Review: Barco ClickShare – multiuser wireless presentation

 

CLICKSHARE REVIEW -  Ahhh, the quarterly business strategy review meeting.       Enter Finance to review the quarterly performance,  then Marketing presents the next big advertising buy, followed by Engineering project status updates…     It is an endless meeting with endless presentations - and everyone fumbling with the projector cable and performing those annoying display resolution adjustments.

 

Now, imagine a meeting where Finance is presenting next quarter’s forecast, and with a single click of a button the Director of Sales displays next quarter’s sales funnel, right next to the financial plan that is currently being displayed… with nobody fumbling with the cables to interrupt the discussion that is in progress.     This is ClickShare.

 

ClickShare conference room.

Wireless, multiuser, side-by-side presentation.

 

Barco was kind enough to give us early-look access to their new “one click wonder” system, so we could demonstrate this new presentation technology to one of our Fortune 500 clients, who is eager for this sort of collaboration technology.     More about the results of our client demonstration later in this article.

 

System Overview:

ClickShare System

ClickShare Base Unit, Button and Button Storage Basket

According to Barco, “A standard ClickShare setup consists of four USB powered devices (the ‘ClickShare Buttons’), a storage basket to neatly store the Buttons when they’re not used (the ‘ClickShare Tray’) and a Base Unit. The Base Unit has a fixed connection to the meeting room’s visualization system, and takes care of all the needed processing. Users who want to get their presentation on the large meeting room screen, simply connect a Button to their PC or MAC. They start the application, click the ClickShare Button and immediately their desktop is wirelessly transferred to the large visualization system. What’s more, ClickShare does not interfere with your laptop’s resolution, and automatically displays the screen content in the most optimal way.”

Although the number of  active presenters is limited to four, there can be up to 25 users simultaneously connected and ready to present – allowing people to prepare their connection before it is time to present.    A user can be up to 100-feet away from the Base Unit, which should be sufficient even for large meeting spaces.

Technical Details:

Simply put, the ClickShare base-unit is an 802.11n wireless access point (operating on either 2.4GHz or 5GHz band) that allows up to 25 “client buttons” to connect.     This connection utilizes the most recent 802.11 security features, such as WPA2-PSK link authentication and CCMP link encryption.    On top of this encrypted connection, up to four video streams (maximum of 20 frames per second) can be simultaneously processed by the base unit and displayed on the room’s visual projection system.

Inputs / Outputs:

The  Base Unit can connect to AV systems using DisplayPort, Single link DVI-I, or VGA (using included converter).     Future audio capabilities will be possible via the 3.5mm Analog Line Out/In mini-jack sockets.     There are five USB ports (one on front) that are used to “pair” buttons with unit and update the button firmware.      An Ethernet LAN port allows access to the web-based setup and maintenance pages.

 

Installation and Setup

Our client demonstration started out with us equipping their meeting room with the Base Unit – connected to their audio-visual display system.      The next step was to connect the ClickShare buttons to their laptops.      Activating the buttons was simple.   We just double-clicked on an executable, and presto the easy buttons were ready to go.    The new Click-Share enabled room was up and running in about 5-minutes.     Simple really… Really simple.

Base Unit:

ClickShare Base Unit

ClickShare Base Unit – pairing with a ClickShare button.

The Base unit can be attached to the Audio Visual presentation system using either DVI or DisplayPort cable.     By default the display resolution setting is automatically detected, but can be set to a predetermined resolution (up to 1920×1200) through the unit’s web configuration page.

There is a 3.5mm Analog Output port, but audio capability was not available in the software version we used for our demonstration.     Barco indicated this support would be available in a software update expected in January 2013.

The Base Unit can be connected to the LAN by simply connecting an Ethernet cable to the rear of the unit.   By default it acquires a DHCP address, but a static address can be specified through the web configuration page.

Client Buttons:

ClickShare Button Pairing and Firmware Update

ClickShare Button Pairing and Firmware Update

Buttons must be “paired” with the desired base unit before they can be used to display content.   If multiple ClickShare Base Units are in the building, then this process ties the buttons to the desired Base Unit – so content is not inadvertently displayed in the wrong room.    Like other things “ClickShare”, this process is simple.     Just plug the button in to the Base Unit’s USB port, and pairing information is automatically written to the button.     If the button firmware is down-level, it is automatically updated during this time.       The pairing and update status is displayed on the screen, and only took a few seconds to complete (including a button firmware update).

ClickShare Task Bar Icon on Mac OSX

ClickShare Task Bar Icon on Mac OSX

When the “paired” Client Buttons are connected to a PC or Mac, it initially acts like a USB Thumbdrive, and the user can simply navigate to the “ClickShare Drive” and run the software executable (called ClickShare_for_Windows or ClickShare_for_Mac).     Once executed, a task bar icon appears that reports status and also allows the user to “right click” to operate ClickShare without touching the button itself.

The “ClickShare Drive” also contains a setup program, that can be used to permanently install the control software on the PC, for frequent users of the system.

 

Operation and Performance:

ClickShare Startup Screen

ClickShare Startup Screen

Operation is ultimate simplicity.    When the Base Unit is powered on, it displays the system “Wallpaper” image when no computer is actively displaying.      The default Wallpaper is an instruction sheet to guide users through the steps of connecting the button to their PC and displaying the image.

Click the button, and your computer’s desktop is displayed on the room’s presentation system.      If other users are already displaying, then the screen is automatically reconfigured and your display is presented side by side.    The computer’s name is briefly displayed in the corner, so the audience can tell which person’s screen just appeared.    The usability is a smooth, animated resizing akin to Apple’s Airplay mixed with Exposé, for you Apple Users out there.     A nice feature is that the aspect ratio of each laptop’s display remains as the laptop user had it set, so the image being displayed is formatted as each user intended.

ClickShare displaying three computers

ClickShare displaying three computers

A “Long Click” of the button requests the system to exclusively display your desktop, and disables all other users.      This is another good “one click” capability when one user’s information is needed in full screen display mode.  Both of these “one click” operations can also be initiated by right-clicking the ClickShare task bar icon.

ClickShare red button while displaying

ClickShare red button while displaying

The circular edge surrounding each button contains LED lighting that glows white when not presenting, and turns red to indicate that the computer is displaying on the room’s presentation system.    This is a convenient visual indicator that your desktop is on display for others to see.

Performance was good for its intended purpose of business presentations and collaboration.  The system is rated up to 20 frames per second, and is sufficient for Power Point animations and typical business videos.     Some dropped frames were observed in fast-paced videos, or when multiple devices are displaying video at the same time.

Video Demonstration

We recorded the following video to demonstrate ClickShare’s capabilities with dynamic content, such as video or other on screen animations:

 

 

For optimum performance, Barco recommends at least a Pentium Dual Core CPU.  High-end laptops will perform well, so we tested the performance on a couple of lower-end Pentium-D and Celeron laptops running Windows Vista and Windows 7 respectively.  While projecting, the Windows Task Manager indicated that the ClickShare_For_Windows application was using approximately 20% of the available CPU power on both of these systems.      Display performance was good on each of these systems, so this should be a usable solution for most any organization.

We also tested the performance on a new Apple Power Book, with a Core i5 CPU.     As expected, the display performance (including video clips) was good.     Interestingly, the Activity Monitor indicated ClickShare_For_Mac was using approximately 30% of the available CPU power – noticeably more than what was required on the Windows systems, but still reasonable.

 

Custom Configuration & Maintenance:

Although ClickShare worked great for us right out of the box, sometimes a little customization is required.    Likewise, IT organizations will eventually need to perform support and maintenance activities on systems deployed throughout the organization.    To this end, ClickShare contains an embedded web server in each ClickShare Base Unit.     The password protected web server allows the unit to be securely configured with custom location identification text, as well as the typical network and security configuration options.     It also contains various diagnostic and maintenance logs to help remote IT staff diagnose and maintain the system.

Setup Page:

ClickShare Setup Web Page

ClickShare Setup Web Page

The Setup Page is the starting point for typical configuration settings related to the device identification and display settings, as well as the more advanced network configuration settings.     Each device can be programmed with a Meeting Room, Location and Welcome Message – which is displayed by the Base Unit while no computer is actively projecting (this default screen is known as the Wallpaper screen).

Speaking of Wallpaper, a custom Wallpaper image can be uploaded into each ClickShare unit to replace the default “instruction sheet” image.     When the wallpaper image is changed, it is updated in real-time on the display.

More advanced configurations are also possible, such as Display Resolutions, Standby Timeouts and network host name and addressing schemes.       The WiFi security settings and frequency bands can also be configured.

Maintenance Page:

ClickShare Maintenance Web Page

ClickShare Maintenance Web Page

The Maintenance Page is the starting point for support and maintenance activities.    It allows remote diagnostics of the Base Unit system, as well as any buttons that have been attached to the unit.

The Status page contains information such as firmware version and system sensor status (fan speed and component temperatures).     Also, every IT person’s favorite function – Restart System and Shutdown System buttons are available to be pressed from afar.

The Buttons page shows a list of every ClickShare button that has been attached to the Base Unit, and (if applicable) an Error Log is available to aid in determining why a button may have had an issue reported.

The Update and Configuration pages allow remote personnel to upgrade the firmware or save/restore standard configuration settings with a single click.     The configuration of one ClickShare Base Unit can be easily “cloned” to another unit.

 

Our Conclusion:

Granted, this is an innovative product – but perfection is not yet achieved.    A noticeable limitation was the inability to play sound through the AV system.     Barco indicated that this enhancement is planned in an update in the January 2013 time-frame.

Nevertheless, ClickShare is an impressive product.   How Impressive?     After our client demonstration, we placed a system order, so we can add ClickShare as a permanent addition to our AVTG equipment demo portfolio for our customers.

Although the system showed some performance deficiencies, it delivered what it is supposed to – a simple, cable-free, multi-user, collaborative, business presentation experience.

 

More Information:

ClickShare will be available in 4Q-2012.  Manufacturer’s Website:  http://www.barco.com/clickshare

 

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