Whiteboard conversion goes wireless

FreeBeam simplifies setup for converting whiteboard markings into digital files

Whiteboard conversion technology, a good idea from the start, is getting better.

The products have always been a boon to people making presentations or participating in meetings, because they convert all strokes made on a conventional whiteboard to an electronic file that can be annotated or modified electronically.

Most such products also take advantage of the Internet to allow remote participants to see what's being written on a whiteboard — what's known as meeting sharing.

Using a system such as this saves meeting participants from having to take notes, and all the information can be saved electronically for future reference. What's more, meeting sharing via the Internet has obvious advantages over flying people to a central location, especially with today's tightened budgets.

In the past, though, transferring information from the whiteboard to the PC required a wired connection, which limits setup flexibility and sometimes trips people if it runs across the floor.

So Interlink Electronics Inc. has introduced FreeBeam Wireless Whiteboard. With FreeBeam, information is transferred via infrared light from the whiteboard sensor to a receiver attached to the PC up to 24 feet away, with no direct line of sight required. The advantages are obvious when imagining a larger classroom or auditorium.

Like other whiteboard conversion systems, FreeBeam comes with a "pod" to mount on the whiteboard, a set of four marker sleeves (dry-erase markers are included), an eraser and a software package. It also includes a software applet called FreeBeam Mouse, which allows you to use a stylus as a mouse to navigate presentations or meetings projected onto the whiteboard.

But instead of a wire connecting the pod to the PC, there is open space. The pod contains an infrared sensor that communicates with the receiver attached to the PC's serial port. The receiver draws power from the PC, so no external power source is needed.

When we placed an object between the pod and the receiver, the system still worked. It also worked with a piece of paper on top of the receiver. There are some limitations, however. When we placed the receiver beneath a desk, the signal did not get through. Overall, though, we were impressed by the system's flexibility.

Easy to Implement

Setting up FreeBeam was fast and painless. A clearly written quick-start guide walks users through the setup process, beginning with labeled drawings of each component. The pod attaches to the whiteboard with suction cups, but if you want a permanent installation, you can use screws (not included) or adhesive strips that come with the system.

A few nice extras include cable ties and suction cups for securing the pod's power cable to the side of the whiteboard, and alcohol pads for cleaning the whiteboard before attaching the pod.

The AC power cable is 6 feet long, and FreeBeam works with whiteboards measuring up to 4 feet by 6 feet. A simple calibration process lets the system adjust to the size of your whiteboard.

After setting up the hardware, the software installation takes only a few minutes with the simple wizard. The software automatically detects the FreeBeam hardware and activates the appropriate serial port.

Meeting files can be saved in a host of image formats including PDF, bitmap, EPS, JPEG, GIF and TIFF. FreeBeam also has a native file format, which must be used if you plan to work with the meeting file again after saving it.

Several on-screen drawing tools are available, including a marker, highlighter and eraser, each with four width options. The software also provides a zoom function and a selector tool that enables you to copy and paste the contents of a selection rectangle. For example, you could copy a diagram and paste it into a word processing document.

Four colors are available for the marker and highlighter, but more choices would have been nice. We also would have liked to see snap-on shape tools for neatness, such as arcs, ovals and rectangles. However, the other electronic whiteboard system we have reviewed — Mimio from Virtual Ink Corp. [FCW.com, Jan. 22] — also lacks those features.

We liked the fact that the on-screen marker colors can be changed, and in this case, FreeBeam offers a full, customizable color palette. For example, you can set the blue marker sleeve to show up as olive green. Similar to the drawing tools, the marker settings offer four widths.

One of our favorite features enables users to add a background image to meeting pages. Images can be bitmaps or saved as Microsoft Corp. Word documents, Power.Point presentations or Excel spreadsheets. Any markings — including whiteboard marker strokes, typed text and erasures — remain visible in front of the image.

Like other electronic whiteboard systems, FreeBeam includes a meeting playback feature, which plays the meeting from the beginning, like a movie. You can watch each stroke and erasure that took place during the meeting.

There is also a nice monitoring feature that automatically starts running the FreeBeam software when someone writes on the whiteboard.

Paying for Flexibility

Agencies looking to reduce travel costs or improve the efficiency of in-house meetings should consider FreeBeam. It offers flexibility and the convenience of sharing meetings with remote users who do not have the FreeBeam software.

You'll pay a little more for this wireless system than for a wired whiteboard product, but if your agency needs that kind of physical flexibility, it might be worth the money. FreeBeam is also packed with a lot of useful features that make this product much more than simply a way to take notes electronically.

REPORT CARD

FreeBeam Wireless Whiteboard

Score: B+

Interlink Electronics Inc.
(800) 340-1331
www.freebeam.com

FreeBeam is available through various audio-visual resellers and directly from Interlink's Web site for $899.

FreeBeam is a flexible, feature-packed product that offers much more than a way to convert whiteboard notes to electronic files. It's easy to use and offers the convenience of free Internet meeting sharing with remote users who do not have FreeBeam software installed.

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