BenQ EW800ST Smart Projector
Dumb displays might be okay as your computer screen but they’re increasingly redundant in any other application.
It started in the consumer space with smart TVs and now commercial displays have joined the party.
SoC (system on a chip) displays have changed the experience for hotel guests; are increasingly acting as the media player for digital signage; and have morphed into full-blown computers in boardrooms.
But what about ‘smart projection’?
Ask yourself this:
How handy would it be to switch on your meeting room or home office projector and browse the internet without turning on a computer?
BenQ asked themselves this question and answered: ‘pretty darn handy’.
And how handy would it be to have a projector in your home office that can run your VC meetings — just plug in a mic and camera?
Again, BenQ thought: ‘pretty darn handy’.
The BenQ EW800ST is a lightweight unit that looks much like any desktop data projector, the sort that are in grave danger of becoming extinct as LCDs become cheaper and connectivity easier.
Confession, it took me a while to get my head around using a projector like a smart display.
My first instinct is to plug in an HDMI cable and check the image.
Which is exactly what I did. The DLP image is perfectly adequate, albeit only WXGA (1200×800, 16:10). The short-throw lens produces a generously-proportioned image (around 100 inches from a metre away).
With WXGA resolution, this is not a projector to be scrutinising 4K blueprints or medical scans. But the EW800ST has image presets that make the most of the DLP engine and the all-glass lens array. This includes an Infographic mode which noticeably improves the sharpness of text and graphics.
Now it’s time to cut the apron strings.
After you connect the projector to your network you can begin to explore more of what makes the EW800ST unique.
It’s easy to cast content from your computer or iOS/Android device to the projector, in the same way you would to any smart TV or interactive whiteboard (USB wifi dongle supplied).
What’s more, the EW800ST has Firefox onboard for native browsing.
There’s a USB port to plug in a keyboard and mouse to control the interface, or you can use the BenQ Smart Control app to use your smartphone as a keypad and a trackpad for better (and untethered) navigation around the projector and the built-in business apps.
Using the Smart Control app also frees up the USB port to act as a reader — the projector can
natively display all the standard image and movie file formats.
The projector comes pre-loaded with Blizz by Teamviewer, which is a very capable app that allows team messaging, face-to-face HD VoIP video and audio calling, instant or scheduled huge group meetings (up to 300 people), screen sharing, and session recording. The EW800ST is also compatible with Zoom.
Launching a video conference is as straightforward as it is on any device.
Launching a call puts a number of considerations into sharp relief:
The image is huge: Sharing a call with others in the room and not feeling constrained or tethered to a chair in front of a PC screen changes the experience out of hand.
The projector’s sound is feeble: The EW800ST’s loudspeaker will get you out of a spot, but is entirely unsatisfactory for day-to-day use.
You need a decent webcam: obviously the projector doesn’t have its own camera, this is an extra purchase. The single USB port on the projector will need a hub once you connect a keyboard, mouse and webcam.
Keep the lights low: a projector of this size and power (3500 lumens) isn’t going to compete with ‘all blinds open’ ambient lighting.
The freedom: joining a call without tying up my laptop is a freeing experience. As is getting up and making the whole room my VC theatre.
Firefox: onboard browser, which you can spark up during your VC meetings.
Blizz: allows you to do a video conference and share screen content with colleagues.
TeamViewer Quick Support: an app a remote user to securely connect and troubleshoot the projector.
WPS Office: allows you to present Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, through the USB port or using the built-in memory on the unit.
Account Management System (AMS): Open up teacher’s own teaching material anywhere without entering the user name and password.
Device Management System (DMS): Manage status of multiple displays.
X-SIGN WIRELESS BROADCAST SYSTEM
BenQ is particularly big in the K12 education sector and has X-Sign broadcast is a wireless broadcast system that’s a real bullseye for schools as well as corporate office environment. Many BenQ display products, including the EW800ST can receive X-Sign Broadcast messaging, push alerts and announcements during class. An X-Sign message can be as broad or as targeted as the school admin likes, and it arrives immediately on the display. You can send graphics as well as text. Think of it as as a little like a classroom SMS.
THE CASE FOR & AGAINST
So is the EW800ST a nifty product in search of an application? This was my initial suspicion. Bright, large and cheap LED TVs are commodity items. Smart TVs are pricier. SoC boardroom displays which can run apps and VC are more expensive still. A smart projector’s appeal sits in parallel to the LCD options — they’re not immediately obvious.
That said, there are a handful of really quite compelling features that will make this product a godsend for a slice of the population.
The first and most obvious is the travelling business presenter: they’re accustomed to taking a laptop or a ‘dumb’ projector on the road. The BenQ smart projector provides the same attributes they love about their old projector but allows collaboration in a way they didn’t have before. No brainer — tick.
There’s another potential customer who probably has no idea they need a smart projector. It’s the new crop of Covid home office business people. For the price of a decent 65-inch TV, they get a 100-inch image along with native ability to run VC and browsing.
There’s yet another customer, and that’s businesses who don’t want or need fancy meeting rooms or huddle spaces but do need a way of connecting and collaborating with remote staff. This is a challenge they didn’t know they needed to meet until the pandemic hit. The EW800ST is eminently portable, cost effective, and has what it takes for a table of participants to be involved with a VC session.