Point and Teach
As many projector makers are coming out with first generation interactive projectors aimed at classrooms, InFocus, the company that invented the category, is already on to the second generation of its LiteBoard technology. The $1,425 IN3916 projector not only addresses many of the shortcomings with early interactive projectors, it adds useful software and excellent audio options, making it the one to get for digitizing the classroom.
Its biggest advantage is that out of the box, the IN3916 projector can be up and teaching in a matter of minutes. Unlike the combination of a projector and interactive board, the IN3916 doesn’t require calibration and works just as well on a media cart as mounted on the ceiling or on a desk; it has three threaded mounting points underneath for setting it up on the ceiling.
Because it’s self-contained, the IN3916 can save a school roughly $750 per classroom in equipment costs. After unpacking the box, setting the projector up a few feet from the screen and plugging the wand into the projector’s USB outlet to charge it, it’s ready for teaching. The projector started up in less than 30 seconds, but takes a few minutes to get to its full brightness. Unfortunately, its fan is a little loud.
Compared to Infocus’s first generation IN3904, the new wand fits better into smaller hands and is lighter than the first generation device. Its rubber tip keeps from scraping a whiteboard, wall, pull-down screen or whatever you’re projecting onto.
There’s a matching stand for when the wand isn’t being used, but you need to pull a rubber seal aside and manually connect a mini-USB plug to charge the wand. It’s best to take the rubber seal off altogether. The USB cable can be plugged into a computer, hub or the projector directly, but will only charge if the projector is turned on. It takes a couple hours to charge it and the wand goes to sleep if it’s not being used. It takes an annoying second or two for it to wake up, however.
Like the older wand, it can be used standing to the side of the screen writing directly on the projected image or at a distance to aim the pointer or; its range is 35 feet, plenty for most classroom situations. The new wand’s action is smoother with less jitteriness and it’s more responsive. Overall, it took the weakest part of the original projector and made it a strong point. Unfortunately, it still loses contact with the projector when the tip is in shadow, but it occurs less often.
Using the wand-projector combo has a liberating feeling, particularly for teachers used to chalk- or whiteboard work. Whether it’s drawing a map of the continents, going over a math problem or dissecting a paragraph, the IN3916 delivers a visual way to communicate with a class. Ironically, it works best for demonstrating how to use computer software and is a great way to demonstrate drawing technique to an art class, but the wand’s tip is not pressure sensitive.
The wand fits comfortably into a child’s hand. There are right- and left-click buttons as well as a scroll wheel for zipping through a Web page or long document. Every sloppy teacher or inattentive student will love the undo button on the wand’s bottom.
With the ability to use several wands, the IN3916 lets students work collaboratively, although two can’t be used at once. It ends up being like a tag-team wrestling match with only one controlling the wand at a time. InFocus engineers are working ways to use two wands at once. The extra wand costs $150.
While the wand gets the attention, the IN3916 projector, itself, is no slouch. Based on Digital Light Processing (DLP) imaging engine, the projector puts a sharp 1,280 by 800 resolution. The IN3914 model costs $200 less but has lower resolution and lacks networking.
The projector has excellent sound with a pair of 10 watt speakers and the ability to connect via a variety of inputs. I love that you can plug in a microphone, turning the projector into a classroom-filling PA system.
In addition to a pair of VGA inputs as well as a single VGA output, the IN3916 has HDMI and Composite video inputs. There are places to plug in a microphone and other audio source (like an MP3 player) as well as one for connecting to external speakers. On top of a 5-volt power connection for a powered screen and a RS-232 serial connector, it has a wired LAN connection; adding 802.11b/g WiFi wireless is a reasonable $29.
A big bonus for digital classrooms is that if all the computers are networked, students can project what’s on their screens. Up to 32 computers can be connected and the teacher can choose which one has control of the projector, making it ideal for multiple classroom presentations. If you like, four images can be simultaneously shown in quadrants.
The key to the IN3916’s success is that it uses short-throw technology. With a throw ratio of 0.52, it can fill a 6-foot screen from just over 2.5 feet. Unlike an interactive board, the IN3916 can create an image of up to about 12-feet for a large lecture hall or cafeteria class. InFocus’s Web site has a convenient throw calculator for planning where to mount the projector ahead of time. On the downside, like many other short-throw projectors, the IN3916 lacks an optical zoom for exactly filling the screen, from edge to edge.
The projector’s control panel is a 7- by 3-rectangle grid that use blue backlighting to indicate what they do. When it’s off, all you see is the on/off switch. It comes with a clunky remote control that that mimics the control panel.
A big plus is that the IN3916 doesn’t require any special software and works with any PC or Mac program. It also comes with Qwizdom’s WizTeach classroom software that can help get lessons up and running. There’s content for math, geography and Englishtk. Some have interactive sequences while others can connect to live Web data.
Over the course of a month of daily use, the IN3916 acquitted itself well. After wading through the needlessly complex audio input selection, it worked well with several different computers using VGA, composite and HDMI cables. The projector was more than bright enough for the typical classroom with the lights on. It was able to put 2,340 lumens on the screen, about 15 percent off its 2,700 lumen specification.
Even after an hour, the unit barely gets warm, but its fan is on the loud side. The output of the unit I looked at was brighter on the right than the left and had an annoying pink area in the right. While in use, it required 300 watts, but when turned off it used only 1 watt.
Factor in the $200 replacement lamp, which has a rated lifetime of 2,500 hours of use, and it costs 11.6 cents per hour to operate the projector. That adds up to roughly $140 dollars per school year, assuming it’s used for six hours every school day. The projector comes with a class-leading 5-year warranty, although the lamp is only covered for six months.
At $1,425, the IN3916 is expensive until you consider that it can replace a standard projector and interactive board. You can cut that to $1,382with InFocus’s educational discount. Overall, the IN3916 takes interactive projectors to a new level, are now ready to replace interactive white boards and can be the basis of a digital classroom.
+ Excellent control panel
+ 5-year warranty
+ Good short-throw projector
+ Smooth Wand action
+ Microphone connection
+ Includes WizTeach software
- No optical zoom
- Below brightness specification
- Complicated audio settings