Learning Doesn’t Have to Be Held Back by VGA
When HDMI entered the classroom, the writing was on the wall: the end of VGA’s tenure was imminent. HDMI combines audio and video into one signal transmission and supports high resolution digital video streams. Today, it’s the accepted industry standard. Many schools are going 1:1 with Chromebook or other HDMI-enabled notebooks, which enables content to be shared to displays and projectors. In addition, there are a growing number of other electronic devices entering the classrooms that are utilizing HDMI, such as microscopes and STEM boards, which are now immediately supported in the classroom.
However, many schools still operate on VGA, or video graphics array, cabling. It’s a video-only signal with adequate resolutions and a strong signal that’s used by older equipment, such as computers, projectors, and monitors. For the schools still running VGA, the upgrade to HDMI may be many years off, especially those on a strict 7-10-year upgrade cycle or longer. Add to that, VGA still supports classroom projectors and displays, which may have many years of life still left in them. But as more HDMI devices enter the classroom, there’s a disconnect between their infrastructure and emerging devices that they need to connect to and to present to the display. The signal coming out of the wall is VGA, which is compatible with the projector or displays but not much else.
Yet, schools don’t have to be limited by their VGA cabling. There is another much more affordable alternative to ripping and replacing the cabling that is threaded through the walls and ceilings. This new technology gives schools the opportunity to utilize HDMI to its full capacity as well as more fully supports collaborative learning: a wireless presentation system.
A wireless presentation system (WPS) eliminates the need for cables to connect presenter notebooks in the classroom in order share to the content to a projector or display. Instead of being tied down to one cable, a WPS uses an app or simple button device that enables a notebook to send content to the displays in the room. Switching presentations between students is as simple as a button tap. In addition, students can stay at their seats. The system wirelessly sends an HDMI signal to the projector or display. However, the specifications of these systems can vary widely, and there a few key considerations when deciding on what kind of WPS to buy.
NETWORK ACCESS & BANDWIDTH
Wireless presentation systems typically wirelessly connect to the shared display in one of two ways: via Wi-Fi hub system or buttons. Wi-Fi hubs present to the display using the Wi-Fi network and a receiver attached to the display. While Wi-Fi is the technology for the ages, there are some drawbacks to using it as the transport method for presentations. First, these systems rely on the network to transmit data, so the content stream is only going to be as strong as the bandwidth set aside for it. In addition, most Wi-Fi hubs have specific bandwidth requirements for each presenter that is logged on – as well as the display. For example, some can require anywhere from 13 Mbps to 25 Mbps per user when sharing video, with some having a one-second lag to display a video after a one-second delay. Second, Wi-Fi models may create additional network vulnerabilities and potentially expose private student information to hackers. Keeping the campus network secure is critical – and wireless presentations that are highly dependent on network access need to be managed and updated to ensure that hackers don’t use the system to access the network.
The best alternative is a button system, which simply requires a button or puck to be plugged into a Chromebook, notebook, or other device. It doesn’t burden the classroom network, wirelessly transmitting the signal to a receiver or “host” attached to the display and bypassing the network altogether. Look for models rigorously tested by the security industry and that encrypt the signal using advanced 128-bit algorithms.
Every minute of class time is incredibly valuable, which is why every device in the classroom must be capable of quickly launching upon startup. Another drawback of a Wi-Fi system is that time must be set aside for every student to log into the network before presenting. Not only does that extra step rob potentially minutes of instruction, but also any delay due to complications can cost additional time and cut into other planned subjects. For that reason, whatever presentation system is in use, it has to be intuitive enough for anyone in the room to use it and get it started quickly.
Some buttons only need to be plugged into the device. Some will require students to download a third-party application before they can start. Button models that don’t require a separate app are not only faster and easier to operate, they’re also much more secure. What’s more buttons enable organizations to bypass the need for HDMI cabling to distribute the signal. It also improves collaboration by enabling multiple presenters to share ideas, concepts, and media. What was once only one student sharing his or her screen from one connection point can now be up to 32 participants connected to the system and as many as four sharing to the screen simultaneously. In addition, as more technology electronic devices that utilize HDMI ports become part of the daily fabric of learning, schools can invest in those technologies without being held back by their VGA infrastructure. This also saves the cost of deploying expensive video switching system, which a growing number of classrooms now require due to the increase in HDMI sources present in the classroom.
The classroom is a busy and demanding environment. It requires the utmost attention to time management, productivity, and simplicity in order for it to be a place that breeds success for every student. A thoughtfully selected WPS allows schools with a VGA backbone to open up the doors to new technology without waiting for the update cycle for a new HDMI infrastructure. It also checks all the user and management requirements, enabling a world of HDMI devices and media players to connect to the projector or flat panel wirelessly. It’s learning at a push of a button.
Bob Wudeck serves as Senior Director, Business Development for BenQ, a global leader in visual display solutions. He can be reached at Bob.Wudeck@BenQ.com.