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Instant TV

Tricaster Complete setupWhat principal hasn’t wanted to talk directly to students via an in-house TV network or have kids read the morning news to the entire school. NewTek’s TriCaster Mini lets them do it on a tight budget. The $8,000 Mini is a complete AV set up that includes an integrated display and enough storage space for 45-hours of video, but you will need to supply your own camera. You can do anything from a standard talking head in front of a green-screen artificial landscape to animation and complex transitions or playing a slide show. Anything can be sent to YouTube or several social media outlets and TriCaster Mini can even accommodate a video feed from a remote Web cam or Web site.

Portable Power

EVO-40If your tablet carts charge but can’t synchronize their software, LocknCharge’s latest units can. The iQ 30 and Evo 40 can handle 30 or 40 units in the company’s five-unit Baskets. The system works with all recent iPads and makes sure they’re not only charged but ready for class with the latest software. They cost $3,000 and $3,500, respectively, and come with lifetime warranties.

Brightness on a Budget

Ut310wn cIf buying replacement projector lamps is blasting a huge hole in your instructional technology budget, think about never paying for another lamp. Casio’s XJ-UT310WN ultra-short throw projector is not only bright and will never need a new lamp, but it reduces annual expenses to the lowest point ever.

The secret is that rather than a traditional high-pressure lamp, the projector has a solid-state illumination engine that could easily outlast the rest of the projector. There’s a bank of red LEDs and a blue laser, which is used directly as well as creating green light with a phosphor disc. This effectively replaces the projector’s fragile lamp.  

Rather than running for a few thousand hours and being warrantied for 90-days, the Casio light engine is rated for 20,000 hours of use and is likely the strongest part of the projector. That adds up to roughly 16 years of everyday school use and it is guaranteed for five years of use or 10,000 hours.

Based on its 0.65-inch Digital Light Processing imaging chip, the UT310WN delivers 1,280 by 800 resolution, can create a 42-inch image with its back to the screen and tops out at a 9-foot image. Like other ultra-short throw devices, the UT310WN lacks an optical zoom lens, although it has a digital zoom for keying in on a specific on-screen item. There’s a focus bar on the side.

UT310WN lightUnlike the Epson BrightLink 595Wi, the UT310WN has four threaded mounting holes underneath and three adjustable legs for use on a tabletop or with the optional wall and ceiling mounts; they cost $250 each. The projector is light enough for one person to install it, but lacks the mounting template and extensive instruction manual that Epson provides.

While the projector has vertical keystone correction, it lacks horizontal correction, so it needs to be set up directly in front of the screen. It does without an image shift mechanism or test images that can streamline setting the projector up.

The trend these days is to include a set of interactive pens with classroom projectors, but the UT310WN lacks this feature. On the other hand, the system’s array of ports is impressive with an HDMI, a pair of VGA as well as S- and Composite video inputs. In addition to a VGA-out port for using a second display, the UT310WN has a pair of audio out jacks and a microphone connection for turning the projector’s 16-watt amplifier into a classroom-wide public address system.

It has several bonuses that other projectors either ignore or charge for. In addition to a mini-USB port for loading a logo that is displayed when the projector starts up, the projector includes a USB-based WiFi adapter and can display material from a memory key or the projector’s 2GB of internal memory.  It can even display what’s on a PC or Mac via a USB cable, but needs to be run as an Administrator.

Like many of its competitors, the UT310WN can wirelessly display what’s on a phone or tablet. There C-Asist apps for iPads, iPhones and Android phones or tablets to show all sorts of items on the big screen.

Ut310wn bFor schools, the UT310WN can do one thing that no other projector can do: connect directly with a graphing calculator to display what’s on its screen. This is perfect for lighting up a math class or science lab, but it works only with 7 different Casio calculators.

Plus, there’s a well-designed cable cover that screws into the side of the projector that can effectively hide what can otherwise become a warren of wires. The projector includes VGA and USB cables, but nothing for an HDMI connection.

There’s a good set of controls along with a remote control that has dedicated buttons for multimedia controls, keystone correction, digital zooming and volume. It feels good in the hand, but unfortunately, the key aren’t lit.

There’s a multitude of adjustments you can make to the picture, including three color temperature settings along with the ability to minutely adjust Brightness and Contrast. The projector has several operating modes, including Graphics, Theater, Blackboard and Natural and sets the pace in terms of power control with no fewer than 7 different levels of power use. On the downside, the power settings are not all adjusted in the same place and using some power-saving features eliminates the ability to adjust some parameters.

It really shows up in the projector’s power use and estimated annual expenses. At full blast, the projector uses 210-watts, 100-watts less than the slightly brighter BrightLink 595Wi. This drops to 1.9-watts in sleep mode. It adds up to annual expenses of just $32, half that of the Epson projector, assuming the UT310WN is used for 6 hours a day for every school day and electricity costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Ut310wn dThe UT310WN is a fast starter as well, taking 9.6-seconds to put a fully bright image on-screen; it took less than a second to shut itself off and its exhaust never got above 112-degrees Fahrenheit. The projector put 3,250 lumens of light on the screen, slightly above its 3,100 lumen rating, but less than the nearly 4,000 that the BL 595Wi puts out.

Overall, its color balance appears to be on the cold side, but if you adjust the color temperature to Warm and use Theater mode, things look much better. Overall, it looks great with vivid graphics, realistic flesh tones and especially sharp yellows.

While the UT310WN lacks the ability to use an interactive pen, it more than makes up for it with its ability to connect better than just about any other projector today and sets the pace when it comes to how much it costs to use.

A

Ut310wn a

Casio XJ-UT310WN

$1,800

+ Bright Image

+ Inexpensive to operate

+ Cable cover

+ 5-year warranty on light engine

+ Includes WiFi

+ Calculator connection

 

- No interactive pens

- Lacks horizontal Keystone correction

Wireless Projector

Np-m402h_slantAt $1,200, NEC’s NP-M402H projector is probably too expensive for every classroom, but it’s perfect for an auditorium or lecture hall. Capable of putting 1,920 by 1,080 resolution on a big screen, the NP-M402H uses a single chip DLP imaging target and a traditional high-pressure lamp to deliver 4,000 lumens. In addition to a pair of HDMI inputs, it can work with VGA and USB video inputs. A big breakthrough for school projectors is that the M402H can not only connect with either with a WiFi or wired network, but it can be the room’s access point for others to get online. It comes with a three-year warranty.

 

Web Site Design by the (Comic) Book

10593197_10202651421711457_2958735118496444393_nThere’s no shortage of books and interactive lessons on building Web sites, but Nate Cooper has what is probably the first comic book on the tools needed to create a Web presence. The 264-page book has a series of pen and ink drawings by Kim Gee that explain the intricacies of everything from HTML and Cascading Style Sheets to how to get the most out of Wordpress. The book follows Kim and her dog Tofu as they learn about how to make a Web site. It’s all painless, highly educational and can be had on Amazon for about $13 a copy.   

 

Freebee Friday: Bottomless Data Pit

Drive-64Teachers, students and admins should never have to pick what items to save and what to delete, and Google lets you do exactly that with unlimited storage on Google Drive for Education. It’s as simple as that, download and install the app and you can put whatever you have onto the online Drive storage repository. Plus, every file is encrypted for security and staffers can monitor activity on any file stored on Drive.

Freebee Friday: Opening New Lines of Communication

School circle bWhether it’s to discuss a discipline problem or an underachieving student, setting up a parent-teacher conference takes too much effort and time. Enter SchoolCircle, software, which can facilitate meetings and communication between a teacher and a parent. For the teacher, it’s as simple as inviting a parent to a meeting. The system can also be used for scheduling field trips, events and open-house nights as well as provide key documents or a daily classroom update to parents. There’s an online demo so you can see how the software works.

 

 

Cheap to Keep

Hp stream 11.6If spending $350 or $400 on a school notebook is too much, HP’s latest Stream systems cut the price to the bone. Available with 14-, 13.3- and 11.6-inch high-definition screens, the systems can be had for $300, $229 and $199. Powered by an Intel Celeron or AMD A4 processor, each Stream system comes with Windows 8.1, 32GB of solid-state storage as well as a year of Office 365, 1 TB of online storage and a $25 Microsoft gift card.

 

Avoiding the Monitor Blues

AOC-Anti-blue-light-600x478Regardless of whether you have a cheap 17-inch screen or a professional 27-inch monitor, they all do one thing that isn’t good for you and your eyes. They all give off a lot of ultraviolet rays that can cause macular degeneration and other ocular damage over time. AOC’s Anti-Blue Light technology will be used on the company’s upcoming 76V family of monitors, which blocks 90 percent of the most damaging light without affecting image quality or the screen’s color balance. Look for the monitors later this year.

The Power Tablet

Portege-Z10t-A1110-600-12If you ever wanted to see what the most powerful tablet looks like, here it is. Toshiba’s Portege Z10t not only is a high-performance ultra-portable slate, but with its included keyboard base, it can double as a regular old notebook computer.

The textured gray tablet itself weighs in at 1.8-pounds, 6-ounces heavier than the iPad, which has a smaller screen. It is half an inch thick and occupies 11.6- by 7.4-inches of desk space. On its own, the slate feels good in the hand, sits flat on a table and automatically rotates its screen when the unit is turned.

With the included snap-on keyboard, its weight rises to 3.1-pounds. The system takes up 0.8- by 11.6- by 8.8-inches – about what you’d expect from a small notebook these days.

Rather than have up to five distinct computing profiles, as is the case with other convertibles, the Portege Z10t can be a tablet or keyboard-centric notebook. It can neither be set up in presentation mode, in tent mode nor flat on a table with the keyboard in front as is the case with the Toshiba Radius P55W.

While the slate and keyboard base mate easily and are locked in place with a single latch, it has a traditional hinge that allows the screen to open to only about 115-degrees. If you tap the screen too energetically, the whole thing tips over.

On the other hand, pulling the slate free of the keyboard dock takes a bit of getting used to because the latch release is a little stiff. I prefer the magnetic design used on Acer’s Iconia Switch 10 where you just pull it free of the base.

Portege-Z10t-A1110-600-13The 11.6-inch display can show full HD material and responds to up to 10 independent touch inputs. I found that the long narrow display is great for reading a long online article with less scrolling or watching a widescreen movie.

Although it worked well with a generic stylus, the system includes a small stylus that fits into the slate and is good for quick notes or sketches as well as a larger more comfortable one that that has a pocket clip and an eraser for those apps that support it, such as Sticky Notes. I really appreciate that the screen’s surface has a roughened feel to it that makes touch and writing on it seem more like paper.

With the keyboard in place, the system is the equivalent of a small notebook. Its keyboard has a cut-out above its release latch for the screen’s Windows key and there’s a full set of 19.1-milimeter keys, which feels like a big step up from on-screen keypads. While the keys can quickly wake the system up, unfortunately, they lack the depth that other add-on keyboards, like the one for the ThinkPad 10, provide.

The keyboard has the luxury of both a touchpad and a pointing stick. Because the keys are backlit, the Portege Z10t is perfect for lessons given by the light of a projector. The base, however, doesn’t have a second battery that could have extended the system’s time away from an AC outlet.

Happily, it has been designed for abuse at school with a tough skin and a 256GB solid state hard drive. The A2110 model I looked at has been built for speed with a Core i7 processor that usually runs at 1.7GHz but can go as fast as 2.9GHz. It has 8GB of RAM, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and a security-conscious TPM module. At $1,900, however, it is priced out of the reach of all but the best endowed schools. Toshiba sells a less powerful Portege Z10t model with a Core i5 processor and half as much RAM and storage space that starts at $1,500.

Portege-Z10t-A1110-600-03With cameras front and back, the system can be used for video conferences as well as for shooting a class picture or taking a video of pictures of a lab. Around its edge, the Z10t slate has a basic set of ports with USB 3.0, micro-HDMI and a headphone jack; there’s an SD card slot for adding to its storage potential. Snapping on the keyboard adds another USB port as well as a full-size HDMI, LAN and VGA plugs.

Not only can the system be powered by plugging the 6-ounce AC adapter into either the tablet or the keyboard, but its two-prong plug that should come in handy in older schools with older electrical outlets. On the downside, the Z10t has a loud fan that makes too much noise when it’s working hard.

It all adds up to the top-performing tablet I’ve seen with a Passmark PerformanceTest 8 score of 1,889.2, putting it in the upper echelon of educational computers.  As powerful as it is, the Z10t’s 3,600-milliamp hour battery was able to power it for 4 hours and 50 minutes of non-stop work, an hour and a half short of the company’s larger Radius convertible system. Still, it’s enough for a full school day of on-and-off work with more than enough left over for playing games or grading tests.

Expensive and worth it, the $1,900 Portege Z10t-A2110 model I looked at comes with its snap-on keyboard, Windows 8.1 Pro and a 3-year warranty, which together are worth about $650 compared to lesser slates. It may not be able to assume five different personalities, like the larger Satellite Radius, but the Z10t is equally good as either a slate or a mini-notebook and can outperform the competition.

In other words, if price is no object, this is the keyboard and slate combo to get.

A-

Portege-Z10t-A1110-600-05

Toshiba Portege Z10t-A2110

$1,900

+ Top tablet performance

+ Includes two passive pens

+ Backlit keyboard

+ 3-year warranty

+ Two-in-One design

- Expensive

- Tablet latch hard to use

 

 

 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.