The Next Dimension

Electronic Whiteboards

Why use an analog whiteboard when you can go digital? Electronic whiteboards operate like old-fashioned write-and-wipe models, but they'll also save and print what you've drawn, and they'll interface with a variety of computer programs for even more functionality. And they're becoming more common in meeting venues. For instance, Tokyo-based PLUS Corporation recently provided interactive whiteboards for the Doubletree Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in Portland, OR.

Interactive nametags

Hello, My Name Is . . . has gone out of date, because paper stickers definitely are not all there is to nametags these days. A New York City-based company called nTAG Interactive offers new "smart" nametags that send and receive data via radio waves, allowing users to swap information via their tags and receive event-related news that they can read off the tags' LCD displays. They've been used for both corporate meetings and trade shows, says nTAG CEO George Eberstadt.

Web-based Collaboration

Satellite-based videoconferencing may soon be acquiring some retro cachet, bringing to mind the big hairdos and bigger corporate budgets of the glamorous '80s. But for now, Web-based virtual conferencing is the planner's choice, as an addition to—not a replacement for—gatherings of many kinds. WebEx Communications in San Jose, CA, is the leading provider of such services, having become the in-house Internet conferencing provider for Montvale, NJ-based Dolce International conference centers and 64 percent of the overall Web conferencing market, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. Dolce's director of technology, Nelson Garrido, says it's a hit with planners and attendees alike.

Wireless Networking

Wireless networking may be last year's technology story, but it bears mentioning here because more and more venues are rolling out in-house systems that give users wireless access to the Internet, and to each others' computers, with remarkable speed and simplicity. For instance, Dolce is 90 percent done with an international brand-wide implementation of wireless systems, using technology from leading vendor RoomLinX. It's a must-have for conference centers, says Dolce's Garrido.

Digital Document Cameras

Face it: Overhead projectors are a thing of the past. Digital document cameras work like those overhead antiques but interface digitally with liquid crystal display (LCD) projectors to provide higher-resolution, multiple projections of the same image, and the ability to use any kind of paper as the image source—not just those obnoxious transparencies. The Summit Executive Centre in Chicago uses Samsung Digital Presenters to great effect, says Managing Director Louise Silberman.

Ultra-light, Ultra-bright Projectors

Portable projectors have been heading in the same direction for some time now, steadily becoming lighter, brighter, smaller, and more affordable. But the newest generation of digital projectors, powered by cutting-edge LCD lamps, are so inexpensive and functional that planners are purchasing them outright to supplement the technology available at meeting venues. Consider the Toshiba TLP-S70U, an LCD projector that features 2,000 lumens of projecting power, weighs less than five pounds, and has an estimated street price of just $1,499.

Walkie-Talkie Phones

Walkie-talkies have long been favorites of meeting planners and venue staffers, and now, new walkie-talkie/cellular phone hybrids like Nextel's Motorola i730 offer traditional cell phone service along with nationwide direct-connect, walkie-talkie capability. This means users don't have to carry around two communication devices anymore, which is particularly good news for planners working on site.

Better Portable Presentation

More and more groups are using multiple monitors for presentations at conferences, says Summit Executive Centre's Silberman, a trend that helped convince her facility to invest in a new portable LCD monitor by Samsung—the SyncMaster 403T, a 40-inch display that conference center staff can move from room to room as needed. At about 57 pounds, the 403T is no featherweight, but this new LCD is substantially lighter, and more durable, than its plasma-screen counterparts, and it produces a brilliant picture. Right now, the SyncMaster 403T is among the largest LCD monitors available, but manufacturers say larger screens are on the way.

Digital Signage

Stop the presses, because digital signage is the tech du jour at discerning venues like the IBM Palisades Executive Conference Center in Palisades, NY, says conference center technology guru Joseph Bocchiaro III, a principal consultant with Electro-Media Design in Rockville, MD. The new LCD signs are networked to computer databases, allowing planners to customize the signage on a dynamic, preprogrammed basis. "You might have an LCD panel outside of every conference room door with information for each session," says Bocchiaro. "And they can be linked to large digital signs in the lobbies, or other public spaces, that show the schedule for the day."