The dream of inexpensively enabling students and teachers to take over the classroom’s big screen has arrived with ActionTec’s ScreenBeam 960. At $300, it undersells the competition but it isn’t as inclusive as it should be.
It’s role in today’s classroom is to wirelessly receive audio and video from a notebook, tablet or phone so everyone participates and has a good view of the action. Able to tap into dual-band 802.11ac WiFi networks, it’s essential for the high bandwidth data flow in today’s classrooms. The best part is that because it uses WiFi Direct’s peer-to-peer connections, the Screen Beam doesn’t add any overhead to the network.
At 1.0- by 6.5- by 6.5-inches, the black domed ScreenBeam looks like a conference call phone. It lacks a microphone and speakers.
Around its edge, the ScreenBeam base station has an HDMI port for connecting with the room’s large monitor or projector as well as connections for power and the school’s wired LAN for making adjustments to the ScreenBeam 960.
In addition to an audio jack for speakers, ScreenBeam has a USB connector for linking the device to an interactive whiteboard, but unfortunately, not a thumb drive containing images or videos. The device has VGA-in and -out ports for working with older computers and projectors. There’s a power connection and a recessed reset button.
Although it is well designed and easy to use, the ScreenBeam 960 is basic with no controls on the unit or a remote control. Setting it up takes about five minutes and starts with positioning it near the projector or large screen. It lacks VESA mounting hardware or an optional bracket, but is light and small enough to use Velcro tape to secure it in place.
Setting the system up starts with plugging in its power and video cables. Using the Connect wireless display selection in Windows 8.1 or 10 or the Miracast abilities of an Android phone or tablet, all you need to do is type in the ScreenBeam’s security code and 15 seconds later you’re connected.
On the downside, the system ignores Windows 7 systems that are so prevalent in education today. There is a work-around by using the product’s $40 USB Transmitter on an older computer. Unfortunately, there’s no way to connect a Windows XP PC, Chromebook, iPad or Mac to the ScreenBeam.
Using a Samsung Galaxy S2 Tab, Asus Zen 8 and a Toshiba Radius notebook, ScreenBeam worked reliably and delivered clear and smooth video. It has the annoying tendency to refuse a connection but always worked on the second try. Aside from the occasional artifact or hiccup, the video looked great at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and 30 frames per second.
Because it uses WiFi and not Bluetooth, the range of the ScreenBeam was close to 100-feet. This makes it appropriate in a standard classroom as well as an auditorium, lecture hall or repurposed cafeteria after lunch.
It’s not in its element as a quick-change artist. To move to a different source, you need to manually disconnect and then let the next user connect, at least a 30-second process. Plus, unlike other similar, though more expensive, systems such as Barco’s ClickShare, ScreenBeam can’t put two, four or more screens up at once for comparison.
The device’s Central Management System (CMS) makes updates and configuration changes easy, regardless of whether you have a dozen or a hundred ScreenBeam systems. You need to use the system’s Ethernet port.
Actiontec’s ScreenBeam 960 is not nearly as slick as ClickShare, but at $300 you can outfit five classrooms for the cost of one $1,750 ClickShare set up. Plus, you don’t need to pass around the USB clickers to those who want to connect. On the other hand, ClickShare covers the bases better with PC, Mac, Android and iPad compatibility.
Late in 2014, Mesa (Arizona) Public Schools equipped 3,600 of its classrooms with ScreenBeam receivers connected to Hitachi projectors, while revamping its WiFi infrastructure with Cisco 802.11n access points. It’s in use every day for teachers to project lessons to the class.
In any event, Actiontec’s ScreenBeam 960 can turn a projector or large display into a device that the whole class can use and share without busting the budget.
+ Quick connections
+ Long range
+ PC and Android
+ Ethernet connection
+ Central configuration and update software
- No XP, Chromebook, iPhone or Mac software
- Can’t display two or four inputs at once