Magic Wand for the Classroom
It’s a given that the use of interactive digital boards has revolutionized education by putting digital content front and center for the entire class. Infocus’s IN3904 takes a big step forward by providing an inexpensive alternative to white boards by building the interactivity into the projector and not the board. It’s not perfect, but the IN3904 is revolutionary, innovative and can simplify outfitting a technologically up-to-date classroom while making it less expensive.
As cool as building a lesson around an interactive board and projector is, doing it on a plain wall or blackboard is even cooler. Just use the IN3904’s LiteBoard wand to write on the projected image, click on things or even draw a map. It’s like having an interactive board, but without the board.
It can be better in one regard. Unlike most interactive boards, I didn’t even have to touch the wall for the wand to work. I love that I was able to use the wand as a pointer, moving the cursor around on screen by aiming it at the wall.
The bottom line is that IN3904 is potentially as transformative for education as early interactive boards were – maybe more. The way it works is surprisingly simple. The IN3904 is a WXGA projector that uses the latest TI solid state 0.65-inch digital light processor imaging engine with BrilliantColor enhancements. Along with the image, the device projects a pattern of invisible light pulses that identify where the LiteBoard wand is to the projector.
At 2.7 ounces and a little bigger than a magic marker, the wand fits comfortably in an adult’s hand, but might be too big for a small child to master. There’s a pressure sensitive tip as well as buttons for right and life clicks; a button changes its mode from drawing to writing. The best part is that the wand runs on a rechargeable battery that can be plugged into the projector for charging with an included mini USB cable.
Unlike most interactive boards, the IN3904 doesn’t require calibration. Regardless of how quickly you move the wand, the projector keeps up, quickly making interaction with what’s on-screen second nature. On the downside, because of the way the projector figures out where the wand is, anytime the tip is in shadow, it loses contact. Using the system, you quickly learn to work from the sides to minimize disruption.
The projector comes with all the cables needed and does the little things well with automatic keystone correction for a rectangular image every time. It not only can automatically display images from a memory key, but add transitions as well. On top of the traditional, external monitor port for connecting to a computer, the IN3904 has S-Video, composite and HDMI input jacks.
My favorite is using the USB-based DisplayLink because it sends audio as well as the video over one cable, simplifying a classroom set up. While the DisplayLink software worked well with a Vista notebook for dozens of lessons, from showing the shape of electric fields to an online spelling lesson, it was unable to work with Windows 7; InFocus says it will have new software soon for Windows 7 systems. Plus, the USB link sometimes balked at transferring full screen video to the projector.
A breakthrough that I expect others will quickly copy is the IN3904’s elegant control panel, which has no visible switches. Just press the surface near the on/off area and it starts up, lighting up the other functions. The projector comes with a competent remote control, but it lacks a laser pointer and key lighting.
It took 10.7 seconds for the projector to start up, but it didn’t get to its full brightness for roughly 3 minutes, which might slow down a teacher. One of the brightest classroom projectors on the market, the IN3904 is capable of putting 2,744 lumens of light on a screen. That’s 10 percent less than its spec, but more than enough for a lights-on lesson.
The IN3904 can fill a screen as large as 18.3-feet but its lens has only a 1.1:1 optical zoom, which limits set up possibilities of the projector. At a peak temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit at its exhaust outlet, the IN3904 runs hotter than most projectors and its fan is quite loud.
Rated at 3,000 hours, the projector’s $500 replacement lamp costs about16 cents per hour of use. Its power use is on the high side with peak consumption of 293 watts when operating. This drops to 12 watts when off. By contrast, many recent projectors use close to no electricity when turned off.
All told, expect to spend $232 a year on operating costs for this projector. That’s a little on the high side, but is less than the $270 a year it costs to run Sanyo’s PLC-XU305 projector.
The IN3904’s $1,700 price tag not only includes a 5-year warranty (6-months on the lamp) but because it replaces a projector and interactive board can potentially cut $1,000 a room for a complete digital teaching outfit. In other words, it’s a genuine bargain for schools.
+ Acts like an interactive white board on a wall
+ Accurate wireless wand
+ 5-year warranty
+ Excellent control panel
- Runs hot and loud
- Wand loses contact when in shadow
- Windows 7 software problems