Since it's ultra short-throw, the projector won't shadow educators or students at the whiteboard.

Epson's new BrightLink 450Wi ultra short-throw projector eliminates the need for a separate IWB.

In a move that could shake up the interactive whiteboard (IWB) market, two projector manufacturers have just released new products that can turn virtually any surface into an IWB.

The development means schools no longer have to buy separate hardware to enjoy the benefits of IWBs, whose interactive surface and ability to engage students have made them quite popular in classrooms.

“We would certainly consider this projector a game-changer,” said Claudine Wolas, project manager for Epson Electronics’ BrightLink 450Wi. “It’s not just the newest and latest in projectors, but in whiteboards as well.”

The BrightLink projector, introduced Jan. 13, can be mounted to any type of classroom wall (of course, the smoother the better—and old-fashioned, non-electronic whiteboards work the best). Because it’s an ultra short-throw projector, it can project a whiteboard surface image from a very short distance, meaning that as a teacher or student interacts with the surface, no shadowing exists.

The projector comes in XGA or WXGA models, and images can be anywhere from 59 inches to 96 inches diagonally with WXGA resolution, or from 55 inches to 85 inches with XGA resolution. (Click here for a full list of specs.)

“The entire projection area is the interactive area,” explained Wolas. “Before, educators would have to consider board size in terms of both pricing and classroom size, and costs would differ accordingly. With this projector, which has Epson 3LCD technology and 2,500 lumens, now educators can choose any type of size for their IWB, at no cost increase. It’s every size of whiteboard in just one projector.”

Educators and students can interact with the whiteboard surface using an infrared pen, and the software driving the system is platform-agnostic, meaning students and educators can work with virtually any Web 2.0 application, digital media file, or eTextbook.

Epson also is partnering with RM Education to provide RM’s Easiteach interactive lesson software; however, the companies have not yet decided whether RM’s content will be provided free of charge with the projector or will come at an additional cost.

As of press time, the BrightLink 450Wi was priced below $2,000 (including mount), and it will begin shipping this spring.

The day before Epson announced its new BrightLink projector, Boxlight introduced a similar product, the ProjectoWrite2/W—a short-throw LCD projector with XGA resolution that can project an IWB surface up to 80 inches diagonally. The ProjectoWrite2/W improves upon a technology that Boxlight first unveiled in 2007.

Epson and Boxlight aren’t the first companies to come out with technology that can turn any flat surface into an IWB. AVRover’s SVS200 with ONfinity CM2 Max is a portable AV system that can turn almost any surface into an IWB. And mimio’s Interactive System includes a small bar, stylus, mounting hardware, software, and USB interface that can attach to any dry-erase board or other surface to make it interactive.

But to use these other systems, schools will still need a digital projector—whereas Epson’s and Boxlight’s solutions are self-contained.

For less than $2,000—half the price of the average IWB—schools can have twice the number of IWB surfaces in their schools, simply by purchasing the BrightLink, Wolas said.

“Or they can use the money saved for other school costs,” she added.

According to Ted Lai, director of technology and media services for the Fullerton School District in Fullerton, Calif., the BrightLink 450Wi is a great solution for future-proofing classrooms.

Fullerton has been piloting one BrightLink 450Wi projector since November 2009 and plans to install another at the end of January.

Lai said that while traditional IWBs are useful, there are still problems. For example, “with a mounted LCD and IWB, there can be issues of calibration when AC units turn on or the building shakes. The shaking/calibration issues are more pronounced in portables,” he said.

He added: “With the traditional all-in-one IWB units, we have found those are much more stable, but they are also a much higher cost for the hardware and installation. Additionally, the projectors on all-in-one units are generally lower quality than what we are accustomed to. The Epson image is much clearer and brighter and has more accurate colors. Also, the BrightLink is a single unit that is installed, not a board and projector.”

And with fewer parts involved, “less can go wrong or break,” he concluded.

Mike Rodems, founder of AVRover, said adding IWB capabilities directly to a projector eliminates the need for constant recalibration, and it makes setup easy. But he noted that his company’s ONfinity solution will work with any projector, “allowing [schools] to select the projector that matches their needs best.” And with the ONfinity technology separate from the projector, “the interactive technology will be available to use long after the projector wears out, becomes obsolete, or is … damaged,” he said.

Linda Thomas, vice president of marketing for SMART Technologies, the leading manufacturer of IWBs for schools, had this to say about the new IWB-capable projectors:

“We are confident that educators will continue to choose SMART Board interactive whiteboards [owing] to their superior ease of use, driven in part by our touch technology.” (SMART Board users don’t need a stylus to interact with the board, as the company’s technology is touch-sensitive.)

Thomas continued: “There are already many low-cost, pen-only hardware offerings in the marketplace. We are not concerned about another entrant in that space. When educators invest in education technology, they are not just buying a whiteboard or a projector. They are also investing in the content, resources, and services that are required to transform classrooms. They choose SMART because we provide the best complete education solution.”

Links:

Epson

RM Easiteach

Boxlight

AVRover

mimio

SMART Technologies