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What’s all This About Wireless AV?

Ben Shemuel

Given: We all want wireless AV – a cable-free connection from user’s tablets/laptops, to an AV-equipped room’s display or projection system. We include wireless presentation (WP) systems in nearly all of our projects because they save money and add flexibility. Should you include one in your next AV project?

With Cables, It’s Good to be Adaptable

Having to plug in before presenting is a pain. Cables are often incompatible, lost, broken, or too short. They add cost to an audiovisual system: cables have to travel through fancy tabletop boxes and conduit, and additional audiovisual hardware is required to switch between multiple cables and a room’s display.

While we’ve connected our laptops and tablets to our homes’ and organizations’ wireless computer (Wi-Fi) networks reliably for years, most of us can’t yet present visual content to a group of people without plugging in. This causes problems every day, particularly to presenters connecting their computers to audiovisual (AV) systems for the first time.

To manage this, many of us carry adaptors that allow us to connect to an AV system even when the connection is of a different type than the one on our computer. The need for adapting between mutually incompatible connections has brought products like the one below into many institutions’ presentation spaces – classrooms, lecture halls, and meeting rooms. When can we leave all of these adaptors behind and present wirelessly?

 

Liberty Cable DigitaLinx Adaptor Bracelet

Liberty Cable DigitaLinx Adaptor Bracelet

 

Wireless Presentation is Here

We can find more than a dozen products that let users show video from their laptops and tablets using projection systems and displays without connecting wires. Several are closed systems: Apple’s AirPlay works with Apple computers, tablets, and phones, not with Windows computer. The Miracast wireless sharing standard has been adopted by a variety of computer and telephone operating systems, but not by Apple devices.

Others support all the common platforms, but with limitations, like Google’s Chromecast. It “casts” anything on an Android phone or tablet, but only allows Windows and Mac users to share content from their Chrome web browsers.That’s not necessarily a huge limitation, but if you need to share a PowerPoint presentation, for example, Chromecast won’t be the most convenient solution for you.

A Fly in the (Wireless) Ointment

Some institutions either impose significant restrictions on the use of wireless devices for presentation or disallow their use entirely. These restrictions are often based on well-founded concerns over industrial espionage.

Even with the encryption built into some WP systems, acceptance of these in certain institutions will likely be slow.

Categories

Here’s how I categorize wireless presentation systems.

Software

GoToMeeting, WebEx, and similar desktop video conference alternatives use users’ devices’ built-in microphones and cameras, and allow users to share content from a single window or whatever’s on their desktops.

Benefits
  • Operating system-agnostic: (works with Apple, Android, and Windows laptops, tablets, and phones)
  • Low cost – no initial hardware purchase
  • No additional hardware required
Disadvantages
  • Optimized for, and easier to use for, web-based meetings than classroom collaboration

Cable Replacements

A group of products replaces the video cable (VGA, HDMI, etc.) with a pair of small boxes. These can often be separated by a hundred or more feet (30 or more meters). Cable-replacement wireless solutions can solve awkward problems where no convenient cabling pathway is available, like the connection from a table to an audiovisual system, or from the AV system to a projector or display.

Benefits
  • Operating system-agnostic: (works with Apple, Android, and Windows laptops, tablets, and phones)
  • Plug and play
Disadvantages
  • Moderate cost – hardware purchase required

Hybrids

A promising new category of devices has emerged. Using a device with a camera and microphone that acts as a WP receiver, the HighFive set-top box allows multiple participants – both in the room and remote from it – to join meetings, with and without video conferencing, and present content.

Benefits
  • Low cost – a combination of an up-front purchase and a subscription model
  • Operating system-agnostic: (works with Apple, Android, and Windows laptops, tablets, and phones)
  • Plug and play
Disadvantages
  • Some companies don’t allow these wireless devices because of privacy concerns.

The Upshot

WP is here in a variety of forms, and it will generally simplify presenting and lower the cost of building AV-equipped rooms. Differences between products are significant, and this will present both challenges – which one is right for my project? – and opportunities, as manufacturers incorporate features that make products superior for specific uses.

Ben Shemuel
Ben Shemuel, Principal, Vice President

Ben's passion is engineering creative ways to integrate AV systems into facilities’ common networks to keep them as technologically green as possible. He especially enjoys finding solutions for educational environments. An outstanding communicator, Ben intuits his clients’ needs and helps them define, design, and realize their audiovisual visions, from simple to complex.