The latest network video switch from Atlona can not only deliver smooth streams of ultra-HD video but adds a bunch of new abilities. The two-piece AT-UHD-CLSO-840 matrix switcher has eight inputs (three of which use HDBaseT) and four outputs (two of which are HDBaseT). This variety and the ability to go between any input and output adds up to allowing high quality video conferences and split-screen set ups just about anywhere. It can be powered by the school’s CAT-6 cabling, has a range of 330 feet and can be controlled over the network with the company’s AMS software. It’ll be out early next year at $5,000.
The dream of inexpensively enabling students and teachers to take over the classroom’s big screen has arrived with ActionTec’s ScreenBeam 960. At $300, it undersells the competition but it isn’t as inclusive as it should be.
It’s role in today’s classroom is to wirelessly receive audio and video from a notebook, tablet or phone so everyone participates and has a good view of the action. Able to tap into dual-band 802.11ac WiFi networks, it’s essential for the high bandwidth data flow in today’s classrooms. The best part is that because it uses WiFi Direct’s peer-to-peer connections, the Screen Beam doesn’t add any overhead to the network.
At 1.0- by 6.5- by 6.5-inches, the black domed ScreenBeam looks like a conference call phone. It lacks a microphone and speakers.
Around its edge, the ScreenBeam base station has an HDMI port for connecting with the room’s large monitor or projector as well as connections for power and the school’s wired LAN for making adjustments to the ScreenBeam 960.
In addition to an audio jack for speakers, ScreenBeam has a USB connector for linking the device to an interactive whiteboard, but unfortunately, not a thumb drive containing images or videos. The device has VGA-in and -out ports for working with older computers and projectors. There’s a power connection and a recessed reset button.
Although it is well designed and easy to use, the ScreenBeam 960 is basic with no controls on the unit or a remote control. Setting it up takes about five minutes and starts with positioning it near the projector or large screen. It lacks VESA mounting hardware or an optional bracket, but is light and small enough to use Velcro tape to secure it in place.
Setting the system up starts with plugging in its power and video cables. Using the Connect wireless display selection in Windows 8.1 or 10 or the Miracast abilities of an Android phone or tablet, all you need to do is type in the ScreenBeam’s security code and 15 seconds later you’re connected.
On the downside, the system ignores Windows 7 systems that are so prevalent in education today. There is a work-around by using the product’s $40 USB Transmitter on an older computer. Unfortunately, there’s no way to connect a Windows XP PC, Chromebook, iPad or Mac to the ScreenBeam.
Using a Samsung Galaxy S2 Tab, Asus Zen 8 and a Toshiba Radius notebook, ScreenBeam worked reliably and delivered clear and smooth video. It has the annoying tendency to refuse a connection but always worked on the second try. Aside from the occasional artifact or hiccup, the video looked great at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and 30 frames per second.
Because it uses WiFi and not Bluetooth, the range of the ScreenBeam was close to 100-feet. This makes it appropriate in a standard classroom as well as an auditorium, lecture hall or repurposed cafeteria after lunch.
It’s not in its element as a quick-change artist. To move to a different source, you need to manually disconnect and then let the next user connect, at least a 30-second process. Plus, unlike other similar, though more expensive, systems such as Barco’s ClickShare, ScreenBeam can’t put two, four or more screens up at once for comparison.
The device’s Central Management System (CMS) makes updates and configuration changes easy, regardless of whether you have a dozen or a hundred ScreenBeam systems. You need to use the system’s Ethernet port.
Actiontec’s ScreenBeam 960 is not nearly as slick as ClickShare, but at $300 you can outfit five classrooms for the cost of one $1,750 ClickShare set up. Plus, you don’t need to pass around the USB clickers to those who want to connect. On the other hand, ClickShare covers the bases better with PC, Mac, Android and iPad compatibility.
Late in 2014, Mesa (Arizona) Public Schools equipped 3,600 of its classrooms with ScreenBeam receivers connected to Hitachi projectors, while revamping its WiFi infrastructure with Cisco 802.11n access points. It’s in use every day for teachers to project lessons to the class.
In any event, Actiontec’s ScreenBeam 960 can turn a projector or large display into a device that the whole class can use and share without busting the budget.
+ Quick connections
+ Long range
+ PC and Android
+ Ethernet connection
+ Central configuration and update software
- No XP, Chromebook, iPhone or Mac software
- Can’t display two or four inputs at once
There’s a new Arlo in town and it is a big step forward from the other second-generation surveillance cameras from Netgear. The latest Arlo Go Mobile Camera doesn’t need WiFi to move its video clips to Netgear’s cloud storage network because it relies on a high-speed LTE-based mobile data network, completely untethering the camera from a school’s network. Perfect for everything from covering the football field, parking lot or anyplace that the WiFi network doesn’t reach, the Arlo Go Mobile is weather-proof and can capture audio as well as video. It costs $450, uses AT&T for its data provider and will be out early next year.
As if the original Arlo surveillance cameras weren’t enough, the second generation does so much more. In addition to the wireless cam's 100dB siren for reporting break-ins and emergencies, the Pro version now has rechargeable batteries to replace those hard-to-find C123 cells. They should go for something like 6-months before needing a charge, according to Netgear.
Arlo has an IP65 weatherproof rating and still sends out mobile alerts when it sees some motion or hears intruders. The system comes with cloud storage and playback of up to a week of intermittent recordings for up to 5 cameras for free. It also now has two-way audio so it can be an intercom at a remote entrance or a parking lot gate.
The Arlo Pro model is built around an ultra-wide 130-degree field of view lens that can see more and is able to trigger the motion sensor quicker. On the downside, the Pro cameras are slightly larger than the original Arlo cameras and are a little more expensive at $189 on their own or $249 with the base station. The good news is that you can use the new cams with the current base station and Netgear has a four-cam package for $650.
Look for a bunch of accessories that can make the Arlo Pro more independent. To start, Netgear has thin black rubber covers so the cams can blend in with the background while keeping rain off of the lens. There’s also mounting hardware that can be wrapped around a pipe or set up as a tripod. The big new device is a two-battery charging station to make sure that Arlo’s batteries are always ready. Then, early next year, Netgear will introduce a $59 solar panel that will deliver 2-watts of power when the sun shines. This should be more than enough to trickle charge the camera’s lithium ion battery so the camera is always fully charged and ready to catch the action.
Thunderbolt 3 has the potential to run a pair of top resolution monitors at once, but you need the right connections. StarTech’s Thunderbolt 3 Dual-4K Docking Station for Laptops can do the trick. It can handle either a single 5K resolution screen or pair of 3,840 by 2,160 displays. The key is that is connects to a PC (sorry, no Mac support as yet) via a USB-C port and provides access to a trio of USB 3.0 devices, Gigabit wired Ethernet as well as audio-in and -out ports
Swivl’s Recap takes classroom video to a new level with the ability of the teacher to ask questions that students then respond to in clips that are uploaded, watched and evaluated. It leads to deeper responses that go beyond the simple yes and no with the ability to explain and elaborate. Meanwhile Recap’s teacher’s dashboard can show who’s responded, who hasn’t as well as categorize the videos for the class to see. It works on just about any connected platform, including Chromebooks, and the program has garnered more than 250,000 users.
Regardless of whether it’s for a teacher training film or student movies, creating, distributing and showing videos is all about storytelling, but few schools are equipped with the right gear to get the most out of the medium. For instance, shooting smartphones can be awkward to shoot with and produce jittery vids that sound like they were shot in a shower, but there are things you can do to clean up the image and audio. Snap! Pro Premium’s case and lens kit can turn an iPhone 6 or 6s into a competent camera. It includes the case with a comfy grip handle and a shutter button as well as a tripod mount. The kit costs $130 and comes with wide-angle and macro lenses and a soft felt bag.
Canon’s Video Creator Kit takes this to a new level by combining a professional Eos Rebel T6i camera, an 18-to-55 millimeter zoom lens and a high-end Rode Video Mic Go shotgun microphone that snaps onto the camera. The camera can create vivid HD video streams that can be controlled by Canon’s phone app and your smart phone or tablet. The kit comes with a 32GB SD card to store your clips, but the whole thing comes together if you get Canon’s $300 Connect Station CS100. The small base can move your videos without having to plug it into the camera because it connects with the camera using Near Field Communications (NFC) technology and WiFi. Just put the camera on the CS100 and the videos can be sent to the network or displayed on a monitor or projector. All you need to do is say, “Action.”
But, video clips are never in the right place and the right time. That’s where Key Digital’s KD-HD8X8 Lite comes in. The video switcher and distribution system can not only switch between video sources and output, but it can handle both HDMI and network-based HD Base T streams. Able to work with HD and Ultra HD resolution clips, it can also integrate 3-D signals. The device can work with eight inputs and 16 outputs, but Key Digital also sells versions that use 4X4 and 6X6 architecture. They all include a lifetime warranty.
The final step is in this trail of video is actually showing the videos and there’s nothing like the theatrical experience of a projector. Benq’s $1,500 MW883UST can light up a classroom with 3,300 lumens of light. Based on TI’s digital light processing imaging chip, the ultra-short throw MW883UST delivers 1,280 by 800 resolution and can fill screens as big as 11.7-feet, so it can be used in an auditorium. Everyone can go up to the screen and interact with the projected image by using Benq’s PointWrite pens. Teachers can save and distribute lessons with the company’s QWrite software.
If you like the Lifesize ConferenceCam videoconference gear, it has just gotten better with the inclusion of a full computer to control everything. The ConferenceCam Kit has everything that the ConferenceCam has but adds an Intel NUC micro-PC, giving you a self-contained VC setup. The PC has Intel’s Unite software installed that can help make everything connect first time, every time. The $1,500 package includes a Logitech K400 Plus wireless keyboard.
While there’s no explicit limit on the length of how long HDMI video cables can carry high-quality streams, the practical limit is about 50-feet. Beyond that for larger rooms, auditoriums or classes, you need a different approach. The best way is to convert the video stream with audio included into a digital format that can travel over regular old Cat 5 or Cat 6 LAN cables. You will need some special hardware at each end to pull it off, and that’s where Tripp-Lite’s B126-1A1 kit comes in.
The good news is that the $150 B126-1A1 set is not only inexpensive and easy to hide but doesn’t require adding any software. It doesn’t compress the video because the cables can actually handle a gigabit of data per second. In fact, you can think of the kit as an extra-long video cable. There’s a dedicated sender and receiver with an HDMI port at one end and an RJ-45 LAN port at the other. Both require power from an included AC adapter and include brackets for mounting the devices on a rack.
Able to support 24-bit color, 3-D and eight-channel audio, setting the B126-1A1 up literally takes a minute. Plug the sender in to the source material, connect the LAN cable and then plug the receiver in to the display. Each power plug can be screwed into the B126-1A1 device so that it doesn’t accidentally get loose at exactly the wrong moment.
Don’t get worried if after powering the devices up, the system doesn’t work because there’s an equalization dial that might need to be adjusted. Calibrated from 0 to 7. The only way to figure out the right setting is trial and error.
Using the B126-1A1 pair with a variety of Cat-6 LAN cables, I was able to move a 1080-p signal for as far as 180-feet. A little farther and the signal starts to lose frames and show odd artifacts. That’s slightly farther than the company’s 150-foot spec. According to Tripp-Lite, the system can move an interlaced signal 200-feet. If that’s not enough, the company sells B126-110 repeaters that roughly double the extender’s range and you can use up to three without degrading the signal.
If you’re requirements aren’t that demanding, Tripp-Lite’s B126-1A0 set uses USB power, costs about $70 and worked well up to about 150-feet. Either way, using HDMI over Cat-6 cables lets you to put video displays exactly where you want them without having to think about how far HDMI cables can reach.
+ Uses networking cables to move uncompressed video
+ HD capable
+ Full 7.1 audio
+ No software to install
+ Lockable power input
- Can’t work on active network
- Need to adjust equalization
The next time you put the sign-up sheet on your classroom door for a round of parent-teacher conferences just might be your last. That’s because the latest video conferencing gear can bring teachers and parents together while allowing them to be in separate locations. The Lifesize Group kit includes an HD video camera with a wide 90-degree field of view that uses the latest H.264 codec with video scaling for high quality streaming. This allows everyone in the room to be seen or you can zoom in on a single head with the auto-focus 10X optical lens for a one-on-one video chat. Its remote can control the camera’s panning and tilting as well as its zooming.
In addition to a connection hub, the Group kit has a speakerphone with 4 microphones for lifelike audio. By using beamforming technology, participants as far as 20-feet from the speakerphone can be heard. The speakerphone’s display shows that you’re connected.
At $1,000, it is the videoconference bargain of the year, and adding a second microphone brings the total cost to $1,250. Either way, it’s a small fraction of what similar gear from Cisco, Polycom or Vaddio cost and the Group kit is easier to set up and use. All you’ll need is a connected computer, which can be a mobile phone, a tablet or a notebook.
For schools worried about extra monthly service bills for video-conferences, the Group is agnostic as to what service it uses and works just as well with free ones as with ones that charge. It can be set up on Skype, Lync, Google+, WebEx, Vydo, Zoom and others so that you can connect with any parent, anywhere without leaving the school.