Valley Smart Boards

Next-generation interactive digital displays are offering new features, enhanced total cost of ownership (TCO), and seamless integration into the existing technology platforms in your meeting room or classroom. Here’s how to evaluate the new interactive displays and decide if they are right for your organization.

Interactive Displays– the Choices

Once monopolized by video projectors, the classroom, corporate meeting room, and other communication spaces are now seeing many new-generation displays enter the market.

Video projector-based solutions

Video projector-based solutions are still available in the market, and new generation lampless projectors are offering better TCO (total cost of ownership) than in the past (based on fewer or no lamp changes over the life of the projector). But video projectors installed in a classroom or a meeting room typically require wiring and/ or mounting equipment in the ceiling, lamp changes and other maintenance. And historically video projectors have not incorporated interactive features as quickly and easily as have flat panels. Projectors also have the added disadvantage of producing a dimmer image on the screen when compared to direct view LCD and new generation LED panels so that “dimming” or turning off of the room lights is needed for optimal visual performance (and this darker room requirement can result in loss of audience attention and audience engagement.).

Interactive whiteboards and interactive digital displays

Many users are now gravitating toward value-based interactive LCD panel displays and LED-backlit interactive LCD displays (often shortened by the industry to “LED displays”), either integrated with touch technology, with a touch overlay, or with other gesture-based interactive technologies. Typical of this trend is Caldwell University which has installed more than 35 AQUOS BOARD™ interactive display systems from Sharp. “Implementing the AQUOS BOARD displays has been an exciting project because of their impact on everyone across campus,” says Don O’Hagan, Chief Information Officer at Caldwell University. “From the President’s Board Room to the classroom, the conference room, the athletic teams and facilities and even to the university’s distance learning centers there isn’t a student, faculty or staff member that doesn’t have a fingerprint, literally, on these boards.” Acquisition cost is, of course, a key factor in TCO for a display. And while standard midlevel lumen output projectors may cost less than a competing flat panel display at the time of purchase, the high cost of projector replacement lamps and installation costs (installation of electrical receptacles in ceilings, wiring and ceiling mounts) means that the market is getting to a point where the TCO of flat panel solutions is compelling. And the cost is not the only factor here. Direct view LCDs and LED interactive displays to have other benefits including ease of use, fewer heat emissions, and worry about students, presenters, or other attendees blocking the projected beam of a video projector. (Alleviating the projected beam problem of video projectors can be achieved by using short-throw projectors, but at a premium price.) And beyond the world of video projection, the technology of the flat panel interaction has now moved well beyond the “whiteboard.” Today’s interactive digital displays feature multifunction touch response supporting multiple touch points, annotation and collaboration functions that let multiple users annotate simultaneously, touch pen options, ability to capture/display the screen contents, videoconference visibility and more. And the best interactive digital display solutions offer digital signage functionality if needed, such as converting the displays for a special event into an interactive Wayfinding or Donor Wall display in the lobby of a school or business.

Interactive Digital Displays: Closed vs. Open

The digital whiteboard was introduced into the market some 15 years ago. And today’s iterations of the digital whiteboard as well as some interactive displays, while incorporating advances such as Windows-based operation and video conferencing and multi-touch, are still based on the model of single-vendor, “one size fits all.” Whether from the legacy vendors extending their products with new features or new entrants in the interactive display space, these products are based on the “closed architecture” model: the user needs to “buy into” the entire system from that one vendor, whether it be proprietary annotation software, proprietary cameras for video conferencing, proprietary codes, etc., in addition to the flat panel or projector-based display. And these “closed architecture” systems can require extensive training to use them properly, as they do not fit easily, right out of the box, into a multi-device Windows® environment or into new BYOD environments or new cloud-based video conferencing environments. For those wanting to leverage their existing investment in collaboration equipment and also wanting to not have to go through more rounds of having their IT department approve new additions to the network or classroom/meeting space, the alternative of an “open architecture” interactive whiteboard is compelling. Such interactive displays based on an open architecture model are proving to be the best way to seamlessly integrate new advanced interactive display solutions into the organization, at a more modest cost, while simultaneously taking advantage of existing best practices within the user’s organization. Many schools, universities, or businesses have already invested in video conferencing gear, for example, and are not keen on having to invest even more on the add-ons required if they purchase a “closed architecture” interactive display. An example is when the closed architecture display solution requires the purchase of several proprietary cameras for video conferencing, while the open architecture solution lets you use lower cost, off-the-shelf cameras that the organization already has in use or can purchase at a lower cost. Indeed there is a trend toward more open architecture interactive display solutions. Users and technology managers in K–12, higher education, and corporations are moving to leverage their existing investment and more seamlessly integrate any new technology with their other platforms and systems rather than create more technology islands.

Critical Features of a State-of-the-Art Interactive Display System

When you start the selection process for an interactive display system, ask us vendor if you can “test drive” the system. You need to both try out features and make sure the feel of the system is right for you. Beyond the features, as described in spec sheets, you need to know how fast the display responds to your touch. Does it feel fast and responsive? Here are some of the core features to look for, and the right questions to ask when you’re in the process of selecting a high-quality interactive display system.

• When you choose your interactive display brand, choose a display provider that offers a range of sizes. One size does not fit all. Does the vendor offer a wide range of screen sizes?

• Is the interactive display brand you are considering a “closed architecture” product? Or is it an open architecture solution that will integrate smoothly with your existing video conferencing, cameras, software and other equipment?

• Does the brand of interactive display you are considering have Windows embedded, or does it let you run the displays from your own OS that’s already approved by your IT department?

• Will the purchase of the interactive display also require proprietary annotation software, proprietary cameras for video conferencing, etc, in addition to the flat panel or projector-based display for the system to work optimally?

• Will the interactive display vendor require software licensing for all of your staff, adding costs?

• Is annotation and collaboration software included in the price of the interactive display?

• Does the interactive display use a third-party touch overlay for the multi-touch functions, or is it integrated into the design of the interactive display from the start of design/engineering?

• Will your staff need the training to operate the interactive display? • Is the brand of interactive display you are considering from a vendor that offers only Android™ platform-based display/software packages, or is it based on a more Windows friendly platform?

• For multi-touch interactivity, how many touch points will the display support?

• How many users can use the interactive display simultaneously?

• Will the interactive display work in a BYOD (bring your own device) environment?

• Will the interactive display perform digital signage functions if needed? (Such as turning the displays, for a special event, into interactive wayfinding or donor wall displays in the lobby of a school or business, for example.)


Interactive digital displays based on an open architecture model are proving to be the best way to seamlessly integrate new advanced interactive display solutions into the classroom or meeting room. More and more organizations are doing this at a more modest cost, while simultaneously taking advantage of existing best practices and existing AV and video conferencing equipment and software investments in the user’s organization.


Find out if a Smart Board is a fit for your organization. Contact your Valley Office Systems representative today to schedule a free in-office analysis.

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