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Inside the Black Box

The Wireless VPS from Black Box turns an ordinary projector into a wireless access point, eliminating the need for VGA cables.

The Black Box Wireless Video Presentation System (VPS) eliminates unnecessary VGA cables in conference rooms, offering crisp clarity to display multiple users’ screens through a projector. The Black Box Wireless VPS would work well in a multiuser training center, where several computers may take center stage on the big screen as people talk about an issue.

End-User Advantages

The Black Box Wireless VPS (model AC1131A) turns an ordinary projector into a wireless access point so that VGA cables are no longer necessary. Since the VPS acts like a wireless access point, up to 254 people could conceivably connect at the same time, and up to four screens side by side could be displayed. Side-by-side screens on a projector could assist in collaborating to solve a problem, comparing solutions or letting people work together by seeing what the other sees.

Typical PowerPoint presentations, documents and spreadsheets come off without any pixelation or delay, even when using a fairly old notebook. Video streaming is also possible up to 30 frames per second in a number of popular formats. The Black Box AC1131A even supports smartphones running Windows Mobile 5.0 or better, and is Mac-friendly to boot.

It’s also easy to use. You connect to the device as if it were a wireless access point, then open a browser window. If the device has never connected before, you will need to download some client software, which is provided on a USB memory stick. After installing and activating the program, simply enter the login code presented on the projector screen, and your device’s screen is immediately sent through the projector and onto the screen. The next time you connect, it’s even easier, because there’s no install. Just enter the code and go.

Why It Works for IT

The Black Box Wireless VPS is essentially an 802.11 b/g wireless access point (WAP), with VGA and LAN connectors for a projector and wired communications. Just like most other WAPs, it has 11 channels in the 2.4-gigahertz range, supports 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption, and has a maximum bandwidth of 54 megabits per second. It supports roughly a 300-foot range, although the signal and bandwidth degrades. A wall mount is even included for attaching the device to wherever the projector is (most likely, the ceiling).

The unit is compatible with a wide range of operating systems, including Mac OS, Windows 2000/XP/Vista, and Windows Mobile 5.0. We even tested it with Windows 7 and it works fine. It supports video formats such as MPEG 1/2/4, Divx 3/4/5 and WMV 9 in three resolution settings: 800x600, 1024x768 and 1280x768 pixels.

The installation program could be pushed out ahead of time to your wireless notebooks to make it even easier for users to connect through whatever desktop management suite you use, such as Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager or Symantec’s Altiris Client Management Suite. You can also configure the network setup, including the DHCP server, SSID string and channels, and specify whether guest users can access the office LAN or just the Internet, keeping your company’s data safe.

Disadvantages

We had trouble with Microsoft’s latest WMV format that comes with Windows 7, being unable to play the sample video file through the VPS. However, Windows 7 is not explicitly supported, and a newer version of the client software may support new WMV formats in the future.

Also, this is a wireless access point, and care should be taken should you decide to connect it via the RJ-45 jack to your network. Some security measures have been included, but we could imagine carefully connecting it up to a second digital subscriber line (DSL) off your main network and letting guests connect to the Internet that way, instead of through your company’s LAN.

Dr. Jeffrey Sheen is the lead enterprise analyst for Grange Mutual Insurance of Columbus, Ohio.
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Jan 21 2010 Spice IT

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