Ted on Tech: Presentation hardware — what works when

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Two years ago, I talked about hardware for making presentations. At that time, I suggested a projector for when you had to travel, and a large screen display in your conference room. Today, after having tested both in various circumstances, I’m leaning towards an inexpensive projector as an overall solution, unless you need something in a frequently used conference or meeting room that will mount on the wall.

Large monitor prices have gone down while sizes have gone up, so it’s possible to get a 65-inch diagonal high-resolution display for under a thousand dollars. Of course, it’s also quite easy to spend considerably more than that, but even a $500 large-screen TV set with an HDMI input will work for most conference room settings unless you intend to turn the room into a theater as well. But if you have to frequently give presentations at client sites, the large TV/monitor isn’t going to be a viable solution, so projector it is.

Two things to consider in a presentation device are clarity and brightness. Most 1080p HD (high definition) TV sets offer resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, while 4K TV resolution is 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. If you are using a laptop as the output device connected to the display, those resolutions are somewhat greater than some laptops normally provide, though many will allow you to set the resolution on a second display at a different resolution than the primary display. Still, unless you want to display very dense spreadsheets, HD and 4K resolution is probably overkill for many projector users.

What will make more sense for many of you is a projector with WXGA resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, which is the same resolution that many of us use on our laptops and even tablets (though a growing number of tablets can display at 1920 x 1080 pixels).

I’ve used pico Projectors in the past, several of them about the size of a paperback book. These kind of disappeared from the market for a few years, but recently seem to be making a bit of a comeback. They’re light and easy to carry, but have two limitations that led me to find an alternative. The first is price. A decent pico Projector tends to be as expensive as a full size device. I also don’t like the limited light output, generally 150 lumens or less (a lumen is a measure of light output). With this low an output, a dark room is a necessity.

Recently, I’ve been testing a VS355 projector from Epson. Epson sends me a lot of things to review, and I’ve had good experiences with their projectors in the past. Bottom line on the VS355—I like it. It’s relatively lightweight for what is essentially a full-size projector, about five and a half pounds. Given today’s ultra-thin, ultra-light laptops, that seems heavy, but it’s pretty much what most laptops weighed just a few years ago. The VS355 is a compact three-chip LCD projector, measuring about 12 x 9.2 x 3.2 inches. It puts out 3,300 lumens, which is enough to shine a bright image on a wall in a normally lit room. It’s very easy to set up, with connectors for HDMI, USB, VGA, composite video (RGB which hardly anyone still uses) and an Audio In connector. The projector also has an internal speaker, so if you are showing a video, the sound will play as well. Resolution is 1280 x 800 pixels, or WXGA, and it’s fine for displaying most spreadsheets and great for PowerPoint. My test unit came with a VGA cable, but not with an HDMI or USB cable, though either of those cost just a few dollars. The VS355 sells for $459. Epson has several less expensive projectors, but these either don’t have the light output or the resolution of the VS355. Still, if you are on a really tight budget, one of these may be worth a look.

Light and cheap

One of the main reasons to go with a device such as the VS355 is that it’s easy to take with you. An inexpensive laptop case, backpack or roller, should more than do the trick. I carry mine in a messenger bag. Of course, adding a laptop to make a PowerPoint presentation not only adds to the expense of your inexpensive display setup, but the weight.

One alternative to a laptop is running the LibreOffice or Microsoft Office viewer from a tablet. LibreOffice is a free office suite that’s compatible with Microsoft office, and viewers for Android and iOS are available. Microsoft also has a PowerPoint viewer for Android and iOS, though you will have to create the actual presentation on a PC or Mac and upload it to the Cloud where the viewer can access it. Also, connecting the VS355, or pretty much any other projector, to an iPad or iPhone can be done, but it requires either an adapter cable that provides an HDMI output, or a projector with Wi-Fi capability (which the VS355 does not offer).

On the other hand, many Android tablets have a USB port that can be used to connect to the VS355. I often use a Microsoft Surface 3 tablet that’s a few years old but runs Windows 10. It also has Microsoft Office installed and fits comfortably in the messenger case I use. Making a presentation from this is about as easy as it gets. The Surface has a microUSB port, so all I have to do is run a USB cable to the projector and set the display on the tablet to mirror on the second device (i.e., the projector). You can do this by holding down the Windows key and pressing the P key, then choosing the mirror option.

Epson is obviously not the only vendor that offers a relatively inexpensive projector. I’ve tested several others that offer similar performance. But I think the VS355 offers a good balance between weight, brightness and, of course, price. And unless you have an unlimited budget, finding that balance is important.

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