Always Do a Trial Run

By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2010-02-05

RIM BlackBerry Presenter Links PowerPoint to Projector

Research In Motion's BlackBerry Presenter capably allows users to wirelessly transmit presentations to an external monitor or projector, although early generation bugs and quirks deliver a less-than-seamless overall experience.

Specifically, the BlackBerry Presenter-which will be available soon for $199 from a BlackBerry user stream a PowerPoint slide deck from a smartphone over a Bluetooth connection to a small appliance plugged into a separate monitor or projector, instead of needing complicated connections to a PC. The speaker can wander the room during the presentation, using the BlackBerry as a remote control for the presentation.

For images of BlackBerry Presenter in action, click here.

The appliance measures a highly portable 3.4 by 2.4 by 0.9 inches and offers VGA and S-Video connections for video output. Output resolution depends on the connection-via the VGA connection, the best resolution is 1024 by 768, while S-Video tops out at 640 by 480. The device also has a small switch on the back to toggle between PAL (Phase Alternating Line) and NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) video standards.

I was happy to see that the Presenter is powered by the same model charger used for BlackBerry smartphones, so travelers won't need to carry separate power modules for the phone and for the Presenter.

The user will need accompanying Presenter software installed on his or her BlackBerry unit. While I tested Presenter using a BlackBerry Bold 9700 for T-Mobile, the Presenter software should work with any BlackBerry device running BlackBerry OS 4.6 or higher (excluding the unsupported Pearl Flip 8200 and Curve 8300 series). The software is downloadable directly from, or the code can be distributed to enterprise-managed devices through a BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) server.

From the Presenter software, I could easily mount a PowerPoint presentation (either PPT or PPTX formats) from on-device storage or the removable MicroSD card. I also verified that enterprise BlackBerry users can mount and present presentations directly from e-mail or calendar attachments. For this latter scenario to work, however, the BlackBerry smartphone must be running OS 5.0 or later, and BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 with Service Pack 1 is required on the back end. Thusly outfitted on both ends of the BlackBerry network, I did not need to change any settings or device profiles to enable this functionality.

Mounting the file into the Presenter software takes from a few seconds to several minutes depending on the size of the file. Once mounted, I could scroll through the presentation slides on the BlackBerry to see if everything shows correctly, although I found that the image on the device can differ from the image shown on the external display. For instance, bolded headline text may show incompletely on the smartphone, while the same text looks fine via the external projector.

To begin the presentation, I needed to select the Present command within the Presenter software, which automatically engages the BlackBerry's Bluetooth radio and locates a waiting Presenter appliance (which supports Bluetooth 2.0 with Enhanced Data Rate) within 10 meters or so. The four-digit Bluetooth security code is automatically displayed via the external display prior to the presentation, simplifying the process of association.

I did find in my tests that with multiple users sharing the Presenter appliance in a series of presentations it may be necessary to reboot the appliance before the second person can associate via Bluetooth.

Always Do a Trial Run


Once the connection is established, the file transfer to the appliance begins by way of the Bluetooth connection, but the process can be very slow. In my tests, a 5GB, 15-slide PowerPoint presentation took anywhere from 6 to 12 minutes to transfer fully. While I could start the presentation once the first few slides had transferred, I found the transitions between slides as well as on-screen animations to be very sluggish with the file transfer still in progress, sometimes taking up to 10 seconds to advance from one slide to the next.

Therefore, I would advise users to transfer the presentation to the device prior to the meeting, as the Presenter appliance has onboard persistent storage accessible only to Presenter-enabled BlackBerrys. As this memory is persistent across a device reboot, users should periodically wipe the appliance memory to avoid leaving potentially sensitive corporate data behind on unsecured device. An appliance wipe command can be triggered from the Presenter software menus.

With the presentation displayed on the external display unit, I could move to the next slide by depressing the BlackBerry track ball or track pad twice. I could also navigate to the previous slide or skip to a specific slide, or set the slides to advance forward at a specified interval. Presenters can also pop up their notes for a particular slide on the BlackBerry, while the main slide appears on the external display. I could also blank the external screen with the presentation still showing on the BlackBerry.

While many presentations used in my tests displayed well via the Presenter, I found it could be finicky with some files. RIM's documentation states that all presentations must be formatted with a 4:3 landscape orientation, although in my tests I was successfully able to display very basic slides in both 16:10 landscape and 4:3 portrait via the Presenter, although the latter was definitely off-center on the external display.

Of more concern, I found that with some presentations tables or pictures that looked fine on a PC failed to render correctly within the Presenter software and via the Presenter appliance. Also, on occasion, file transfer would halt midstream and the presentation would fail to show on the external display at all. Size appears to matter, although perhaps more with the size of an individual slide than of the presentation as a whole. For instance, I was able to display a 256-slide, 13GB presentation via the Presenter, while a smaller 5GB presentation with 10 extremely busy slides failed to load. RIM recommends adjusting the amount of textual content and animations in troublesome slides to decrease the size of individual slides, so it is important that users test all the slides of the presentation prior to their meetings to avoid any glitches or hang-ups.

Also, the BlackBerry Presenter does not extend its remote display capabilities to any other formats or file types beyond PowerPoint. I found that I could not use the device in conjunction with Word Documents, PDFs, photos or even Keynote presentations.

During tests I once also found that my presentation kept looping on the external display even though I had instructed the software to end the presentation and had turned off the Bluetooth radio on the BlackBerry. In this case, the only way to stop the presentation was to power down the Presenter appliance.

Thankfully, it appears that RIM intends to deliver improvements for the BlackBerry Presenter that hopefully will address some of these problems. The company has already released a Presenter manager application for Windows that can install firmware updates down the road, although none were available during my tests.

I also noted that the Presenter offers itself to Windows as an 8GB flash drive, but I could not pretransfer files to the device in this manner, as the storage available to Windows is not persistent once the appliance powers down.

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