The whiteboards of tomorrow: 3 interactive displays

Meetings are made more productive by digital 'whiteboards' that you can write on and interact with.

A company meeting is more than just one person talking to a group. It can also include PowerPoint presentations, videos and, very often, a whiteboard on which attendees can map out lists and create charts and notes.

Within the last few years, the plain whiteboard has given way to more complex and capable tools. These large, technologically sophisticated interactive displays can be "written on" using a digital marker, a stylus or a finger. Users can also (depending on the display) pull up a presentation, website, video or company document; save or email whatever has been written on the display; and allow remote attendees to view the presentations (or even participate) using their own computers or mobile devices.

Until recently, most interactive displays used external projectors, which send an infrared beam to the display -- and to anything in front of the display, such as the presenter. The beam then bounces back to the projector, letting it know where your hand or stylus (or whatever you were using to "draw" on the screen) was.

However, because of the distance between the projector and the display, which can be 10 to 15 feet, and the electronics involved, these projectors generally have a noticeable delay between when you touch the screen and when the action shows up.

The latest generation of high-resolution interactive displays, however, use touchscreens and built-in sensors rather than external projectors. They not only deliver sharper pictures, but add a wider variety of annotation, video communication and collaboration features -- without the glare of an outside projector nearly blinding you.

Interactive displays

Because they use huge LCD display panels, these new interactive monitors look like oversized TVs. They have thin profiles, black frames and the ability to show HD images and video; some even go as far as UltraHD resolutions of 3840 x 2160 or more.

I tested three of the latest interactive displays:

(Microsoft's much-anticipated Windows 10-based Surface Hub display didn't ship in time for this roundup.)

Editor's note: Please see our Sept. 2017 review "3 digital whiteboard displays for business collaboration" for a look at three more recent interactive displays: the Google Jamboard, the Microsoft Surface Hub and the InFocus Mondopad.

These new interactive displays (which can now be up to about 9 ft. diagonally) use a series of emitters and sensors nestled on the display frame's inner edge. The display's electronics are constantly calculating where fingers or pens are based on where the beams are broken. As a result, most large interactive displays react quickly to touch.

In addition, you don't need to be actually touching the screen. If you hover your finger or pen slightly above the surface, the display accurately responds.

Because the sensors that ring the screen can be as big as roughly 0.2 in. wide, the actual displays are usually recessed as much as an inch from the device's frame to accommodate the electronics. This can make writing or drawing in the corners awkward.

These displays connect to other systems, such as laptops, tablets or phones, in a variety of ways. In addition to old-school cables, you can wirelessly connect, although some displays, like the Smart Kapp IQ and the Sharp Aquos Board, require you to load special apps.

How I tested

To compare these interactive displays, I set each one up in my office for at least a month and did everything from presenting and going over websites to watching videos, movies and sports.

After unpacking and assembling each, I spent some time measuring and weighing them. Because they are larger than your average display and can't be simply dropped on a desk, I tried them with two mounting carts: a Bretford Designer Flat Panel Cart and a Luxor Crank Adjustable Flat Panel TV Cart, each of which have standard VESA mounting hardware.

Next, I spent some time investigating each monitor's menu system, remote control (if it had one), and other features (for example, if it was able to automatically start up when someone entered the room). I checked out the screen's ports and whether it came with a computer or need to have one installed. Those that included a wireless connection were tried out along with the required apps. I also looked at whether each had speakers, a microphone and a webcam.

I connected each of the monitors to a Surface 3 tablet, Google Nexus 5 phone (with a SlimPort adapter) and an iPad Mini (with Apple's Lightning Digital AV Adapter).

After measuring each screen's brightness in a darkened room in nine locations with a Minolta LM-1 light meter and a white image displayed, I averaged them and converted the result to candelas per square meter, or nits.

Next, I displayed a standard set of color bars and a variety of test patterns generated by StarTech's HDMI/DVI Video Test Pattern Generator. I also used a Geffen video matrix switcher to simultaneously send the same video signal to each screen for side-by-side comparison. I evaluated them for color, brightness and contrast, and then ran a series of stored videos and live streams while looking for choppiness, artifacts and out-of-sync audio. Finally, I listened to the audio tracks of several movies and video clips to see which sounded the best.

To see how much power these monitors use, I connected them to a Kill-a-Watt power meter and measured their draw while in use and asleep. Working on the (perhaps inflated) expectation that the screen would be on for 10 hours a day over the work-year and asleep for the rest of the time, I calculated annual operating expenses for each display, using the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour for power.

So after watching HD videos, working through complicated PowerPoint shows and marking up screens with each of these displays, I'm convinced that this is the way to go for equipping a conference or boardroom. Interactive projectors just can't compete on ease of use and quickness of response (not to mention, not aiming a beam of intense light at the presenter).

Here are my experiences with three of the latest.

InFocus JTouch Whiteboard with LightCast

Note: The InFocus JTouch Whiteboard is no longer available. Please see our Sept. 2017 review "3 digital whiteboard displays for business collaboration" for a look at InFocus' newer Mondopad model.

The InFocus JTouch with LightCast squeezes a lot of interactive display into a small and relatively inexpensive package. (For this review, I looked at model INF6501cp; the same configuration is available for schools as model INF6501c.)

At 110 lb. and 36.5 x 60.5 x 3.7 in., the JTouch screen can be a handful to install, but it's smaller and at least 12 lb. lighter than either the Sharp or the Kapp IQ displays.

While InFocus calls the JTouch's screen a 65-in. display, its active area actually measures 64.1-in. diagonally. It uses strips of infrared emitters and sensors along the inner edge of the screen's bezel; as a result, the screen is recessed 0.6 in. from the frame.

The display can discern up to six simultaneous touch inputs so several people can work together on the screen. It can react to basic gestures, like pinching to resize an image. Its response during testing was instantaneous and smooth.

Unlike the other two displays reviewed here, the JTouch comes without any stylus or eraser, and lacks a front shelf to stow things such as the remote control. To work the screen or write on it, you can use your fingers (or any item for that matter), to interact with the screen.

infocus jtouch f InFocus

InFocus JTouch Whiteboard with LightCast

The screen's glass surface was a little too smooth for my taste; I preferred the Sharp's textured display, which offers more touch feedback. InFocus also sells a textured antiglare model for $3,500 ($200 more than the reviewed unit); according to a company representative, U.S. customers tend to like the textured surface better.

Overall, the JTouch is a jack of all interactive trades -- it has the ability to draw in a rainbow of colors, display smooth video and let you connect without needing a new app. Because its computer is built into the display, its apps are the best integrated and simplest to use of the three.


Like the Sharp, the JTouch's display shows Full HD resolution, although it is less detailed than the 4K images available on the Kapp IQ screen's UltraHD. If you look closely, you can see some difference between the Kapp and the JTouch -- with large photos and image files, the latter's HD display shows some fuzziness and jaggedness in the details. For most corporate uses, however, the JTouch should be fine.

There are controls in the lower right corner for turning it on and off, as well as opening and selecting from the onscreen menu. The control buttons are awkwardly placed on the bottom of the frame, hidden from view, so you have to blindly reach under to access them. The menu can do things like adjust the brightness, contrast and color temperature, but there are no preset modes, as there are with the Sharp and Kapp IQ displays.

Luckily, although the controls on the monitor are a bit awkward, they are duplicated on the JTouch's large remote control, which adds the ability to pick the video source, freeze the image and mute the audio. I would have liked it even more if the keys were backlit, however.

The JTouch leads the three reviewed displays in terms of connection potential: It includes four HDMI ports as well as one VGA port, one component port and one composite video port. In other words, it can handle just about any video source that you can throw at it. It can also display picture-in-picture format for incorporating two video feeds simultaneously.

In addition to a power-out port for a computer or other display, the JTouch has an RS-232 port for controlling the screen and four USB 3.0 ports in the display's lower left corner. However, while you can plug in a USB drive and bring up a JPG image, it can't directly play a video or presentation; for that you'll need an external computer.

There's also an Ethernet port in back and 802.11n Wi-Fi networking so you can attach a mobile device such as a notebook or tablet. It can connect with other displays across a company's WAN for group meetings or training sessions, but you'll need to set up a video server.

Get connected

The most efficient way to work with external devices, however, is by using JTouch's LightCast technology, which mirrors your notebook's or tablet's screen wirelessly using AirPlay (for Apple devices) and Miracast (for Android and Windows devices). Using LightCast, it took me only about a second to connect -- and I didn't have to install any new apps.

The JTouch screen comes with an embedded LightCast Android-based computer that includes built-in connection software, a Web browser for use on the display and BigNote software for drawing and writing on the board with the choice of line widths, colors and opacity. When everything is done, you can save, print or email the screen's contents.

You can't, however, add software to the JTouch's computer for specialty applications or run Word or Excel, although you can connect a Windows PC or a Mac via cables.

During testing, everything -- connecting it to my Wi-Fi network, browsing on the Web, drawing on the display -- worked well together, making the JTouch not only the smallest, but also the best integrated package of the three.

It was able to deliver 220 candelas per square meter (cd/m2) of brightness, just about midway between the brighter Sharp (at 243 cd/m2) and the duller Kapp IQ (at 193 cd/m2). Its video was smooth and the JTouch's color balance was the best of the three with vivid yellows and greens, and rich reds and blues. While watching videos the sound was well synced and was surprisingly rich and vivid.

When it's running, the JTouch uses 104 watts, by far the lowest electrical consumption of the three, although it never gets below 12 watts when it's not being used. All told, if it's used for 10 hours every business day, it should cost about $35 a year to operate, about half the cost of using either of the other two displays.

Bottom line

In a conference room setting, I found the JTouch to be the easiest of the three to connect to a tablet, phone or notebook because it doesn't need a special connection app. Because its computer is integrated into the display itself, all the applications that came with it worked well and almost instantaneously.

Although at $3,300, the JTouch with LightCast is the least expensive of the displays reviewed here, its good performance and range of features recommend it as a good choice. InFocus's JTouch can make presenting and collaborating a lot easier.

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