Present PowerPoint from an iPod for real

I have a 5th Generation iPod for quite some time. I mostly carried it on the bus with me to listen to music on my work commute. I used it a few times to share slideshows at parties. To do that, I dock the iPod onto a DLO HomeDock Deluxe which has outputs for S-video and RCA to connect to a TV or LCD projector. When I was asked to present a workshop at a conference last month, I decided to ditch Google Presentation and try presenting a PowerPoint slideshow through the DLO unit.

The HomeDock Deluxe costs more than the Apple Composite AV Cable but the cable alone does not come with a remote to control the iPod from a distance. If you have the AV cable already, you can pair it up with the Apple Universal Dock to get the remote but you still don’t have S-video like the HomeDock Deluxe. S-video is particularly important for connecting the iPod to an LCD projector because many newer and smaller projectors has only S-video in addition to the standard VGA connection for computers. I have a 2006 version of the HomeDock Deluxe and I had to purchase my own S-video cable. The current version comes with both S-video and RCA cables so you should be all set right from the start.

Another note about the iPod, the 5th gen iPod has a “Manual” option under the “Time per slide” setting which means you can press the forward and back buttons to move between slides at will. I also own an iPod Touch which does not have the manual setting. It has options for a set number of seconds for each photo to appear and move on. Unless you time your speech exactly for each slide, there is no way to live without the manual setting.

Knowing I have all the hardware ready, my first question was how to transfer a PowerPoint slideshow to the iPod. The answer is quite simple. Many sites explain it in details about using PowerPoint built-in save as JPEG feature or 3rd party software. The only problem is none of the sites tell you how the slideshow actually performs for real. Therefore, I posted my experience here.

Step 1: Did some tests with an existing PowerPoint file. I started with getting the slides onto my iPod through the transformation from PowerPoint, iPhoto, and iTunes as described in Engadget. I don’t have an LCD at home so my first test was done on a TV. The slides’ resolution was terrible. I didn’t know what the problem was until I found out PowerPoint saves JPEG at 72 dpi in default. Since I use a Mac, my fix was simple. Select PowerPoint > Preferences, click on the Save tab, and change the resolution setting to a higher dpi under the “Save slides as graphics files” section. I did the second test on an LCD in a small dark room at 300 dpi and the text on my slides looked better. For Windows users, you will have to make changes to PowerPoint’s registry settings.

Step 2: Revamped my PowerPoint slides with more graphics and less text. The workshop I had to present was partly a repeat from the last two years. I could have updated the PowerPoint file a little and presented it as is. However, I must admit I committed the “crime” of “death by PowerPoint” in the past and I don’t want to “re-offend” again. After reading the tips from Garr Reynolds, I searched many sites for photos to use in my slideshow. Google Image Search and Flickr were my first stops. But most of the images I found from those sources do not have Creative Commons licenses which allow others to use the images. flickrCC was a little more useful in that matter. The ultimate solution is Stock.XCHNG which is a community sharing photos as stock images at absolutely no cost to the users. Once I had the right image source, it still took me many evenings and weekends to revamp my PowerPoint that used to have more than 100 words on some slides. The existing PowerPoint that I used as the base has 18 slides for a one-hour talk. A new rule I heard is having 60-90 slides per hour. It was a big rethinking in terms of breaking everything down to small fragments.

Step 3: Test the new PowerPoint on an LCD in a comparable size room. I didn’t do this step and I totally regretted it. Read on and you will find out why.

About two weeks before the conference, I was thinking may be I should bring everything (laptop, iPod and DLO unit) so I would be ready for any situation. Then I found out the hotel where I would be staying charges for Wifi connection. I made my decision at that point to ditch the laptop because it is much heavier than the iPod and DLO unit combined.

What happened: The hardware worked flawlessly. I connected the DLO unit through S-video to the LCD. The first slide appeared on screen except the line drawing on that slide didn’t look very sharp. Things went downhill from there. Slides that have white background or light color images and dark text were not viewable. They looked “washout” in a room with half of its lights on. The ones with dark background or full screen high contrast photos and white text looked okay although they still didn’t look as good as they were on a monitor. This was in reverse to Garr Reynolds’ tips on using color in terms of lighting. My presentation was already underway by the time I realized the problem so I had to keep moving. My speech was much better than the appearance of the slides so none of the audience said anything about what they saw.

What went wrong: Later that evening, I talked to my hubby by phone about what happened. My logic for the poor image quality was that S-video does not project as good quality as VGA. And I was right. One forum posting listed the following in terms of picture quality based on video signals:

Quality from worst to best:

  • RF/Coaxial
  • Composite
  • S-Video
  • Component
  • VGA
  • DVI/HDMI

That explains a lot about my experience. And according to the Wikipedia entry on S-video, “S-Video suffers from reduced colour resolution.” I took the risk of carrying the iPod alone and thought it would worth more than lugging a heavy laptop plus taking it in and out my bag through airport security. I ended up “crash and burn”!

All in all, you should not simply trust what most websites said how cool it would be to give a presentation using an iPod. Testing the iPod with a TV doesn’t count either if you expect to use an LCD at your destination. If you are going to present in a half-lit meeting room, test your slides and the hardware in a simulation closely resemble the actual setup of the presentation.

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