GV – February 1998

Presentations Move Out of the Dark Ages
By Sheldon Liebman

Up until a few years ago, most presentations were given in the dark. If you left the lights on in a room, chances are your audience wouldn’t be able to make out the contents of your overhead projector slides. Even with computer-based presentations, early LCD panels and projectors didn’t provide the candlepower necessary to move beyond a darkened room.

Today, LCD projectors are definitely bright enough to be used in a normally lit environment. If information is presented on a large video monitor, obviously the lights can stay on. This trend is even more important when you factor in the rise in videoconferencing – you just can’t have an effective conference if you have to turn off the lights. If you can see the people and you can see the computer content, the only other part of a presentation to worry about is the corollary material like papers and objects.

Thankfully, tools have been introduced that allow us to incorporate these things into our presentations with no muss and no fuss. Teleconferencing systems have long included "document camera" options, but these devices are often low resolution. Since the conference itself it often not full resolution and real-time, this is not usually a problem. For local presentations, however, you need better than that.

For years, companies have gotten around this problem by bringing in fancy cameras, tripods and lights for use in presentations. At colleges around the country, Professors spend precious teaching time setting up and focusing video gear so that demonstrations and materials could be broadcast to the bank of video monitors around the room. The downside to this is that the equipment is very expensive and the process is completely manual.

The solution was to create specialized tools for video presentations. These tools are similar to document cameras but offer higher resolution and advanced features to automate as much of the process as possible. Three companies that are targeting this market are Canon, Elmo and Sony. Each of these companies has created specialized products aimed at this market.

Two years ago, Canon introduced the VIZCAM, a low cost (under $1500), high-resolution (450 lines) camera mounted on a 3-axis articulated arm. VIZCAM was positioned as "the ideal camera for multimedia, videoconferencing and presentations," according the Canon. For transparent materials, an optional lightbox can be added. VIZCAM can also be used for viewing as close as 5/16" from an object.

Last month, Canon introduced the Visual Visualizer RE-350, a significant step up from the VIZCAM. The company claims the RE-350 offers the best color reproduction available in products of this type, with color controls located conveniently on the front panel. For integration with a computer, the RE-350 includes an RS-232C serial port. It also supports an optional infrared remote control kit for control across a room.

With the introduction of the RE-350, Canon claims to have introduced a number of features that are not available from any other video presentation products. One of these is "Focus Follow Zoom Technology," which Canon claims allows the zoom function of the camera to be used without having to readjust the focus. The RE-350 also has a 12x zoom that is "twice as fast as the competition," says the company.

There are several other unique features on the RE-350. The product has a built-in lightbox that is color corrected. It also has a corner-mounted camera and unobstructed base. Finally, the unit supports RGB output in addition to standard video (composite and S-video) formats.

For over 75 years, Elmo has been providing quality products to the presentation and video industries. It’s no surprise that they offer the largest number and widest variety of video presentation products. Most recently, Elmo introduced the EV-6000AF Visual Presenter, which is scheduled to ship next month. In addition to being the most advanced product in their Visual Presenter family of products, the EV-6000AF also includes a number of unique features.

Perhaps the most innovative is the product’s "Dual Camera System" that enables a user to switch from a document image to a face image without physically moving the camera. This second camera can also be mounted to a 1.5-meter cable so it can be freely moved around objects without having to disturb the main camera.

The main camera delivers over 470 lines of resolution and includes digital signal processing and a built-in 7-frame image memory. For flexible zooming, this camera has a 2-speed optical lens zoom plus 2x digital zoom for a maximum of 24x total zoom capability.

The EV-6000AF also permits freeze frames and features an electronics shutter with speeds up to 1/10000th of a second. Like the Canon RE-350, the EV-6000AF also includes RGB output in addition to composite and S-video formats. To increase the size of objects that can be put onto its base, the camera post on the EV-6000AF is mounted diagonally.

For less demanding applications, Elmo offers four other models in the Visual Presenter product family. The entry-level EV-274 folds to the size of a notebook computer and includes a top light and 320-line camera with 4x zoom. The EV-400AF utilizes a higher resolution camera (450 lines) and adds S-video output and an 8x zoom. Moving up to the EV-500AF upgrades the camera to include a 10x zoom and RGB output.

Sony recently introduced and began shipping the VID-P50 Visual Presentation Stand. This new product complements their popular VID-P100 product.

The VID-P50 features 12x variable speed zoom and 460 lines of resolution. This product also includes high-speed auto focus and auto iris control. Together, these features ensure proper focus and brightness as the unit is adjusted. Composite and S-video output formats are supported for use with a wide variety of video projectors, monitors and recorders. The camera head on the VID-P50 can also be flipped 90 degrees to allow wall mounted materials or faces to be captured by the device.

The VID-P100, which is an older product, has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success as a video presentation tool. This higher end unit offers a few features that are not available on the newer model. The VID-P100 utilizes two lights to reduce glare compared to the single lamp on the VID-P50. It also includes a built-in backlight to display transparent materials and an RS-232C port for control from a personal computer. The VID-P100s 10x power zoom can capture images ranging in size from standard 35mm film and slides to A4 size paper. Finally, the VID-P100 includes two video inputs and a switcher function that can be used to smoothly switch between all connected inputs.

These products are not the only ones available for doing video presentations, but they represent a good cross-section of the products that are out there. Whichever one you choose, people will be able to see your presentations in a whole new light.

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