a few thousand colors. Today's active-matrix screens, on the other hand, offer palettes of up to 16.7 million colors, not to mention higher contrast and faster refresh rates. From nVIEW come multiple lines of active-matrix LCD panels for on- or off-site presentations. Two models in the ZSERIES accept full-motion video from up to four sources simultaneously. Audio is output via a built-in high-fidelity speaker or in stereo via external speakers. The new PRESENTER 101, meanwhile is nVIEW's lowest-priced active-matrix panel. It is positioned to introduce this technology to every K-12 school. Three new models have been added to Proxima's Ovation family of active-matrix panels for Macintosh and IBM-compatible computers: one for data only (840) and two for multimedia (842 and 846). All offer 16.7 million colors and 800 x 600 resolution, along with 24-bit processing for realistic image rendering. A proprietary digital video controller assures support for all three international video standards. With so many similar looking products on the market, it may be difficult to distinguish one LCD panel from another. Often, the differences lie not so much in their basic capabilities but in extra features such as audio support and remote mouse control. Along those lines, one highlight of Chisholm's Rainbow LCD panels is a plug-in electronic writing tablet. Presenters use a wireless pen to add notes, icons or audience comments to the projected image. Plus, the firm optically coats both the top and bottom protective glass of the panel to virtually eliminate reflection. Other companies offer LCD panels expressly designed for certain academic disciplines. For example, the HR 2500 from Polaroid Electronic Imaging projects images at 1024 x 768 resolution, ideal for CAD/CAM, medicine and other subjects that demand fine-line imaging. "Smaller, Lighter, Brighter" Lisa Harrington, Polaroid's marketing manager for LCD products, predicts that, as prices decline further, more K-12 educators will move out of passive-matrix and adopt active-matrix panels. She adds that those units will become "smaller, lighter and brighter" at a rapid pace. Some other LCD panels: Boxlight Corp.'s ProColor 1301 offers 640 x 480 resolution and a patented light shield that blocks unwanted light from overhead projectors. Onscreen help and menus guide one through set-up and operation. For a limited time, the firm will include GyroPoint, a handheld pointing device, free with the ProColor 1800. The SmartView 3600 from In Focus Systems has built-in, full-motion video support for NTSC, full PAL and SECAM video signals. Functions may be controlled from a "Smart Remote" or directly through the panel's keypad. Each MagnaByte M2x LCD panel from Telex contains a built-in amplifier and speaker. With the addition of a compatible wireless microphone, instructors can even project their voice through the panel's speaker. Finally, perhaps the latest breakthrough in this category are LCD panels that operate without being connected to a personal computer. Sharp Electronics' QA-1500 d'es just that.

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The panel accepts 105MB Type III PCMCIA storage cards, each of which holds up to 100 high-color computer and still-video images. Once stored in memory, images can be retrieved, sorted or deleted to create "continuous play" self-running presentations. The unit is both software- and platform-independent. Plus, the QA-1500's remote "learns" up to five functions from other remote controls (for VCRs, videodisc players, etc.). Other devices go even further by integrating full computers with LCD panels. Davis Technologies' LCD Memory Panel is one such innovative product. Another is IntelliView from IntelliMedia, which contains a 486DX 66 MHz microprocessor, a math-coprocessor and 8MB RAM. Also included are a 250MB hard disk, 3.5" 1.44MB floppy drive, plus serial, parallel, mouse, keyboard and video ports. Making Projections An LCD panel is of little value unless one has an overhead (OH) projector to go with it. And not just any old projector will do. Presenters will want to make sure the one they plan to use puts out at least 3,000 lumens, or consider taking their own with them. Several companies now offer overhead projectors that fold into a compact size for easy transport. For example, the Apollo Compan-ion boasts a base-mounted light source and an oversized A-4 stage that accommodates LCD panels without them hanging over the stage edge. It also includes a built-in electrical socket. Some features of 3M's portable 9700 OH projector are a 15' power cord, lamp changer (two lamps are included) and an external color tuning dial. As another option, Dukane Corp. has merged panel and projector to create the MagniView 864. This product integrates a TFT color LCD panel with a 575-watt metal halide light source and a four-element optical system. Megapower Technologies' Megasystem 330 also combines an LCD panel and a metal-halide OH projector for super brightness. Once the standard for reproducing color video and data images 20' or wider, CRT projectors are slowly being eclipsed by their LCD counterparts. NEC Technologies offers both types of projectors, starting with the MultiSync 6PG Plus and 9PG Plus. These large-screen CRT projectors can turn themselves on and off, change sources on their own and select the days of the week they should operate. Both deliver 850 lumens of light output, which still exceeds the limits of most existing LCD projectors. NEC's MultiSync MT LCD projector, meanwhile, completes the multimedia solution promised by cutting-edge color notebook computers and presentation software. Its LightGate technology uses prisms to recover and redirect light that would otherwise be lost during polarization. Electrohome's ECP 2500 CRT projector breaks the $10,000 price barrier and serves well as a permanent installation for presentation or training rooms. And the firm's ShowStar LCD projector delivers a comparable image brightness at an even lower cost and much smaller size and weight. All functions of the ShowStar are controlled with a backlit remote keypad with a 100 ft. range. Other LCD projectors: Eiki's LC-5200 offers a larger image (300 inches) and longer throw distance (45 feet) than other projectors in its class. It requires no special screen, projecting instead on any plain wall or flat surface. With the MediaShow Traveler from Sayett Technology, one can connect a computer along with two other video sources and switch between all three at the touch of a button. It weighs just 20 lbs. and has a built-in carrying handle. Observers anticipate that LCD projectors will continue to gain ground in education, especially as they improve in quality and fall in cost. And expect units to become even quieter, sleeker and more portable as time passes. For those planning a major installation, several firms have emerged to help create custom projection solutions for institutions of all sizes. American Video Communications recently designed a 440-foot video wall for a bowling stadium in Reno, Nev., combining 56 Electrohome ShowStar projectors with Crestron CTP-3000 touch screens, speakers and more. n Video Visualizers Support 3D The aforementioned products help educators effectively present computer data, graphics and video to groups of people. "Video visualizers," meanwhile, allow one to display physical objects, documents, transparencies, etc. on a monitor, projector or videoconferencing system. These devices, also called document cameras or video presenters, combine a compact CCD video camera with an overhead projector's stage. Some units may also simultaneously record the cam-era's output on videotape. The applications are numerous. For example, science instructors can demonstrate a laboratory experiment for all to see and save the procedures on tape for future reference. Canon's RE-650 MKII sports auto-focus and a 12x power zoom lens, allowing for the isolation of a specific detail. The visualizer connects to a compatible video digitizer to achieve a 640 x 480, 24-bit image file. Elmo offers five models of video presenters. The EV-500AF includes a built-in 8.5" x 11" baseboard light box and 10x power zoom. Its camera head rotates and tilts for added versatility. An accessory magnifies lab slides up to 120 times. Another nine-pound model fits in a briefcase. And Sony has entered this field as well, with their own VID-P100. It too has a 10x zoom range, plus auto iris control and auto white balance. An RS-232C interface connector enables instructors to control the VID-P100's functions from a personal computer. A slightly different visualization product is VideoLabs' FlexCam, which integrates a 1/3-inch color CCD camera and two microphones in a gooseneck design. A new model, FlexCam Teaching, has an optional adapter for connecting to any industry-standard microscope. FlexCams are compatible with most videoconferencing systems, supporting distance learning, remote diagnoses and more. Helpful Hints Look for projection systems to improve even more in terms of image quality and flexibility. And manufacturers will surely add more convenience features to help educators take their show on the road. Confused by all the options? We strongly recommend that you contact the companies directly for more detailed product literature or videotapes. In addition, many dealers offer free demonstrations; for a reliable test, bring along your own presentations to see first-hand how they will look.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.

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