At InfoComm this year, Kramer Electronics introduced some new products and upgrades to products. We have been using the VIA Connect Pro for a few months and are very excited about the possibilities. Previously, we had been using the Crestron AirMedia product for wireless display. While we were happy with the product, there were several things we were not crazy about. In particular, the speed of the connection, along with the problems associated with streaming from an iOS device. Anybody who has read any of my articles knows that I am a big Crestron fan boy. But, taking a picture of the screen of your iOS device, and sharing that picture is not “streaming” from an iOS device.
Of the VIA products the Connect Pro is the only one that I have had direct experience with. In the time I have spent with the product it is has proven its worth and is now the standard going in our classrooms. Speaking of worth, the Connect Pro was a few hundred dollars less than the Crestron AirMedia product. So proving its worth sets a low bar from the start.
I believe that wireless connections are very valuable to collaboration in the classroom and the board room. What I think we tend to miss though when we get caught up in collaboration talk is the fact that this box provides a very simple way to completely eliminate the “dongle” and cable problem that users experience all the time. In some of our classrooms, we have a VGA cable, HDMI cable and three adapters attached to those cables for people to use their phones, iPads, Surfaces or other mobile devices. Anyone who has spent time supporting a presentation system knows that the dongle problem is a common one. With the addition of this box that all goes away. In fact, my experience with this box suggests that we could even do away with the single auxiliary HDMI cable. The download and setup of the VIA software tool literally takes seconds.
If that was all the Connect Pro did, it would still be worth its cost, however, the Connect Pro is far more than a wireless presentation gateway. It is also a complete collaboration toolkit. Like other devices, the Connect Pro can display the screens of four computers at one time. There is a moderator mode that allows a person to choose which screen are being displayed. This utility is very helpful in the board room or classroom where participants are comparing results, or data, and want to look at it side by side.
This device also allows for text chatting during presentations. These text messages can be sent privately from one participant to another. A great tool for communication with other participants in a way that is not distracting for anyone in the room. A white board collaboration allows for multiple participants to annotate over the screen being displayed. This is a fantastic way for students or a teacher in a classroom, to point out specific pieces of a presentation, or ask a detailed question. A final collaboration aspect of the device is the ability to send files to other participants. Do you want that Excel file that was just examined? How about the PowerPoint presentation with detailed notes? Send a text message to the person who just presented and they can directly FTP it to you.
In my testing, video over the wireless connection was quite adequate. If you are showing a short clip as part of a presentation, I would feel very comfortable using the wireless feature. However, if you are showing a longer video, and you don’t want to worry about quality degradation or buffering, then the Connect Pro allows you to upload the video directly to it. This eliminates any buffering, stuttering or quality loss.
One feature I found surprising is that the Connect Pro requires a hard coded IP address. While I understand the value of always knowing the IP address, that can be easily resolved by using a BOOTP or a fixed DHCP address. It is a pain to have to enter the information in manually, and this is one of the few products I have seen that require it. A solid note on networking is that the device does let you tie into your Active Directory user database. Although I have not experimented with this feature, it is very promising. It will allow you to do things like make all faculty moderators by default, and all students participants.