Outstanding Product Of The Year: Epson BrightLink 450wi Interactive Projector
5/14/2010 - Art Feierman
We don't hand our our Outstanding Product of the Year on any given schedule. One year it may be November, the next, it might be May. In this case it's May. Why, because we've found a product, that we see as a potential game changer. To win this, our highest award, the product doesn't have to be a mainstay product. Consider 2009. Our winner was Gefen's Wireless HDMI solution.
Time to introduce you to this year's winner: The Epson Brightlink 450wi, the first of what promises to be an entire class of interactive projectors. To make my point, we had hoped to have as many as 3 interactive projectors in this report, but two other announced ones, the Dell S300Wi (an interactive version of the S300W we reviewed for this report), and the BenQ MP780ST. Both should be shipping shortly.
I worked with, and sold SmartBoard interactive electronic whiteboards, paired to projectors for many years. I'm a huge fan of the two technologies applied together, as a great classroom (or conference room) tool, though I think first of them for the classroom. To simplify the hardware to a single projector plus a basic washable white board (actually just a wall will do in a pinch), and reduce costs significantly, will allow this type of technology to spread through the schools more quickly.
Let's see what this Epson BrightLink 450wi is all about - and why it is the single most impressive piece of gear to come my way in many months.
Epson BrightLink 450wi Interactive Projector
Let's get the basics out of the way, and that's the projector aspects. Certainly the unique projector Epson has designed is more than a regular projector, but first lets look at the regular projector functions. Then we'll tackle the whole concept of interactive teaching, as it relates to the Epson, and discuss the Epson's abilities.
First of all, this Epson BrightLink 450wi is an ultra-short throw projector. That comes with advantages. It mounts with the front of the projector as close as 5 inches from the screen. That distance grows to a maximum of 1 foot 2.5 inches, for the maximum sized image - 96 inch diagonal if projecting a 16:9 or 16:10 image, or 85 inches max if 4:3. The Epson is a native widescreen projector, with a 16:10 SXGA resolution of 1280x800.
Widescreen has its advantages, but never more so than working as an interactive device. In a classroom, your workable interactive wall or board space is limited in height to what the teacher, or, more importantly, the kids can reach. Widescreen projectors, of course are wider, relative to the height, so more usable space that everyone can reach.
Sound eminates from the speaker located in the rear, and it's the back of the projector facing the audience, be it students or colleagues. The speaker is a (for a projector) powerful 10 watt system, which should be plenty of power for carrying typical classrooms or training rooms. Since the projector is mounting to the wall, in the front of the room, wires for interfacing to computers, DVD players, USB devices, monitors and more all conveniently can be run down the mount and wall to the front of the room, for easy connections.
One of those handy inputs is for a microphone. Definitely a nice touch to help carry over the room noise. It's one of those little extras that makes this Epson very well thought out.
There are plenty of inputs and outputs. Including outputs for extra speakers if you really feel the need. There's also multiple audio inputs, two computer inputs, and this projector can run presentations - that is, slideshows of JPG images, from its USB port, either from memory cards, flash drives, some smart phones, and more. (Just remember, we haven't even gotten to the interactive features yet.)
The Epson keeps you connected too. It is a networking projector, and can do email notifications, and be controlled over the network with Epson's provided simple software (or a control system). Need wireless networking? Not a problem, Epson offers that as an optional module that's easy to install.
My goal here isn't to duplicate the review we've done, but to give a taste of what makes the BrightLink 450wi so impressive.
Besides what I've mentioned already, the Epson Brightlink 450wi measures a healthy amount of lumens, and has an impressive 2500:1 contrast ratio, being one of the few business and education projectors out there with a dynamic iris for better blacks.
Pick up the interactive pen, and drag it across the whiteboard mounted below the BrightLink. Or, if there's no whiteboard, just a wall below the Brightlink. There's no ink, no color, but as you move the pen, color appears on the whiteboard or wall, being projected from the Epson.
And you can use the interactive pen as a remote mouse, or to highlight and annotate right over a presentation or coursework from a computer, or other source. Check out the Geometry exercise to the right. To fully understand the use of an interactive projector, using the Epson, first, you realize that all the hand written answers (apparently written by kids at the board), were drawn with the interactive pen, which has no ink, and leaves nothing on the board. If drawing a line or letter in red, the movement of the pen causes the projector to lay out the red line or letter with light. No ink!
What you must realize as well, is that the drawings themselves - square, circle, triangle rectangle, and writing in black, although they could be drawn on a white board with washable pens, that's not likely to be the case.
In reality, if, at this point, you were to turn off the Epson, and you would find the whiteboard would now be completely blank - no geometry, no hand written numbers. All the objects, and the text, as well as the student's math are all projected. The objects and text might be from some geometry application or courseware, on the teacher's computer. And, of course, even if there was no whiteboard, the same could appear on any light or off-white wall surface! Got it now?
How great is that for teaching - kids or adults? Especially when, at the touch of the surface (with the interactive pen) you can save the projected image - what came out of computer or video, plus what you, or a student added to it. In addition to saving it, you could print it if you like.
The power of an interactive system like this - or the more expensive SmartBoard + projector alternative, - is outstanding. It can really raise productivity of employees and the interest and enthusiasm of students. Interfaced with normal computers, there's all kinds of education software that will be more exciting when a student can control it with the interactive pen from the front of the room. In the conference room the Epson can be a great tool for working groups, special projects, re-marking documents. Just about any interactive work you can think of works better when all the information can be shared on "the big screen" in real time.
The Epson Brightlink 450wi has support for both PC and Mac. Epson offers the BrightLink 450wi with or without 3rd party RM software. (I believe only the Intel based Macs, are compatible so Macs more than 4-5 years old may not be compatible.)
These two images from the Epson manual should give you a good idea of the basic capabilities. Any of you using a SmartBoard or other interactive boards will immediately get the idea:
The Interactive Pen just has a single button, but it gives you mousing abilities. Bring up a menu and select the function you want right on the whiteboard or wall.
The bottom line is this. With the advent of multiple manufacturers entering the new interactive projector space, there will be a significant downward move in pricing. The Epson for its $1799 with the optional RM software can project from 55 to 96 inches diagonal. For a typical SmartBoard, about $1500 gets you a mid-sized board. But you still need to buy a projector. Further the boards are heavy, ship by freight and that adds $50 - $100+ depending on the size. With the Epson, you've got 14.1 pounds plus packing.
The pricing for the Epson places it between about 22 and 40 percent less than a SmartBoard type solution paired with a projector roughly the same resolution and brightness as the Epson. Better still, it's only one device to install, and connect. It all adds up to technology coordinators being able to equip more rooms for less investment.
The real question for tech coordinators and IT and AV managers involved in deciding product, is not the price of the Epson compared to, say, a SmartBoard + projector, that's too easy. The real debate becomes - do we buy something like 12 Epsons, or 20 basic projectors, and forgo the power of interactive training, teaching, and meeting. I don't have the answer for that, but my recommendation for any school district would be to at least start integrating a few of these into the mix for your next batch of projectors. Be smart - we all know - not all teachers take to technology. Some classrooms never see their projectors fired up, except to see a movie. In other classrooms, though, a good teacher, who's not afraid of technology, can accomplish great things with this technology. If you can only afford a few, put them where they will be used most effectively. Neither a regular projector or an interactive one is a good investment, if it's only turned on a half dozen times a year.
The Epson BrightLink 450wi has earned our Oustanding Product of the Year, in part, because it's more than just a projector, in part for being the first interactive projector and heralding in a new category of teaching and training tool. And, definitely in part for also doing all of the above so well. Both the projector itself and the interactive abilities are well thought out, and function very nicely.It's got the desired networking, and the system is software "agnostic". It doesn't care what you throw at it, in terms of coursework or other software, it just makes the presenting of it easier and more successful. While there's always a way to improve any product, with this Epson Brightlink 450wi, you have to ask yourself: "What's not to like?"
NEXT: Physical Tour