There were a number of factors and requirements that impacted on the hardware selection for this project. Warning Geek speak ahead
The classes were held in various metropolitan and regional schools and the project sponsor had a requirement for the educators to be able to walk around the room completely untethered. It was also decided due to the vast number of variables, this project would not ‘connect’ to the various school ICT networks or internet access. Given some schools were in remote locations, a guaranteed solid ‘net’ connection was at best, intermittent and to complicate things further the educators had little to none ICT or fault finding skills. So the solution we were looking for was the project that connected to a wireless projector, with no internet, running a local version (canned) demonstration that was required to be ‘turnkey’ (no setup skills).
The first hardware choice was the Epson EB-W32 which is billed as a corporate portable multimedia projector and comes at competitive pricing especially for educational environments. It has WXGA resolution (for large format projections), was light to carry for staff, had good brightness at 3,300 lumens and had wireless connectivity built into the unit. This built-in wireless option solved potential the problem of investigating an Apple TV or Google Chrome screen casting devices and therefore saving money and removing the need for yet another device to be connected during setup phase.
For audio, we selected a SONY SRS-XB2 Bluetooth sound bar. Good bang-for-bucks and its output was 20 watts which is enough to fill a large room full of students. The Bluetooth could connect with the computer and delivered good quality sound output whilst maintaining the untethered audio function.
Since Articulate Storyline is a native windows application and because TAFE Queensland is largely a Microsoft SOE (standard operating environment) we stayed with windows devices.
We first looked at the Microsoft Surface Book i7 and Pro. It was a touch tablet solution and it had enough power to run any onscreen asset we wanted without buffering while providing good battery life. After investigating further we realised that the extra battery life came from the detachable keyboard and without the keyboard the walk round time would be limited. The keyboard also added weight for the educator and the DGPU (dedicated graphics processing unit) was also in the keyboard so without the detachable keyboard the solution combined with the cost was ruled out.
We then explored the Lenovo MIIX 700 – a 13”, light weight i5 touch option which whilst not as powerful as the Surface solution was good enough especially considering we were moving away from any web hosted content. This solution worked quite well although we did notice some latency/sync’ issues with video playback on the projector. After some investigation we found the projector indeed had Wi-Fi built-in, however it was the slower ‘G’ Wi-Fi protocol and not the dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi of later models. This limitation also led the internet stopping when connected to the projector. This was because the Lenovo sets up a private one-to-one LAN with the projector and the current projector model only has the ability to have one LAN at a time. After some experimentation we were able to get the Bluetooth going while projecting the locally installed content. The Lenovo tablet was a little clumsy in the hand and there was the risk of dropping it and charge times were a little slow – but overall the solution was adequate.
The Touch pad
We then explored the option of controlling the Lenovo tablet via external handheld phone app’ (Samsung/iPhone). The touchpad phone applications worked well but required to be connected to the tablet and the one LAN limitation scuttled this solution. So we investigated the Rapoo T300P touch pad. It operated in the same way uses ‘text’ on a phone. This is a light weight windows compatible, palm size touchpad. It has a 5G anti-interference wireless transmission and rechargeable Lithium battery so the educator could still walk around with a dedicated device that worked similar to texting on a phone.
The VivoStick PC (TS10)
ASUS VivoStick is a pocket-sized full-featured windows PC that gives users desktop-like computing. It is powered by an Intel® Atom™ processor, is small, light, runs Windows 10 and has an HDMI. This solution eliminates the tablet to projector wireless issue and any inherent latency issue with video playback as the unit is physically mounted on and plugs directly into the projector. It has inbuilt 32GB hard drive storage, built-in dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, the latest Bluetooth 4.1, USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, an audio jack and can also plug directly into the projector.
The final solution
As mentioned earlier the Asus Vivostick (Vstick) is small enough to be mounted directly into Epson Projector offering a hardwired connection. The Rapoo T300P connects to the VivoStick via high quality built-in ‘ac’ Wi-Fi. All content is loaded locally and which runs off an internal 32 GB SSD (hard drive) and uses the built-in Bluetooth to communicate with the Sony speakers. This hardware solution is a cheaper option than both the Lenovo and Surface approaches and was our recommended hardware solution.