Lee H. Badman

Network Computing Blogger

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Mersive Cuts Wires for Projection Systems

Given the ease with which data can flow from one device to another, it's easy to get frustrated by projector systems. We can move a presentation from a file server on a corporate network to a cloud sync service to a tablet, with nary a wire in sight. But when we step into a conference room to display the presentation, that frictionless data flow stops cold. Cables must be found, ports puzzled over, adapters affixed.

The projector makers haven't been very helpful. Some projectors include wireless input options, but they tend not to be practical in enterprise settings. You have to get the client software, configure your wireless settings, become an interferer to the rest of the WLAN, and not be on the Internet because the projector sits on a private network. These conditions make it particularly difficult for anyone outside the company--say a vendor, business partner or trainer--to walk into a conference room and get wireless access to the projector.

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Then there's the AppleTV paradigm. Based on every WLAN administrator's favorite Bonjour protocol (heavy sarcasm intended), AppleTV requires that the projector unit and anyone connecting to it be on the same broadcast domain. Further, you'd need to be able to sort through the chaotic slew of Bonjour devices for your target display. Or you can attempt to shoehorn in a "Bonjour gateway" from a third party, and add admin burden to make up for Apple's short-sightedness on Bonjour. Again, no thanks.

Now a company called Mersive thinks it has the fix, with its new Solstice display-sharing software. Solstice works with both projectors and flat-screen displays. It requires a Windows 7 PC to be connected to the display. It also requires client software on the device that the presenter uses. At present, Solstice supports Windows 7 and Apple iOS. The client software is free.

Here's how it would work in a classroom environment, like the campus at Syracuse University where I work. We have teaching station podiums equipped with Windows 7 PCs that connect to the overhead projectors in each room. Solstice server software would live on the PC. The instructor can use the PC, or a mobile device. He or she can also let others in the room access the display with their own wireless devices via a preshared session key (essentially a password). This would come in handy if, for example, student groups are sharing presentations in front of the class. It's also easy to picture this at work in a corporate conference room.

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I like that Mersive can enable wireless display without requiring a network redesign or rework. Each session can be isolated from the one next door via session keys, which cuts down on the chances for session hijacking or eavesdropping.

However, there are also downsides. Mersive isn't able to do away with the client component, which may mean some extra steps for folks coming to present in a Solstice-enabled environment. In addition, the lack of Android support is a significant hole, though the company says that OS is on its roadmap, along with Windows 8 and Mac OSX. The company also promises that a monitoring/reporting system for large Solstice environments is on the way, but didn't provide a timeframe.

And though the Solstice client application is free, each copy of the server software is a hefty $3,500. Volume discounts are available, but they would have to be pretty substantial to make Solstice a fit for small businesses and classroom environments, where budget tends to be more lean. That said, Mersive is taking a fresh approach to an old problem. If you're looking for relief from presentation headaches, Solstice is worth a look.

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