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Black Box Wireless Presentation System II Review

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Black Box
Wireless Video Presentation System II
Wi-Fi VGA Presentation System

Bill Livolsi, December 6, 2010
ProjectorCentral.com

If you have a frequently-used conference room, you already know how much of a hassle connections can be. Every computer system is different, and switching from one source to another can be frustrating. Enter the Wireless Video Presentation System II from Black Box, a wireless video system capable of sending computer video signals over a simple wireless network.

The idea is simple: connect your computer to the Black Box WVPS II's wireless network, install their software, and your computer streams video data over the wireless network. In practice, the WVPS II has quite a few tricks aside from just simple projection. It also has a few flaws that one might not anticipate. But all in all, for a high-volume shared conference space, it's a good investment at $449 direct from Black Box or as low as $380 from licensed resellers.

Applications/Best Uses

What the WVPS II does, in its simplest form, is removes the need to connect audio and video cables between projector and computer. It also allows you to connect more than one projector at a time; up to four can be displayed in split-screen, with more participants connected and waiting in the wings. Browser-based conference management software allows the meeting host to control whose turn it is.

The WVPS II is ideal for a conference room that is shared by a large number of people, especially if some of those people come from outside your company or use non-standard laptops. Since laptops these days use a wide variety of video connections ranging from VGA to DVI and HDMI as well as all manner of proprietary connectors, this is not an uncommon situation.

The WVPS II can be attached to any projector with a VGA port, but it can only output three resolutions: 1024x768, 1280x768, or 800x600. For the best visual experience, use a projector with one of these native resolutions. The presenters' laptops must be connected to the WVPS II's own wireless network during use, so anyone relying on WiFi for their Internet connection will need to make alternate arrangements. Luckily, connecting the WVPS II to your workplace's wired network allows the unit to serve as a wireless bridge. If your presenters need Internet connectivity, make sure to run an RJ45/ethernet cable to the WVPS II unit.

Advantages

Wireless projection. As the name might imply, the big draw of the WVPS II is wireless video presentation. Connectivity can be a hassle with conference projectors. Even if the projector you want has the port you need, there's the physical act of running cable from the projector to the presenter's location and connecting the cable itself to the machine in question. This goes double for audio connections. The WVPS II eliminates the problem, even allowing people to present from their seats or the front of the room, rather than being forced to connect wherever the wires terminate.

The WVPS II works exactly as advertised. We took an inexpensive XGA laptop, connected the wireless, downloaded and installed the provided software, and had a picture on screen within five minutes--and that's initial setup time, without ever having used the device before. When you connect to the WVPS II's wireless network and open your browser, you are automatically redirected to a download page for the presentation software that's built into the device itself. It's all very intuitive. The software installs quickly--maybe thirty seconds--and then it's off to the races. The software prompts for a code, displayed in the projected image, to ensure no one is trying to hijack your presentation. Once you input this code, your screen image is projected. That's it. Compared to some of the wireless presentation software we have used over the past few years, this implementation is rather simple.

Easy conferencing. With no wires, it becomes trivial to connect multiple computers to the same projector simultaneously--just have them all join the WVPS II's wireless network and you're all set. One conference participant can, using the WVPS II's administration tools, act as a virtual emcee, controlling whose presentation takes the screen at any one time. Moreover, one can share the screen four ways, if so desired.

If you've ever tried to run a conference with multiple presenters back to back, you already know it can be rough. One either has to load all of the presentations on to a common computer with all of the requisite software or wait between presenters as connections are unmade and made anew. Either way, the switching can disrupt the flow of a meeting and take up valuable time--and heavens forbid someone uses a different version of PowerPoint or wants to play a movie that is incompatible with your system. The WVPS II is an elegant solution to a complicated problem. And, since presenters can download and install the software while their colleagues are presenting, there is zero down time.

Browser-based administration. If you are not presenting but wish to control who is, you don't even need to install the software. Simply connect to the wireless network and use the Conference Control menu option in your browser. Conference Control allows you to decide who has control of the screen and when they have control of it. It also provides a list of everyone connected to the WVPS II, so you can see who is having problems getting started.

Cross-platform compatibility. The WVPS II is compatible with Windows 2000 and newer (that includes XP, Vista, and 7) as well as Mac OS X. All client software is obtained through the browser save the Macintosh version, which must be obtained from the included USB token.

The WVPS II can also connect to an available Windows Mobile device with WiFi capability. This is both a cool feature and a big disappointment--we'd love to connect to a smartphone, but Windows Mobile is dead in the water and has been since at least early 2009. With stiff competition from Google Android, Blackberry, and Apple's iPhone, Windows Mobile is almost nonexistent in the smartphone market and is even in third place in enterprise use, where it has traditionally been favored. It's like saying the WVPS II is compatible with WebTV--interesting, but ultimately useless.

USB token. If for some reason setup is giving you trouble, or you simply want to make someone's life even easier, you can set up a USB token to simplify things. Connect to the wireless network as normal, plug in the token, and the rest should take care of itself. In a few seconds, your desktop will be up on screen without any further input from the user. This is a great choice for the technologically impaired, or simply people who don't like to fuss around with settings. It is truly a plug-and-play system.

Security. Obviously, any wireless system like the WVPS II has a greater potential for unauthorized access than a wired system does. To combat this, the WVPS II includes several security features that control access to the presentation environment. First of all, the WVPS II is compatible with a WEP security key, though not the more advanced WPA or WPA2 protocols. WEP has some weaknesses that are well-known to security and IT specialists, but it is better than nothing.

Next comes the login to the software itself. In order to gain access to the projection environment, one must enter a four-digit code generated by the WVPS II itself. This code changes every time you start the device and can only be accessed by physically looking at the projector screen before starting a presentation (when no one has yet logged in, the projector will display the code on the screen). This means that anyone outside of the room cannot simply "jump in" to your presentation without first guessing a four-digit security code. Since there are 10,000 possible codes, your presentation is secure.

Limitations

Frame rate and delay. The WVPS II system is best used with still content, like a slide show or a series of photographs, rather than full motion video. This is because frame rate is much lower than a comparable wired system, so video can appear jerky or stuttering. Additionally, video can sometimes suffer significant delay, bringing it out of synch with audio.

Why does this happen? The main issue with presentation over wireless is available bandwidth. The bandwidth of a wired VGA signal is much greater than that of a wireless transmission. Furthermore it is not shared while the wireless connection is. It is difficult to compare VGA and WiFi bandwidth since one is analog and the other is digital, but consider this: 802.11g wireless has a maximum bandwidth of 6.75 megabytes per second. A simple single-link DVI cable has a maximum bandwidth of 0.619 gigabytes per second. In other words, DVI is anout one hundred times faster. So when using a wireless connection, each user has much less bandwidth, thereby limiting the amount of data that can be transmitted. The WVPS II's presentation software does its best to optimize, including a video mode that prioritized frame rate and synch, but the end result is still fewer frames per second and a jerkier appearance with video.

Slideshows or photographs do not suffer, because the content on screen is static. Frame rate only matters when changing slides, and in these instances a little bit of delay can go unnoticed. But when you're watching video, you will see delay, stuttering, dropped frames, and a generally unpleasant video experience. If you need high-quality video, stick to wires.

Dated technology. This is more of a general feeling, but several technologies in the WVPS II feel like leftovers from the previous generation. WPA security has been required for Wi-Fi certification since at least 2003, yet the WVPS II lacks WPA support. 1280x768 is much less common than 1280x800 in laptop computers, yet 1280x800 is not supported while 1280x768 is. And of all the mobile platforms to support, the developers chose to use Windows Mobile, an operating system that has been on its way out the door since late 2008. While these quirks do not affect the core functionality of the WVPS II, they do seem like odd choices.

Conclusion

The Black Box Wireless Video Presentation System II is, despite the lengthy name, a simple product that fills a need in the business presentation world. Now there is a non-brand-specific way to display presentations wirelessly that is easy to use and understand. While it is not suitable for extensive video use, it is a great choice for that most common of meeting companions: the PowerPoint slideshow.

The Black Box WVPS II is not for everyone. If your company has dedicated conference rooms, or you don't often switch presenters in mid-meeting, the WVPS II would be overkill. It is designed to make life easier in high-traffic meeting rooms under very specific circumstances, and it does that job admirably. As long as you are aware of the limitations, the WVPS II can make your meetings run much more smoothly.


(05/19/19 - 10:30 AM PST)
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