Local companies offer useful display gadgets

to put your computer presentations on TV - Aug 26 1997

Do you ever have to show what's on your computer screen to more people than can comfortably crowd around your monitor? How about make a sale or explain a report using a presentation graphics program such as PowerPoint?

How to go about showing off your finely tuned presentation to your audience is a crucial question.

There is nothing more demoralizing than creating an effective, full-colour screen show, only to print it out as a bunch of black-and- white acetates to place, one at a time, on an old-fashioned overhead projector.

For some, the answer is a colour projector panel -- costing about $2,000 or so -- that lets them use that overhead projector to show their presentation right off their computer's screen. And for those with richer blood, there is always a high-intensity projector that again can beam its images right from their computer... but at a cost of $7,000 or more.

For most people, though, the size of their audience (or the size of their sales!) can't justify the expense of a projector, yet that audience is still too big to cluster around their monitor. And b&w acetates are so ... well, low-tech. Besides, you always get them out of order.

There are a couple of affordable alternatives that may seem attractive if you want to show off what's on your computer to a small to medium-sized audience.

A number of vendors, such as Vancouver's AverMedia (, market units, about the size of a small paperback novel, that can be used to connect a large-screen TV into a standard PC or Mac's video output.

Generally, these plug into the back of the computer with a short cable, then use two different cables -- one to go to either a VCR's video input or a high-end S-Video plug, and the other to connect back to your computer monitor. After this easy setup, the computer's video output appears both on its monitor, and on the big-screen TV.

Because TV picture quality is lower than what you get with a computer monitor, don't expect fantastic detail. Your audience won't be able to read that 10-point word processor text. As well, the edges of your computer screen may be cut off. That means no Mac menu bar or Windows 95 Taskbar on the TV image.

But neither drawback is a major factor with your typical computer-generated presentation. These typically use big, clear text that's easy to read across the room when shown on a 28-inch TV screen.

With prices under $250, these units are affordable and portable enough to travel along with a notebook computer (most of which have video-output jacks) for on-the-road presentations.

If you don't need to connect to a notebook, you could also consider a replacement for the video card in your desktop computer. Canada has become a world leader in producing computer video cards, with popular products from Quebec's Matrox and Ontario's ATI Technologies. Often, these products get targeted at game-players who hope to give their games 3D effects and faster display speed, but accelerated video can also give a surprising performance boost to those spreadsheet macros.

ATI's new product line, however, also builds the capabilities of an add-on TV-output device right onto the video card. Replace your current PC video card with their PC-2-TV model, and you'll be able to plug that large-screen TV right into your computer. You get somewhat better TV picture quality than through the add-on devices, at about the same price.

As a couple of added bonuses, the accelerated graphics will make everything on your computer feel faster, and if the computer is in your home, your kids will be thrilled to be able to play their computer games on the big-screen TV.

ATI also markets an ATI-TV add-on that does the opposite: it lets you connect a video source-TV cable, VCR, or camcorder into your computer, and view it on your high-resolution computer screen. And their All-in-Wonder card puts both units together for about $450, being simultaneously an accelerated computer video card and a TV output device with a built-in TV tuner. TV picture quality on the computer screen is very crisp, and you can run it full screen or in a small window, or even in thumbnails of up to 50 channels at once (updating very slowly).

Of course, none of us would get diverted by entertainment while at work, but is there a business justification to getting TV on your computer? Perhaps. You can capture screens from video output, with good enough quality to use as a graphic source for many uses.

But you can also set the software to monitor the closed-caption text, and automatically capture items that mention your desired target words. Get the text of TV news items mentioning your business ... or your competitor's.*

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan