A dedicated smartboard will set your company back close to £1,000, and considerably more for a fully featured model. But it probably won't be portable, or you might even have it permanently installed in a meeting room, which doesn't make for great flexibility. The Luidia eBeam Edge, on the other hand, can turn any projection screen into a digital whiteboard, with many more features beside.
The basic eBeam Edge package includes a USB-attached sensor, some software, a pen pointing device, and an eraser. Setup is surprisingly easy. The sensor, which is about six inches long, needs to be attached around the middle of one edge of the projection screen you plan to use as a whiteboard. The kit comes with four adhesive strips, which the sensor attaches to magnetically. So you can set up a selection of screens for use with a single Edge unit. You then connect the sensor to the host system via the long 5m USB cable included in the box, although a Bluetooth version of the Edge is also available for £100 extra that doesn't require this.
Once you have installed the Workspace software, it's time to calibrate the system using the pen pointing device, which is also necessary every time you reconnect the sensor. The software presents a matrix of nine crosses, which you point at with the pen. Once this is over, the whiteboard is ready to use. The pen takes a single AAA battery, and can also function as a mouse on the desktop projected onto the screen. But using the Workspace software, you can draw and write notes with the pen, which will appear on the screen and can be saved on the host computer. The eraser, which takes two C2032 batteries, is used to rub out what you have written.
You don't have to draw everything within the Workspace screen, either. You can import an image or grab a screenshot to annotate, and even bring in Flash SWF files. The application supports layers, which you can turn off and on. You can load a background, which can be a graphics file in most common formats, an Excel or Word document, or even a PowerPoint presentation, although loading Office documents requires the requisite Microsoft application to be installed. You can even annotate a PowerPoint presentation and save your annotations back to the presentation.
Your whiteboard drawing is recorded as an animation, with each stroke a frame. So you can play back your drawing or writing. You can also share your whiteboard with a meeting group over the Internet. This requires connecting through a server, with Luidia's own eBeam server address supplied, although you can add others or serve the session locally, and you must have the sensor hardware attached to start a meeting. If your company network's firewall blocks this traffic, a proxy server will need to be added as well. To join an eBeam meeting, you need the Workspace software installed on each client system, plus the Meeting Name and Password. The software is free to download, although it's only available for Windows, and you need to have registered the eBeam product online and created a login to do so. You get a chat facility as well as the shared whiteboard.
We found the eBeam Edge extremely easy to set up and use with Workspace. After calibration it operated faultlessly, with good correlation between pen motion and what appears on the whiteboard. There's a toolbar along the bottom and a circular palette you can position anywhere onscreen. This provides easy access to changing the pen colour and thickness, let's you switch the pen to an eraser, turn the pen into a mouse pointer, and undo the last action. You can also flip between pages. Another potentially useful feature is the ability to send your whiteboard documents to a Kindle. You can send all the pages you have created or just a range, in PDF, JPEG or BMP format, via the Kindle's unique email address.
The eBeam Edge Complete setup also comes with the Capture Pack, which can turn your real whiteboard or flip chart and marker pens into a virtual whiteboard. The Pack includes four marker pen holders and an eraser. Each one takes a pair of C2032 batteries. You can slip a marker pen into each holder, which are colour coded red, green, blue and black. Luidia supplies an alternative software called Capture for use with the Capture Pack. This has a rather different design to Workspace, although the features are very similar. This system is designed for use without a projector, so the calibration system simply asks you to define the corners of the flipchart paper or board with dots using one of the markers. You're then ready to go.
When you draw on the flipchart or physical whiteboard with a specific colour, this colour is replicated within the software, although we found you had to be careful to apply adequate pressure during drawing, as the Capture app was more susceptible to missing strokes than the virtual pen was within Workspace. You can draw multiple pages, and flip backwards and forwards between these. The palette options are ranged along the bottom of the screen in a ribbon, rather than in a floating circular widget, although the latter is also available via the sensor's driver software.
Capture can share a meeting in a similar fashion to Workspace, so virtual participants can follow and contribute to the whiteboard drawing. Capture also has a feature we couldn't find in Workspace – it can save your drawing animations as Flash SWF files, which could be useful when recording a presentation. There is also a version available for MacOS, although it's a few iterations behind the Windows release.
The Luidia eBeam Edge is a unique product, and it does its very specific job rather well. Compared to the significant expense of a dedicated whiteboard, it's reasonable value, and the flexibility of being able to use it with multiple whiteboards and host systems make it very useful. The shared whiteboard further extends the possibilities well beyond a traditional whiteboard, although this is primarily for people in the same room, unless you add software such as Skype on the top to provide an audiovisual connection with remote participants. Either way, the eBeam Edge will bring your collaborative whiteboard activities kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and make them even more productive. There's also a special educational version with software that runs on Windows, Mac OS and Ubuntu, so teachers and lecturers can benefit as well.