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Freebee Friday: Bird’s Eye View

Interface-advancedIf you were to walk through your school and look at all the displays, you’re likely to find that most, if not all, are out of whack or poorly adjusted in one way or another. Enter the Asus Display Widget, which puts all the adjustments front and center. It only works with Asus’s Adaptive-Synch gaming monitors at the moment, but the company will widen its use over time. The key is that the Widget sits on the Windows desktop and gives you immediate access to do things like change the color temperature, pick the display mode and even pick what settings to use for different applications.

 

Chrome Toughens Up

Acer Chromebook 14 for Work_CP5-471_01The number one Chromebook seller shows why it’s in the lead with its Chromebook 14 for Work model. Designed and built to survive anything a school can mete out, the CB14 has passed five of the military’s Mil-Std 810G tests for ruggedness, including drops of up to 4-feet. Based on an Intel 6th generation Core processor, the system weighs 3.2-pounds and includes a security-conscious Trusted Platform Module as well as 100GB of GoogelDrive online storage. Its 14-inch display uses Corning’s Vibrant Gorilla Glass for extra toughness and can be ordered in full HD as well as wide XGA resolution. Pricing starts at $349.

The Little Projector that Could

Ph-550 aProjectors come in all sizes and shapes these days, from tiny cubes to monster large venue devices that seem like space heaters. One step up from the smallest is an emerging class of inexpensive palm-projectors that put out just enough light to be of use in the classroom.

Like the Dell MH900, LG’s Minibeam PH550, is small enough to carry around and is quick to set up, but the PH-550 is much smaller. At 1.7- by 6.9- by 4.3-inches and weighing 1.4-pounds, the PH-550 it can be stashed in a jacket pocket or corner of a backpack so it can go where you go all day.

The rounded white case has a focus lever on top, but the projector doesn’t have a conventional control panel. Instead, the PH550 has a minimalist joy stick that you press to turn it in and off. Click it right or left and it can turn the volume up and down.

You’ll need to use the full-size remote control to configure, tweak and use the PH550. There’s neither backlighting nor a laser pointer, but the remote can not only control the speaker’s volume and keystone correction, but it uses LG’s circular Q Menu format that’s been lifted from LG’s line of TVs. Incrementally go around the circle to adjust the aspect ratio, keystone correction, video mode and set up the sleep timer for between 10- and 24- minutes, which is helpful for those who always forget to turn the projector off after class.

Ph-550 cWith a 0.45-inch DLP imaging engine that delivers 1,280 by 720 resolution, the PH-550 can’t compare with full HD imaging, but for the small classroom or group work is should be fine. The projector uses LEDs to illuminate and project the image so you’ll never have to buy or change an expensive lamp ever again. On the other hand, with a rating of 550 lumens, it can’t keep up with traditional lamp-based devices that put out three- or four-times that.

There’s an adjustable front foot, but if you want to permanently mount it or aim it higher on a wall or screen as well as a single tripod screw underneath. In real world use, the PH550 was projecting its image in 20-seconds and managed to put 312 lumens of illumination onto a screen, about two-thirds its rating and half the output of the much larger M900HD.

Like other small LED projectors, the PH550 does without many of the things we take for granted in traditional projectors, like an optical zoom lens. In fact, the projector doesn’t even come with a lens cap – essential equipment if it’s to travel from room to room all day. The projector does include a soft felt bag that holds the projector, but not the AC adapter.

Ph-550 eIt also lacks an SD card slot for quickly presenting items, but can lift a wide variety of material from a USB thumb drive. The PH550 can play photos, videos (although not .MP4 ones) and .pdfs as well as Office .doc and .ppt files. In other words, you can put a semester’s worth of lessons on a tiny drive and plug it in when you need it.

You can project in a more traditional manner with an VGA, HDMI and with the included adapter a composite video source; it can work with an MHL-equipped phone or tablet. It worked well with a variety of sources, from a Samsung Tab Pro S to an iPad Pro.

Showing the PH550’s versatility, there’s another way as well. The PH550 can connect wirelessly over WiFi to WiDi laptops and Miracast phones and tablets.

The projector has a pair of one-watt speakers that are fine for small groups, but for larger rooms, they come up short. Happily, the PH550 can link up with a Bluetooth speaker set for rooms that don’t have a wired sound system.

Ph-550 dFinally, LG is unique in selling projectors that have TV tuners built-in. It won’t work with a cable TV set up, but the PH550’s tuner was able to connect with 30 direct broadcast stations. You’ll need to supply the antenna, though.

The PH550 can do something that most projectors can’t: run for nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes on its battery pack while its competitors go dark after 20 or 30 minutes of use. If you tap the remote’s Info key a small four-element battery gauge shows up onscreen. The ability to run for several classes gives the PH550 an incredible amount of flexibility to set ups in repurposed rooms that lack AC outlets.

Extremely inexpensive to operate, the PH550 uses only 35.2-watts of power at full blast – about one-tenth that of a conventional projector – and only 0.2-watts in sleep. That adds up to an estimated annual expense of only $5.25, making it among the cheapest projectors to use every day.

Overall, the PH550 is fine in darkened rooms or an overcast day, but with the sun shining or the lights on, the image quickly gets overwhelmed. The projector did well at filling up a 48-inch screen. Bigger than that and the images are washed out, making the PH550.

A

Ph-550 f

LG Minibeam PH550

$550

+ Economical

+ Good input selection

+ More than two-hour battery life

+ Wireless connection

+ Video ports

+ TV tuner

- Lacks lens cap and optical zoom

- Really needs more brightness

Built to Last

TravelMate-B117-photogallery-02It’s hard enough for purpose-built (and expensive) rugged notebooks to pass the government’s stringent Mil-Std 810G tests for endurance and longevity, but Acer’s TravelMate B117 just did. The system made it through the tests for everything from temperature, moisture and humidity to vibration and shock. It survived drops, its hinge was opened and closed 25,000 times and 132-pounds of pressure was put on the screen lid. Still, rather than a 10-pound behemoth that costs $3,000, the B117 is less than an inch thick, weighs under three pounds and costs $230.

Hear the Light

Sengled pulseAny hallway, office or classroom with recessed lighting can be wired for sound with a new generation of LED bulbs that have built-in speakers. Not only will they cut the cost of lighting the school, but the connections are all wireless, so there’s no expensive electrician needed to conenct them. Inside each Sengled Pulse unit is a 1.75-inch JBL speaker that puts out 13-watts of audio, while delivering 600-lumens of light at a color temperature of 2,700 Kelvins or roughly the output of a single incandescent light bulb.

Screen322x572The beauty of the Pulse light is that it can replace a standard E26 bulb and screws right into the socket. The real pay-off, however, is it can last for a decade in typical use, consumes only 15-watts of power – a quarter the power use of the typical bulb – and connects to its audio source via Bluetooth. There are free apps for controlling and connecting for iOS and Android phones or tablets. While the first two speaker-bulb kits cost $150, you can add up to an additional six bulbs at $69 each as well as an adapter for connecting a subwoofer for $40.

Freebee Friday: Social Studies Catches Up

MobyMax_Social Studies on TabletThink online curriculum and math and science come to mind, but MobyMax has a new set of materials for first- and second-grade social studies curriculum; the company’s third- through eighth-grade content is on the way. The interactive material covers four of the NGSS areas, including economics, geography, government and history and is personalized to each student based on their needs and abilities.

iPad Learns to Read

Reading assistant ipad screen480x480Moving beyond the traditional Reading Assistant PC and Mac programs, Scientific Learning’s now has an iPad version. It includes everything the older apps have and kids can log on and use it wherever there’s an Internet connection for its selection of reading samples and comprehensive assessments. Teachers can tap into the program’s easy to read graphs on student progress.

Put Video Anywhere

B126 bWhile there’s no explicit limit on the length of how long HDMI video cables can carry high-quality streams, the practical limit is about 50-feet. Beyond that for larger rooms, auditoriums or classes, you need a different approach. The best way is to convert the video stream with audio included into a digital format that can travel over regular old Cat 5 or Cat 6 LAN cables. You will need some special hardware at each end to pull it off, and that’s where Tripp-Lite’s B126-1A1 kit comes in.

The good news is that the $150 B126-1A1 set is not only inexpensive and easy to hide but doesn’t require adding any software. It doesn’t compress the video because the cables can actually handle a gigabit of data per second. In fact, you can think of the kit as an extra-long video cable. There’s a dedicated sender and receiver with an HDMI port at one end and an RJ-45 LAN port at the other. Both require power from an included AC adapter and include brackets for mounting the devices on a rack.

Able to support 24-bit color, 3-D and eight-channel audio, setting the B126-1A1 up literally takes a minute. Plug the sender in to the source material, connect the LAN cable and then plug the receiver in to the display. Each power plug can be screwed into the B126-1A1 device so that it doesn’t accidentally get loose at exactly the wrong moment.

B126 aDon’t get worried if after powering the devices up, the system doesn’t work because there’s an equalization dial that might need to be adjusted. Calibrated from 0 to 7. The only way to figure out the right setting is trial and error.

Using the B126-1A1 pair with a variety of Cat-6 LAN cables, I was able to move a 1080-p signal for as far as 180-feet. A little farther and the signal starts to lose frames and show odd artifacts. That’s slightly farther than the company’s 150-foot spec. According to Tripp-Lite, the system can move an interlaced signal 200-feet. If that’s not enough, the company sells B126-110 repeaters that roughly double the extender’s range and you can use up to three without degrading the signal.

If you’re requirements aren’t that demanding, Tripp-Lite’s B126-1A0 set uses USB power, costs about $70 and worked well up to about 150-feet. Either way, using HDMI over Cat-6 cables lets you to put video displays exactly where you want them without having to think about how far HDMI cables can reach.

A

B126 kit

Tripp-Lite B126 1A1 HDMI over Cat5/Cat6 Active Extender Kit
$150


+ Uses networking cables to move uncompressed video
+ HD capable
+ Full 7.1 audio
+ No software to install
+ Lockable power input

- Can’t work on active network
- Need to adjust equalization

 

The Big Sound

Jbl eon 16JBL’s EON615 looks like a professional loudspeaker because it is and has been designed to be abused. At $500, it has 1,000 watts of sonic power available and can be overkill. It sends out sound in a 90- by 60-degree pattern and can reproduce audio from 39- to 20,000-Hertz. It not only has handles on the side, which can help with its 39-pound heft, but the EON615 can be set up vertically or horizontally. In addition to wireless Bluetooth, the speaker can be connected the old fashioned way with a pair of XLR jacks. The$500 speaker has a built-in mixer.

Makes the Pen Much Mightier

CLEANSTYLUS-4Tired of losing the expensive active stylus on any of the recent Surface tablets? Cleanint’s Clean Stylus Holder can make it stay put, something Microsoft never managed to do. Basically a plastic frame that snaps onto the edge of the slate, the Cleanstylus has an open cylinder to slide the stylus right in. If you order through the company’s Web site, you can get it in seven colors and there are models for the Surface 3 and the Pro models for $20, but Microsoft has Pro stylus holders in black or blue for $15.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.