Networking is no longer confined to business computers and printers. Live event professionals no doubt have heard by now about another productivity tool — projectors — joining the ranks of networkable devices. Indeed, projectors with wired or wireless networking capability now are becoming commonplace and are simplifying events, meetings, and shows everywhere.

Projector network connectivity allows those in the staging and rental industry to use their projector to communicate with their audience, with or without cables, through an existing infrastructure, or an immediate peer-to-peer connection. The key elements that you can achieve with networkable projectors, among other things, include remote diagnostics and control and content management.

Here are some advantages of remote diagnostics and control and content management, as well as tips on the main features to consider when choosing a networkable projector.

Remote Diagnostics and Control

Imagine being in a completely different location from your projector and being able to tell if it is on or off or requires maintenance. With remote diagnostics and control, you can check the status and change settings of projectors connected to your wireless or wired LAN. Remote diagnostics and control can aid you in troubleshooting by allowing the network operator to remotely check lamp hours, turn the projector on and off, make picture adjustments, and select source selection via the LAN connection. This allows you to have one central location to quickly evaluate the status of all networkable projector units, saving time and resources.

In addition, more advanced networkable projectors can be programmed to send email alerts to the system administrator when maintenance is required, such as a malfunction or the need for a lamp change. In many cases, this enables your crew to diagnose and troubleshoot issues with the projector before any problems arise, especially at an event's most critical moments.

Content Management

Content management is another main advantage of networkable projectors and can save the user money, resources, and manpower. With content management you can transmit information from your computer to the projector, whether your computer is connected via a wireless or wired network. If the projector has wireless network capability, then all that is needed is a wireless card.

In the staging and rental domain, one advantage to using a networkable projector is that it can be used wireless. This helps reduce the amount of cabling required from source to display, resulting in much easier setup and tear down. Networkable projectors also enable you to use just one laptop as the primary source for presentation material, while broadcasting that material to multiple projectors.

Through the benefits of remote diagnostics and control, as well as content management, event managers are now able to use networkable projectors in environments never utilized before. However, selecting the right networkable projector can be a challenging task. The following tips will help you distinguish between the many features of most networkable projectors currently available.

Purchase Tips

The first category to consider is key functionality. It's very important that you look at a networkable projector system's key functionality to determine how you will use it. Available functions on some networkable projectors include the ability to monitor multiple projectors from one computer, to transfer data from multiple computers, to project data to multiple projectors, and to allow multiple users to present material from separate notebooks to one projector

The next crucial category is standardization. It is preferable to commit to one particular manufacturer's networkable projector offering(s). The reason this is important: Standardizing on one networking solution will help with training, ease of use, and development of a level of expertise among your users.

Also, wise buyers should consider a manufacturer's broad product line. Look for a company that offers a broad line of networkable projectors. This is important because applications will vary, and currently, there is no one common platform for a user to easily move from one company's product to another. Currently, some leaders in the projector industry are working with PC hardware and leading software companies to create a standard, but as of press time, no such standard had yet been developed.

Speed is another crucial issue. Always try to search for a networkable projector with a flexible high-speed wireless or wired communication system. Today's standards for computers are from IEEE 802.11b to IEEE 802.11g (11Mbps to 54Mbps), and your projector should, at a minimum, be compatible with these standards.

You must also consider the issue of security. You will want to have a networkable projector that is secure, both internally and externally. Networkable projectors have a range of internal security features from password protection, the use of PC cards/USB drives as security keys, cabinet control lock, requiring password protection to restrict access to the menu system, logo lock, and WEP (wired equivalent privacy) encryption. You also will want to look for projectors that have an integrated lock slot, so that you can attach a security cable to physically lock down the projector.

The Future

Many advances have been made in networkable projectors since they debuted in the market in 2000. The field has gone from simple operation to the ability to provide content delivery. During the next 12 to 18 months, the industry should begin to see networkable projectors capable of realtime delivery of full-frame video transmission. Currently, video transmission to a networkable projector can be slow and jerky and absorbs a significant amount of bandwidth.

Ultimately, as bandwidth issues are addressed and higher-speed standards see wider market acceptance — such as 802.11a and 802.11n — networkable projectors will have the ability to send realtime HD footage.

In time, non-proprietary solutions will allow users to access projectors on any network and be able to send information. Some industry leaders, including NEC, are partnering with large PC hardware and software companies to create this standard system. When projectors can be added to an existing network and accessed like today's network printer, the utilization of networkable projectors will obviously increase. The advantages of a standard for the user would be that they would no longer need to load a specific projector manufacturer's software onto their computer or laptop to be able to access the networked projector.

Even without a standard, though, current advantages of networkable projectors are the capability to perform remote diagnostics and control (asset management) and the ability to send content (PowerPoint, Word documents, screen displays) to the networked projector. Wireless presentations provide ease of use for the presenter and allow them to address the projector from most anywhere in the event space. A robust networkable projector will allow users to send information from one computer to one projector, broadcast from one computer to several projectors, or control many projectors from one central location.

When selecting a networkable projector, remember these guidelines to assist you in being able to better differentiate between the features currently available in networkable projectors.

Don Fasick is the projector product manager for NEC Solutions (America), Visual Systems Division. He has nearly 20 years of industry experience in sales, marketing, and product management for high-technology products.