Have you been coveting a state-of-the-art, $2,000 electronic whiteboard? If so, you’ll want to check out two products that cheaply and quickly turn your 1980s whiteboard into a state-of-the art, virtual reality e-board.

The mimio, by Virtual Ink, and the eBeam, by Electronics For Imaging, Inc., attach to a regular whiteboard within minutes, enabling you to record classroom notes and even publish your whiteboard notes online in real time.

The mimio and eBeam also:

  • Print and save multiple “pages” or “slides” from your whiteboard.
  • Convert your presentation into HTML and image files.
  • Allow you to make alterations and notations to the whiteboard’s contents.
  • Easily pack into your briefcase for travel.
  • Include a mobile mouse function for use with presentations and projected desktops (eBeam’s is set to ship this month).

And both sell for under $600.

How they work
The mimio and eBeam both work by attaching a sensor to your whiteboard. Mimio uses a bar as its sensor, while eBeam has two squarish pods (see below). A dry marker is placed in a battery-operated holder that transmits the pen’s vibration to the sensor, which, in turn, relays the message to your computer via a connection cord. Each is packaged with software that interprets the transmission, instantly creating a virtual whiteboard on your desktop. According to the company, mimio “uses infrared and ultrasound technology to track the position of your marker stylus and eraser on the board.”

Mimio hardware includes the capture bar, four color-coded holders for dry-erase markers, and an eraser. The mimio eraser has two felt-covered eraser pads: a four-inch pad on the bottom for erasing big mistakes, and a narrow, one-inch pad on the side for smaller edits.

The mimio

EBeam weighs less than a pound and has four digital pen holders, two palm-size sensors, and a digital eraser. The two sensors can be attached to and removed from any whiteboard up to eight feet wide. The software prints in color to any printer.

The eBeam

A wizard walks you through the initial set up, which takes only a few minutes. The software for both products is simple to use and allows you to manipulate the virtual whiteboard during and after the presentation, make notes on your whiteboard slides, and save, print, or share your information with remote users via the Web.

File formats vary slightly depending on which package you purchase, but both will create a file that you could pop into a PowerPoint or Word presentation. The eBeam will save your presentation as a PDF, GIF, TIF, or JPEG; the mimio saves as a JPEG, bitmap image, metafile, or enhanced metafile.

Both also will convert your presentation to HTML for static Web publication.

Differences between the eBeam and mimio
If you’re only interested in the quality of the image, then I recommend the eBeam. Its image is clearer than the mimio’s and there were fewer translation problems. With the mimio, I found I had to redraw the letters to get the image to appear onscreen. The eBeam software also allows slightly more on-screen modifications than the mimio, including the ability to highlight sections.

The mimio offers several enticing enhancements, however. I was particularly impressed by the mimio’s talking calculator.

“Two plus two is four,” mimio said
The mimio includes an electrostatic calculator decal that you pop onto your whiteboard. You run through a simple wizard that registers the calculator’s location and you’re ready to calculate. You push the buttons with a mimio marker, and a voice reads out the numbers. The mimio even reads you the answer. It’s perfect for those who freeze when asked to do math computations.

I was also excited about the mimio’s handwriting recognition software. However, the results were disappointing. It translated “Weighs” as “Neighs” and “Uses your white board as a desktop” became “oases your White board as g desk10p.” The software isn’t part of the basic package—it’s sold separately for $99 on mimio’s site, though Virtual Ink is selling it for an introductory price of $69.

EBeam, incidentally, does plan to offer handwriting recognition software when it finds software that translates smoothly. I can’t say I blame them for waiting.

Share your whiteboard wizardry with the whole office
Both systems allow you to share your whiteboard over an intranet or the Internet.

EBeam does this in two ways. Meeting participants who have eBeam software can view the whiteboard on an internal network, or you can host a meeting on eBeam’s Web site, enabling anyone with a Java-capable browser to view your whiteboard in real time. The service is free and unlimited, but does require a special download.

Mimio hosts meetings using Microsoft’s NetMeeting or WebEx, a Web site for virtual meetings. With WebEx, you can share presentations, documents, and applications and participate in a text-based chat. However, you are limited to four participants and 10 minutes of application sharing. Any additional features, such as voice over IP or additional participants, cost extra.

Mimio is also promoting a system that allows you to package the contents of your whiteboard presentation with audio. BoardCast is scheduled for release in June and will use the RealNetworks G2 platform.

If you’ll be using a portable, you might consider that mimio’s power comes completely from your PC, while the eBeam requires a separate plug-in. Also, the mimio includes a USB adapter.
What other ordinary training tool would you like to give an upgrade? Your manuals? Your desk? Your students? Share your sci-fi training dream by e-mailing us or posting below.