We've weighed the opinions of our columnists and network of industry experts. The results are in, and you're holding them in your hands - the winners of our annual Standing Ovation Awards for best presentation products of the year. As usual, this year's crop of winners set the standard of excellence much higher than the year before, or the year before, or the year before that. Indeed, the technical innovations and design improvements demonstrated by this year's top products were impressive. We can't thank everyone who deserves it, but our congratulations go out to everyone who helped make these products what they are today - winners.
Getting your message across has never been easier or more tasteful
Most of the equipment used to deliver presentations — notebooks, document cameras, interactive whiteboards, remote controls, etc. — has been around for a while. People have grown accustomed to having such equipment available to them whenever they present, and familiarity with the technology is no longer the impediment it once was. But this familiarity hasn't allowed manufacturers to grow complacent. On the contrary, now that people rely more often on various delivery tools to get their message across, the pressure is on to manufacture products that are easier to use, more reliable, and suitably well-designed to make the most of the latest technological advances — advances like faster computer-chip speeds, cheaper and better storage, higher-resolution imaging chips, more extensive broadband networks, more sophisticated software, and any number of other incremental improvements in our global technical infrastructure.
Ugly doesn't sell anymore
One area of improvement that rarely gets mentioned, however, is design. Thanks in large part to the success of Apple's design-conscious development philosophy, more manufacturers than ever now feel pressure to create products that not only work well, but also look good. Nowadays, you would be hard-pressed to find a computer in a plain beige box; almost every computer sold now has an interesting design element or two. It has to; otherwise, it won't sell.
This nod to taste and style can easily be seen in this year's Standing Ovation Award winners, particularly in the Delivery tools category. No matter how advanced the technology is, housing all of that 21st-century circuitry in an ugly container is no longer an option. Clean, stylish lines are now a prerequisite for a top-notch product. If you can include brushed aluminum or titanium, so much the better.
More than meets the eye
Of course, the product has to work as advertised, too. Better yet, it should work better than advertised. That is, it should contain features and capabilities the customer doesn't necessarily expect — but, once aware of, can't live without.
In addition to their basic functionality, most of the products in our Delivery category have at least one or two features that exist solely to surprise and delight their users. All perform their intended function extremely well, but all also seed their success with thoughtful extras that might seem small on the surface, but can make a big difference in front of a crowd.
Notebook, full-featured: HP Compaq nw8240
For presenters, Hewlett-Packard's nw8240 is a no-compromise machine with a 15.4-inch widescreen display, RAM configurable up to 2,048MB, a ragingly powerful ATI Radeon Fire GL V5000 graphics card with 128MB of video memory, and just about everything else — all in a 5.8-pound package. On the road, it gets upward of five hours of battery life; in the boardroom, it has a customizable one-button presentation mode for glitch-free presentations.
Price: $2,000 and up, depending on configuration. Contact: Hewlett-Packard Co., 800.888.0262, www.hp.com.
Runner up: Apple Powerbook G4 Price: $1,299 and up. Contact: Apple Computer Inc., 800.692.7753, www.apple.com.
Interactive whiteboard: Smart Board 600 series
Smart has brought interactive-whiteboard technology full circle its new 600 series. These new boards provide a larger surface area (up to 77 inches diagonal), wireless Bluetooth connectivity, and optional 15-watt, USB-powered speakers that can be mounted directly to the board or on the wall. Now that's interaction.
Price: $999 to $1,999; optional audio system, $299. Contact: Smart Technologies Inc., 888.427.6278, www.smarttech.com.
Runner up: Numonics Interactive Presentation Manager Price: $1,068 and up. Contact: Numonics Corp., 800.523.6716, www.interactivewhiteboards.com.
Interactive tablet: Smart Sympodium DT770
Smart's Sympodium tablets put the power of an interactive whiteboard, and a little bit more, into a presenter's hands. The new Sympodium DT770 can also run Crestron and AMX room-control software, giving you control of every piece of equipment in the room, including the window blinds.
Price: $3,999. Contact: Smart Technologies Inc., 888.427.6278, www.smarttech.com.
Runner up: Hitachi StarBoard T-15XL Price: $1,795. Contact: Hitachi Software Engineering, 888.615.9600, www.hitachi-soft.com.
Webconferencing/collaboration: GlowPoint/Sony/WebEx IVE
The IVE stands for "instant video everywhere," and that's what this service provides, among other things. The GlowPoint/Sony/WebEx partnership marries GlowPoint's IP-based network experience with Sony's conferencing know-how and WebEx's Webconferencing service to create an all-purpose conferencing/collaboration setup. Select Sony VAIO notebooks now have one-click access to this powerful service, which makes anytime, anywhere, any-media meetings possible — all from the your computer's screen.
Price: plans start at $499 per month. Contact: GlowPoint Inc., 866.456.9764, www.glowpoint.com; Sony Electronics Inc., 888.315.7669, www.sonyive.com; WebEx Communications Inc., 877.509.3239, www.webex.com.
Runner up: TalkPoint Price: varies. Contact: TalkPoint Communications LLC, 212.909.2900, www.talkpointcommunications.com.
Most Innovative New Product: PolyVision Thunder
PolyVision's Thunder is really a combination of AV products, which, put together, could add up to the ultimate brainstorming technology. Thunder collaborators use a plasma display as an interactive whiteboard to sketch out their ideas, which are then projected on the wall like a series of electronic flip charts. Thunder-equipped facilities around the globe can be linked together via a Thunder server for multipoint collaboration, and participants can also dial in from their desktop or notebook computers, enabling teams to work on ideas in real time, while they're still fresh.
Price: depends on configuration. Contact: PolyVision Corp., 800.620.7659, www.polyvision.com.
Notebook, ultraportable: Sony VAIO VGN-TX670P
It's the extras that make Sony's top-of-the-line VAIO a traveling presenter's dream machine. In addition to integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Bluetooth technology, it's got built-in cellular capability as well, so there's no excuse for avoiding your e-mail. A battery life of six-plus hours means it will rarely die on you, and Sony has also incorporated a Secure Digital memory-card reader, so you don't have to rely solely on Sony's proprietary Memory Stick.
Price: $2,500. Contact: Sony Electronics Inc., 877.865.7769, www.sonystyle.com.
Runner up: Toshiba Portege R-200 Price: $2,599 and up. Contact: Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., 800.316.0920, www.toshibadirect.com.
Tablet PC: Gateway CX200 Series Convertible Notebook
The first Tablet PC with a 14-inch widescreen display, the CX200 provides a generous viewing area for one-on-one presentations, as well as a large creative palette for drawing and annotating. Its battery lasts up to eight hours, and a wide variety of configuration options lets you customize the tablet's performance to your exact needs.
Price: $1,149 and up. Contact: Gateway Inc., 800.369.1409, www.gateway.com.
Runner up: Lenovo Thinkpad X41 Price: $1,899 and up. Contact: Lenovo Inc., 866.968.4465, www.lenovo.com.
Document camera, SXGA resolution (1,280 x 1,024 pixels): WolfVision VZ-57+
The Mercedes of document cameras, WolfVision's VZ-57+ features a 3-CCD, progressive-scan optical engine (most doc-cams have only one CCD) that delivers more than 70 million pixels. The camera captures images at a rate of 30 frames per second (fps), and supports three output ratios (4:3, 16:9 and 16:10), and can be IP-addressed to work like a Web-cam — albeit the best Web-cam imaginable.
Price: $17,850. Contact: WolfVision Inc., 800.356.9653.
Runner up: Elmo HV-8500SX IP Price: $7,000. Contact: Elmo Manufacturing Corp., 516.501.1400, www.elmousa.com.
Document camera, XGA resolution: Elmo P30
Elmo's P30 doc-cam features both style and substance. It weighs less than 11 pounds, but this beauty features a 15X optical zoom, a progressive-scan CCD, an SD card slot with the ability to capture short AVI clips, and software that, when connected to a computer, enables annotation, split-screen viewing and other helpful features.
Price: $2,950. Contact: Elmo Manufacturing Corp., 516.501.1400, www.elmousa.com.
Runner up: Samsung SDP-950 DX Price: $3,600. Contact: Samsung Electronics America Inc., 888.289.4988, www.samsungusa.com.
Portable Document Camera: Lumens DC80A Digital Visual Presenter
Sporting an ingenious design that folds up into a compact 3.3-pound package, the DC80A is the ultimate portable doc-cam. A 10 x 13-inch shooting area is perfect for displaying documents, and the camera's 20-fps shooting speed is faster than most doc-cams as well.
Price: $799. Contact: Lumens Integration Inc., 925.600.0988, www.mylumens.com.
Runner up: AVerMedia AVerVision 300i Price: $799. Contact: AVerMedia Technologies Inc., 408.263.3828,www.aver.com.
Audioconferencing System: Polycom Soundstation VTX1000 w/QSX module
Polycom's VTX1000 audioconferencing system allows you to speak naturally up to 20 feet away from your microphone, and features high-fidelity speakers that bring clarity to the voice on the other end. Pair the system with Polycom's new QSX module and not only can you talk, you can instantly share your computer screen with people on the other end of the line.
Price: $2,998. Contact: Polycom Inc., 800.765.9266, www.polycom.com.
Runner up: ClearOne MAXAttach Price: $999. Contact: ClearOne Communications Inc., 800.945.7730, www.clearone.com.
Videoconferencing: Tandberg 8000MXP
Tandberg's 8000MXP videoconferencing system pairs twin 50-inch plasmas with a formidable speaker system to provide a first-class multi-location collaboration experience. But it's the behind-the-scenes hardware that works the magic. Up to six separate video feeds can link several sites, and one-step connectivity renders the system almost foolproof, even for upper executives.
Price: $48,900. Contact: Tandberg, 800.538.2884, www.tandbergusa.com.
Runner up: Polycom VSX 8000 Price: $11,000 (without display). Contact: Polycom Inc., 800.765.9266, www.polycom.com.
Remote Control: Gyration GO 2.4 GHz Professional Cordless Optical Air Mouse
Gyration's latest remote allows you to program hand gestures that will execute up to 80 different computer actions, and its radio-frequency (RF) receiver continuously selects from 800 channels to avoid interference from other devices in the vicinity. And you can do it all from up to 100 feet away.
Price: $180. Contact: Gyration Inc., 888.340.0033, www.gyration.com.
Runner up: Interlink RemotePoint Navigator 2.4 Price: $109. Contact: Interlink Electronics Inc., 800.340.1331, www.interlinkelec.com.
Portable Speakers: Interlink Speak-n-Go
Interlink's Speak-n-Go uses flat-panel speaker technology to create a carry-along speaker system that can fit into a briefcase. Flat-panel speakers disperse sound more evenly than traditional speakers; all you have to do is unfold it, put it anywhere in the room, and start talking.
Price: $599. Contact: Interlink Electronics Inc., 800.340.1331, www.interlinkelec.com.
Runner up: JBL On Tour Price: $100. Contact: JBL, 516.255.4525, www.jbl.com.
Presentation recorder/server: Sonic Foundry Mediasite 440 series
Sonic Foundry offers one of the easiest ways to get a presentation or live event published for later recall or live viewing over the Web. Simply plug all your multimedia sources, computer, doc-cam, microphone, video camera, etc. into the Mediasite box, and it will do the rest. The fourth generation of this product comes in three versions: mobile, rack and videoconferencing.
Price: $22,250 to $24,950. Contact: Sonic Foundry Inc., 877.783.7987, www.sonicfoundry.com.
Runner up: MediaPointe DMR300 Price: $14,995. Contact: MediaPointe, 805.376.1740, www.mediapointe.com.
Other Standing Ovation Award Categories: Projection and display, Digital imaging and Software.