Mitsubishi's newest presentation projector, the WD390U-EST, is an upgrade to last year's WD380U-EST. On its surface, it's an incremental move: a slight increase in lumens in the same case, with the same contrast, using the same lens and the same resolution imaging chip. But once you get past the surface-level stuff, there are some amazing changes.
The WD390U-EST is a "cloud projector" or "thin-client projector," depending on which terminology you like more. In short, it has the ability to connect to networked servers or computers using remote desktop protocol rather than a dedicated software suite (though it has that too). It can also connect to a number of mobile apps, allowing presenters to use their phone, tablet, or other smart device instead of a laptop or other connected computer.
This review will focus on the cloud capabilities of the WD390U-EST. For a review of the projector itself, which is excellent in its own right, you can read our July 2011 review of the Mitsubishi WD380U-EST. The two machines are largely the same in other respects.
What is a thin client?
A thin client is a bare-bones computer that relies on an external server to complete most tasks. In other words, data processing and storage doesn't occur in the computer on your desk, but in a server elsewhere on the network. These kinds of computers used to be called terminals, back when proper computers took up an entire room and cost very large sums of money. A typical thin client setup consists of a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and a box with enough hardware to allow communication with the server.
The WD390U is called a "thin client projector" because it includes these capabilities on-board. Using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), the WD390U allows you to log in to your server account using the same process you'd use on any other thin client terminal. From there, you can access all of your files. Everything behaves exactly the same way that it would on the terminal at your desk.
This has big implications in a number of different areas. First and foremost, users no longer have to learn how to connect a laptop to the projection system, which eliminates what might be the most common call to IT help desks. Instead, they can input the username and password from their existing office PC to connect remotely and access their own files, on their own computer, right where they left them.
Information technology makes modern presentations possible, to a large extent, but learning how to use that technology is a significant stumbling block for a lot of people. Plenty of people don't know a VGA cable from an HDMI cable or which buttons to push in order to make their laptop output to another display. Plenty of people don't know what file format they use to save their documents beyond "Word" or "Excel." For these people, the act of creating a presentation and somehow conveying it to the projector is no small endeavor. These people benefit tremendously from the WD390U's thin client projection features.
While the WD390U's thin client features are very useful, they still require the use of a computer. In 2013, users are increasingly relying on smartphones and tablets, and the WD390U provides a way to directly connect to these devices, bypassing the computer entirely. Using an app called WiFiDoc, a user with an Android or iOS device can display Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint slide shows, PDFs, plain text files, or even images from your phone's photo library.
The use of WiFiDoc does require some forethought on the part of the user, since the app has to be downloaded and the documents you want to use have to be transferred to your phone or tablet ahead of time. You'll also need to know the ID of the projector to which you want to connect, so descriptive projector names on the network are helpful. You can do this using the included software.