Sunday, August 14, 2005

Untether the speaker...

We recently had a missions team go to Mexico with YWAM. As is usual, when they returned the team members spoke about the mission trip, what they learned, how they saw God work, the people they met, etc. During the trip, they took between 600 and 700 photos with a digital camera and wanted to show some of them during their presentation. They wanted the photos synchronized with the talks (each of the teens and the one adult who went each spoke for a short while) and had made a stab at producing a QuickTime movie of the slides, timing the transitions to coincide with the speakers.

Unfortunately, the first effort at this didn't work very well and, realistically, it probably wouldn't have been too successful even if they had a good QT movie made, as people usually talk faster or slower, or forget something or remember something, or get out of sequence, and generally don't synchronize well with a fixed timing of slides. At least that is my own experience.

I was asked if perhaps I could come up with a slide show of some sort for them to use, so I spent a little time and made a PowerPoint presentation of the shots they wanted. Nothing fancy, just one picture after another. (I am no fan of fancy transitions or other gewgaws that ultimately detract from the presentation--again, just my opinion.)

Now the downside to something like this is that someone needs to run the presentation, which means sitting or standing at a computer that is tethered to a projector. They must be behind the computer's screen or even sit facing away from the audience. Or rather it used to mean that.

Using my Tablet and a wireless projector I borrowed from work, we were able to untether the speakers and let them move freely around. They could face the audience, yet see what the congregation saw and control the transitions with a touch of the pen. Even better, the process was so simple that the woman who did the bulk of the presentation, who ran the slideshow, and who had never used a Tablet or PowerPoint before, was able to do it with about 2 minutes of instruction.

The wireless projector we used is made by Epson. The current version of the model we used is the PowerLite 737c. It functions just like any other computer projector and has a cable for connecting to the video port of a notebook or Tablet. It is pretty bright, has a good range of projection distance, and all the regular controls you would expect, including automatic keystone correction. Where it shines (ahem, so to speak) is that it accepts a wireless PC-Card network adapter and can project an image it receives via that card. Normally at work, we use it in a mode that lets it actually connect to our wireless infrastructure. However we don't have a wireless network at church (Yet. I'll write more about that when the work is done.) so this wasn't an option. Fortunately, the projector also works as an ad hoc network device, allowing a computer to connect directly to it wirelessly without the need for any access points. (If that is geek to you, it basically is the same as two computers talking directly to each other via a wireless connection, such as two Palm Pilots beaming information back and forth.)

Software is installed on the computer that allows it to send its video image wirelessly, while still displaying on the internal or attached screen. (One really nice feature of this is that, if you have a wireless network, the computer and projector do not even have to be in the same room. This has some interesting ramifications for those places where the local body is too large for one room and has to go into an overflow area.) There is no impact on the performance of the video on the computer, at least none that I've observed. There is only the slightest of delays between the change of the image on the screen and the change of the image on the projector. Unfortunately, this delay is too great to allow projection of a movie.

After the software is installed (which requires administrator access rights on the Tablet), anyone can run it and using it is downright trivial. Of course it may take a bit of technical acumen to make the ad hoc network connection, but after this is done, or if the computer and projector are part of a wireless network, then it is point and click to connect to the projector.

If you are interested in learning a bit more about this, I have written about these projectors from a teaching perspective on my other Blog, here on The Vermont Slate.

There is one other cool thing that I wanted to mention at this point, having to do with PowerPoint. The Office 2003 suite of applications represent Microsoft's starting point of writing software with Tablet PCs in mind. Both Word and PowerPoint have very effective pen tools incorporated into them in these versions. Someone who uses PowerPoint slides as part of presentations regularly (as I saw at Topeka Bible Church a couple of months ago) can interact with those slides by using the pen to annotate, circle, draw, highlight, whatever, directly on the slide during the presentation. Even the most highly spruced-up PowerPoint presentation has something of a static feel to it as the slides are what they are. You can change from one to another, but you can't change them on the fly. With the pen, you can actually interact with the slides in a very dynamic fashion during the presentation. You can save the ink for use later in reworking the slides if you want or discard it when you are done. Very, very cool stuff.