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Whiteboard Capture Devices

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At a Glance
  • Electronics for Imaging eBeam System 3

  • Virtual Ink mimio

It's amazing that whiteboards are sold without one crucial feature: a preprinted area that reads, "Do not erase!" Most whiteboards we see include this determined scrawl somewhere, or else the ghostly residue of those words. If you simply can't think without a dry-erase marker in hand, then it's time to look into getting a whiteboard capture device, such as Electronics for Imaging's eBeam System 3 or Virtual Ink's mimio. You can then save your ideas and drawings in a more-lasting digital format on your Mac with these systems' included software, now available for both Mac OS 9 and OS X.

Each product includes a capture device that attaches to any ordinary whiteboard, and regular dry-erase markers, which fit into battery-powered sleeves that relay the markers' positions on the board by way of ultrasonic signals. The capture devices connect to a Mac via USB, and transfer the marks made on the whiteboard to the included software. You can also use both products in presentation mode, which enables you to control your Mac from the whiteboard with a projected display. We tested both systems in OS X (the eBeam System 3 with software version 2.1 and the mimio with software version 1.6) and found that while each performed well in terms of capturing whiteboard strokes and saving them to the Mac, the eBeam's built-in network-conferencing capability earns it higher marks than the mimio.

On Your Marks . . .

Naturally, our first concern was whether these devices would accurately translate to the Mac what we drew on the whiteboard. We found that, as with writing on carbon paper (if everyone hasn't forgotten about carbon paper by now), we had to apply firm pressure to both devices' markers to ensure accurate recording of strokes. In one example, we applied light pressure -- closer to what we'd normally use on a whiteboard -- to draw an image of an iMac, which the mimio didn't detect at all (see "Under Pressure"). Speed was also a factor; strokes dropped out when we deliberately wrote quickly (attempting to simulate a vigorous brainstorming session).

But the software in both packages includes virtual pens and erasers, making it easier for you to edit a project or even create new software-only whiteboards on the Mac without uncapping a single marker. The mimio offers a total of eight marker colors (you can buy additional sleeves separately), plus two eraser sizes. The eBeam sticks with four basic colors (red, green, blue, and black), but improves on the mimio's features with a text tool for adding typewritten notes on the project screen, as well as a useful highlighter tool (see "Mac Markup").

Virtual Ink claims the mimio's sensor can cover a maximum 4-by-8-foot area, while the eBeam System 3 can handle a 4-by-6-foot area. (Electronics for Imaging also sells the $599 eBeam System 1, which can capture a 5-by-8 area, but we didn't test that model.) Our whiteboard measured roughly 2 by 3 feet, so we couldn't test the limits of the devices' sensor range.

Out to the Playground

Wish you could go back to the beginning of your presentation, before you accidentally erased all that important information? As you work, each device's software records every move, so you can replay an entire session at any point. Aside from a basic play-pause button, mimio's software includes a horizontal slider for tracking to the point you're looking for. eBeam's offers a more useful choice of four replay speeds (half, normal, double, and quadruple) along with its play-pause button.

As you might expect, you can choose from a variety of export formats for sharing whiteboard data. You can save the replays from both programs as QuickTime or DV-formatted movie files (the latter are suitable for adding to digital-video productions); the mimio even includes a smart option for creating a complete iMovie project openable directly in iMovie. In terms of still images, both programs can create JPEG, PICT, and PostScript or EPS files; the mimio can also save files as SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format, and the eBeam can handle PDF and TIFF images. Both can create HTML files for viewing each whiteboard page on the Web.

Study Abroad Program

If everyone is in the same room while you're working away on the whiteboard, the meeting files you create provide a good backup of the session, for archiving or later viewing. But what if your coworkers are in another building, another city, or another country? Only the eBeam offers the capability on the Mac to share your ideas remotely in images without having to set up a complicated videoconferencing system. The mimio requires a Windows-only plug-in, purchased separately, or a Windows-only paid monthly service.

Sharing an eBeam meeting is as easy as naming the session, specifying an optional password, and clicking on OK. An eBeam company server hosts meetings, or you can specify another server; however, neither the eBeam's skimpy instructions nor its online help offer any more information on what's required to set up your own server. People attending your meeting need only download and install the free eBeam software to join in. (To initiate a meeting, you must have the eBeam hardware attached to your Mac.) You can determine whether to allow attendees to mark up the workspace for more-collaborative sessions or whether to limit them to simply watching the presentation.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Both the mimio and the eBeam System 3 provide the invaluable function of saving whiteboard scribbles to disk, but the eBeam's built-in remote-conferencing capability and better markup tools make it our top pick. Although neither device is particularly inexpensive, they're both much smaller and more portable than dedicated electronic whiteboards that sell for a few hundred dollars less. Now we're just waiting for a device that will erase the ink on the whiteboard when we shut down our Macs.

At a Glance
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