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Linksys Wireless-G Presentation Player

Model: WPG54G
Price: $299
Pros: Internal memory and USB port can store presentations for display without a PC
Cons: WEP only; each presenting PC requires client software; can't use advanced presentation features when running without a PC

Over the past year or so, many a conference room has been adorned by a Wireless Presentation Player. They let users display a presentation on a monitor or projector wirelessly and from their own computers rather than requiring them to copy and execute their presentations from a computer directly attached to the display device.

The newest version of the Linksys Presentation Player , the WPG54G, tries to build on its predecessors. Faster performance in the form of 802.11g speeds up the wireless transfer and execution of presentations and the ability to interface with external storage allow you to copy presentations to the device sans PC.

The WPG54G is the second Linksys product to adopt the company's new design motif -- gone is the familiar stout, black-and-blue chassis. In its place is a slim, silver case complete with the prominent on/off button on the front bezel. It the same as that found on the WRV54G VPN router-- this might explain the odd presence of that same on/off button on the router. The WPG54G can be used horizontally or vertically with the addition of included "feet".

The dipole antennas of previous Linksys Presentation Players have been replaced by a single mast (still removable and adjustable in most directions) in the WPG54G. The unit offers the same VGA DB-15 and 10/100 LAN ports as earlier iterations, but new to the WPG54G is a USB port which can be used to upload files directly from a Flash drive. (The WPG54G includes 32 MB of internal and non-volatile RAM for presentation storage -- a feature missing in previous Linksys Presentation Players)

The WPG54G includes a dual-function remote control, the business end of which has both RF and laser emitters. It can not only control the WPG54G, it doubles as a laser pointer.

Initial setup of the WPG54G wasn't at all difficult. The unit comes out of the box configured for a static IP address (192.168.1.200) and has a number of other default settings (SSID, and so forth). Since it's not an Internet gateway device, the unit doesn't need to be using the same SSID or subnet as the rest of the network, and indeed, for security reasons, it's probably preferable that it doesn't.

All of the default settings of the WPG54G can be modified, but if you need to change one (like the radio channel being used, for instance), you must first put a PC on that subnet in order to access the Web-based configuration. If you use a pop-up blocker, turn it off. The password field is displayed in a pop-up dialog.

In addition to the settings already mentioned, you can also configure others like wireless mode (g, b, or mixed) and the name of the player as displayed by the client software. Unfortunately, only WEP encryption is supported. The WPG54G can also act as a DHCP client and server. It's configured to be the latter by default, and interestingly the device's default IP address is right smack in the middle of the DHCP address pool. This could cause problems if and when the WPG54G issues its 72nd IP address (192.168.1.200). Fortunately, chances are slim that anyone will have this many computers obtaining addresses from the WPG54G.

You interface with the WPG54G via an included client utility, called Presentation Player. The utility is required for any PC you want to use to connect to the WPG54G, and it can be used to upload a presentation to the device or duplicate the user's screen on the remote display device. While the software can easily locate the WPG54G on a different subnet, it can't be used to change any device settings.

Running presentations on the WPG54G with the Presentation Player worked well--users can relinquish control of the device so that another user can take it, making it easy for multiple people to show their presentations with a minimum of hubbub.

Perhaps inevitably, there is one or two second lag between an action on the PC and the resulting display on the monitor. Certain PowerPoint slide transitions and effects were somewhat lethargic when running a presentation from a PC. The Presentation Player can display in true color (at 800x600 or 1024x768 resolution), but selecting the higher-performance "basic color" mode helps improve performance a bit. Still, it's probably best to keep presentation frills to a minimum when using the WPG54G.

Executing the presentation directly from the WPG54G's memory (after first uploading it with the Presentation Player) eliminates the lag time associated with the wireless network. Doing so, however, also converts the presentation to static slides (JPEG images, actually); you'll lose any special features like animations or sound effects.

Using the WPG54G's 32MB to store and display presentations also benefits users by obviating the need for a PC once the presentation is uploaded. However, those who work with confidential data should be duly warned-- the files can't be password protected, so should the WPG54G be stolen or even left unattended, they can be viewed by anyone wielding the device's remote control.

As mentioned earlier, new to the WPG54G is the ability to run presentations directly off of a USB Flash drive. You still need to convert your PPT file to a folder full of JPEG images, using a file converter installed with the Presentation Player, so the need for a PC (at least initially) is not entirely eliminated.

Using a USB Flash drive can be useful to circumvent the space limitations imposed by the 32 MB internal memory. Converting a 60 slide, 1.4 MB PowerPoint file for transfer to the WPG54G bloated the presentation nearly fourfold. The WPG54G memory would still accommodate roughly a half-dozen presentations of this size, but working with unusually large (or an unusually large number of) presentations may require supplemental storage.

The WPG54G is a useful device that will find a willing home in conference or classroom environments, or anywhere where presentations are made. While not a device that can be used with any spontaneity due to the need for client software and file conversion, it does provide a good deal of flexibility to presenters.