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Presentation power: improvements in display screens and projectors offer colleges new ways to `show their stuff.' (Technology).

NOT LONG AGO, A STATE-OF-THE-art presentation system was a bulky overhead projector wheeled around on a primitive metal cart. Using one meant waiting for it to arrive in a classroom, sweating through awkward moments of setup, and trying to explain regular malfunctions.

Thankfully, those days are over for instructors like Carolyn Bentivegna, an associate professor of biology at Seton Hall University. Now, teaching in one of the 60 classrooms at SHU equipped with Sharp LCD fixed ceiling projectors, things are infinitely more convenient, she says. Bentivegna can arrive early, plug in her computer, and be assured that everything will work smoothly.

Other educators around the country, using products from various manufacturers, have similar stories to tell. And though there's always room for improvement, the future of presentation systems is "pretty exciting," says Gary Kayye, chief visionary of Kayye Consulting ( in Chapel Hill, NC. Both portable and fixed ceiling projectors should continue to improve dramatically in the next two years, he says.

Bright ideas. One rapidly improving feature that classrooms are universally welcoming is the ability to adjust brightness and contrast levels. It means that teachers who (like Bentivegna) teach both day and night classes, won't have to fiddle with overhead lights or window shades while presenting a lecture. Companies are already responding to this need. For example, Canon's latest multimedia projectors (ranging in price from $1,500 to $7,000) feature Turbo Bright System technology which boosts brightness as much as 25 percent, to 3700 lumens in their top model.

Network news. Possibly the most important short-term innovation to come, will be ease in network connectivity. Companies such as JVC, Mitsubishi, Sharp, and Sony offer networkcapable projectors ranging in price from $2,000 to $20,000. Soon an instructor will be able to stick one of these highly portable devices into his bag, carry it into a classroom, plug it into an Ethernet port, and retrieve a presentation he already prepared and stored on the network. The newest breed of systems allows cable-free hookups, sans laptops, real-time communication, and remote monitoring--all of which should soon become the standard.

Familiar feel The interface on these machines will also grow sophisticated enough to allow users to browse the Internet and access Web resources in presentations. The look and feel of the operating system will most likely mimic (if not actually employ) Windows CE, a mini-version of the Windows operating system already used in PDAs and cell phones. The prevalent understanding of and familiarity with Windows in university communities will make the systems intuitive for instructors, a huge advantage for faculty who are uncomfortable with new technology. The simplified interface is a growing requirement at many universities; besides making the instructor's life easier, it allows IT staff to concentrate on IT issues, rather than on user training.


Standardization across campus is also extremely important. For Don Carter, director of the Teaching, learning, Technology Center (TlTC) at SHU, standardization is a primary consideration when making a purchase decision. Carter says he needs to ensure that teachers who find themselves assigned to different classrooms for different reasons will, nevertheless, be able to use the same technology.

There is, however, the chronic issue of platform compatibility to address: Kayye sees the Presentation System industry advancing largely through use of Windows technology, because Apple has focused somewhat less on the needs of industry. This means that university officials who use Apple products as a standard might have to reconsider, when it comes time to evaluate their projectors.

Joe Schuch, manager of ATN Multimedia Classrooms at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, thinks that the advent of the digital video interface will eliminate some of these and other compatibility issues. "Right now, the biggest challenge for manufacturers is the accusation that they're building a commodity with a calculated expiration date," he says. For an LCD projector to convert an analog signal to a digital one, he explains, it must be able to recognize various incoming frequencies. The problem is that most LCD projectors today are aware only of frequencies that existed when the product was manufactured, so the are less able to adapt. Digital video carries more information with the signal itself, which Schuch hopes will translate int greater longevity for the devices.

DOES SIZE MATTER? Kayye says that for schools the can't afford to spend between $50,000 and $100,000 to outfit classrooms with the latest technology (including pricey ceiling projectors), the portable market is particularly attractive. Sony's new VPL-FE110, for example, is a state-of-the-art machine that features 4000 ANSI lumens and a 30MB storage capability, but carries a price tag of $22,000. Less powerful but reliable portable systems can cost as little as $2,500.

Portable projectors, already lightweight at three to five pounds, will only get lighter over the next year; some will weigh as little as 1.5 pounds, says Kayye. Of course, as ultraportable systems become smaller, they also become more vulnerable to theft and careless misplacement. This is a major complaint with the machinery often cited by university officials. "The smaller size is great for portability, but a drawback because people can stuff the systems into their backpacks," says Paul Fisher, Associate Director of SHU's TLTC. "Smaller isn't necessarily better."

The obvious way to get around the hitch? Bite the bullet and invest in the ceiling projectors. Kayye points out that these (yes, costlier) systems are growing more sophisticated, with features such as built-in alarm technology that alerts authorities of an invasion before a machine can be removed from its post.


Another technology advancement that university administrators seem particularly excited about is flat-pane display. Schuch says some of the advantages include ease of installation and reduced heat Fit generation, compared to a CRT monitor. Flat screens don't have as many image degradalion problems either, he says.

SHU is still in the early is stages of integrating flat at screens into the classroom, but and Fisher points out that lighting is less of an issue when dealing with a flat screen. And, he adds, prices have come down dramatically: from about $10,000 for a 50-inch screen to $5,000. Kayye predicts that by 2003, as the consumer market begins to embrace the screens, their cost should plummet to about $2,000 while the size of the largest screens should increase by about 20 inches.

Right now, though, the technology hasn't advanced to the level university educators had hoped for. For one thing at says Kayye, the only flat screens currently available that are larger than 20 inches, are plasma displays--some of which weigh as much as 100 pounds. By the end of this year, however, flat-screen LCD models weighing about one-quarter as much as plasma displays will be released, says Kayye, But there's another major issue: While the clear picture makes the flat screen display ideal for small classrooms, the current size ranges limit effectiveness in larger settings. One way around the problem, though costly, is to connect a number of panels to create a video `wall.'

Kayye envisions a time, perhaps just two years from now, when video walls will be the standard tool used in collaborative learning. Collaborative learning will supplant distance learning, he says, and will allow students at different ends of the earth to view each other and interact in life-size settings. He adds that schools might one day choose to set up satellite `virtual' classrooms, it where students can gather in rooms outfitted with video walls and engage with professors who appear to be standing right before them--no projector-on-wheels required.
Presentation System Providers

New: MP8749 Multimedia Projector; 3M Wall Display

New: LV-7545, LV-7345 "Turbo Bright" projectors

New: LPF-4800, lPF-7700 LCD displays

New: DLA G20 networkable projector

General Presentation Systems
Turn-key builder of audiovisual and conferencing systems

New: X490U, $490U Natural Color Matrix displays

New: LT75Z, LT150Z, VT45, VT650 featuring "Keystone Correction" pj.htm

New: PT-LC50U, PT-LC70U micro-portable projectors

New: VPL-FX50 LCD Data Projector

New: XG-P20X (display), PG-M15X/S (ultra-portable)

New: TLP B2, TLP X20/21, TLP 780/781 projectors

New: LXG 120, DXG 210 projectors

Michelle Adelman is a freelance
writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Author:Adelman, Michelle
Publication:University Business
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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