Linksys Presentation Player

By Eric Griffith

August 04, 2003

A product like this could be a dream in the right place requiring lots of presenters, but its limitations make it more annoying than useful.

Model: WPG12
Price: $300 street
Pros: Works as its own access point for easy connections
Cons: Slow when PC controls the screen or uploads, requires specialized client software on each PC.

The Linksys Presentation Player (WPG12) is the kind of product that makes some tradeshow types salivate. We have a little experience here at 802.11 Planet with tradeshows that run panels with multiple speakers and believe me, there's always a lot of speakers with a lot to say. Most of them want to say it with Microsoft's PowerPoint presentation software. Likewise, this kind of product has a lot of promise for a conference room or even a classroom where multiple presentations could go on.

Usually, in all such settings, everyone is lugging in a laptop, hooking their VGA port to an A/B switch that connects to a monitor or projector, and hoping it all works flawlessly. It seldom does.

The dream is for all those presenters to send their presentations to the projector sans wires. That's the dream the Linksys Presentation Player tries to deliver. But the setup and usage headaches from this unit will probably send casual users, and even some dedicated users, back to the safety of the A/B switch.

The WPG12 has its own VGA port, which you connect directly to the projector or monitor that's the final destination of the presentation. The unit acts as its own 802.11b access point -- in fact, it looks like every other blue/black colored, dual-dipole antenna-equipped product the company has, albeit with far fewer LEDs on the front. 802.11b laptops simply associate with it to get access to the projector. That's the easy part.

Setup is the hard part. The unit comes with a hard coded IP address (192.168.1.200) that requires changing if you use a different configuration. The setup directions seem to be outright wrong, indicating you should connect the unit to a computer's Ethernet port directly with the enclosed patch cord. However, the Ethernet port on the WPG12 appears to not be auto-sensing, so what you need is a crossover cable. I didn't have one handy, but luckily got around this by plugging the product and a PC with a static 192.168.1.xxx address into a hub. From there, I could surf using Internet Explorer to 192.168.1.200 to do the setup.

The setup is limited. You can turn on DCHP so the unit can get an IP address from a server elsewhere on your network, but it can't get the IP address wirelessly. So unless you'll tether it by Ethernet to a router, it's best to leave the IP static. That, of course, means individual laptops will probably have to have a static IP to connect to the unit, since the WPG12 isn't a DHCP server itself.

The WPG12 showed up easily in a site survey done with a laptop using a Linksys A+G dual-band PC Card. It's a little more involved to connect with cards from other vendors, obviously, but still doable.

The only way to actually get your laptop's video signal or presentation from the computer to the projector/monitor is to install the Linksys Presentation Player Control Utility software. Simple enough, but again, with several different presenters, getting them all to install proprietary software is probably too much to ask.

The software seeks out the WPG12 Player on the network and will then present some options. First: you can choose to broadcast your video signal to the projector with either basic color (as in slightly washed out but running fast) or true color (full color shots but slow transfer speed). This method provides the most control, but also the worst performance. If your presentation has a lot of transitions and animations it can be intolerable. Over a wireless connection, it's worse. You can run things from the laptop or you can control the cursor from the player with the included remote control (more on this below).

Second: Uploading a presentation transfers a copy of your PowerPoint file to the internal 32MB of memory on the WPG12. The file is parsed through the software on the client PC using PowerPoint to convert images; you can't upload slide images without PowerPoint installed. Those with older programs or Apple's Keynote have to go with the option of taking control of the Player.

After a file is uploaded, you can play back the presentation on the unit, no PC needed. The process of transferring large PPT files can take a while, especially if you've got other windows open on your Windows system. This is not a solution for the last minute.

Presentations on the Player are controlled with the included Infrared remote control. The remote comes complete with jog-dial-type cursor control, and buttons specific to jumping around the slides just as if you're in the PowerPoint software. The remote only works when pointed directly at the Player -- deviate a few inches and it won't catch the signal at all. I tried this with the unit's included batteries and with new Duracell AAAs just in case, with the same result. It's just touchy.

One very nice feature, however: the remote also has a built-in laser pointer for indicating things on your slides.

I found that once a Presentation was uploaded and run from the internal Flash memory on the WPG12, it worked quite well. No lag, the remote was easy to use, and laser pointers are always fun to play with as long as they don't involve sniper rifles. It's getting the file there in the first place that's the pain.

Requiring the separate utility for control is one thing, but it would be nice if the unit could serve as just basic network attached storage. If it was easier to upload presentations -- perhaps the unit could do some kind of PowerPoint runtime so the slide images didn't have to be vetted before upload -- the product would be infinitely improved.

For those doing presentations in a very controlled environment, such as a company conference room, this could be just the right thing. But if your presentations tend to be more seat-of-the-pants and uncontrolled, you'll find the WPG12 too restrictive to be useful.



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