PowerPoint 2010 Broadcast: Review
Among the many excellent new features of PowerPoint 2010 there is one that has little prominence in the interface but great potential in the real world – the Broadcast feature. Companies spend hundreds, even thousands per year on web-conferencing and screen-sharing software packages like LiveMeeting, GoToMeeting and WebEx, in order to facilitate virtual meetings with ‘see what I’m talking about’ convenience. Although some deliver better than others, particularly in the areas of graphic and animation reproduction, Microsoft’s latest addition to this market comes at no extra cost, wrapped up in PowerPoint as part of Office 2010, and promises to allow you to “share presentations painlessly”. Sounds good – so let’s take a closer look at it.
How does it work?
Broadcast is an additional option within the Save and Send menu, which is accessed by clicking File and then Save & Send, then choosing Broadcast Slide Show. What’s interesting straightaway is the convenience – there’s no need to schedule a meeting, log into a web portal or install any additional software. This is particularly helpful for presenters who frequently have to share slides with contacts in large organisations, since corporate firewalls and other security measures can be very mistrustful of the various ActiveX settings, ‘unsafe’ web addresses, and local client programs that are typically required by other online sharing software. With PowerPoint Broadcast, you can launch an online Slide Show any time, as long as you have PowerPoint open and are connected to the internet.
After logging in, the service will prepare your presentation and upload it without any further input from you, then give you a link to email out to whomever you want to be on the receiving end. Once you’re done sending out links, click on the Begin Slide Show button to put your slides into Show Mode and start presenting.
There is no installation process to worry about, since Broadcast comes packaged inside PowerPoint 2010, and once you’ve found it setting up an online show is very simple. The upload process is certainly painless – I uploaded a 6.5MB presentation in 03:07, compared to WebEx at 05:27 and Microsoft LiveMeeting at 02:44, and I experienced no dropped uploads or hanging issues even when downloading much larger files. Upload rates obviously depend on connection speed and location, but they’re not the whole story. Because the other programs required logging in, connecting to a meeting server, scanning files and then caching animations once the file was uploaded, the time to slideshow was actually much longer. PowerPoint Broadcast turned my 6.5MB file into an online slideshow two and a half minutes quicker than the next fastest, requiring no login (except for the very first time you use it), no software download and no noticeable lag for conversion or scanning. Two and a half minutes might not seem like a big deal on paper. But believe me, when you have a client waiting on the phone, 150 seconds can feel like a very long time indeed.
You can also invite new attendees during the broadcast, so if someone joins the teleconference late there’s no need to come out of PowerPoint and look in your Sent Items for the link, or ask someone else to forward it on. You’ll find an Invite button embedded into the PowerPoint Ribbon that lets you call up the link whenever you need to and send it on, up to a maximum of 50 viewers.
Conferencing and sharing programs work in different ways. Most work by converting the raw PowerPoint file to another format – flash, html5, or a custom format – and then uploading the conversion to run in a special player, which often leave the presenter to deal with unfamiliar click-through controls and touch-and-go rendering. At m62 we’ve trialled most of the available packages over the years and have always struggled to find one that can display the graphics and animation effects we use to a high enough degree of fidelity. The same issues crop up time and again – fonts not displayed correctly, motion-paths stuttering, certain animation effects ad-libbing unexpectedly, images showing in low-res. After running some of our more demanding test presentations through PowerPoint Broadcast, I can report none of these issues. At very slow connection speeds, there was a noticeable lag in slide transitions and animations, but this is easily mitigated by the useful ‘Resolution’ adjustment tool in the Ribbon, which allows you to tinker with the quality of the broadcast. At average broadband speed and in full resolution mode, the graphics quality of the broadcast was almost indistinguishable from the native PowerPoint slideshow. Because Broadcast uses PowerPoint as the engine, I have not yet noticed any errors in animation builds or effects, which is fairly impressive given the demands we put on PowerPoint when creating our slides.
Despite the favourable reports about its speed and performance above, it would not be fair to put Broadcast up against LiveMeeting or WebEx or similar in a proper round-up. Users of other conferencing packages will be used to a wealth of other features – simple things like a list of attendees, a chat box, a laser pointer tool, through to more complex toys like audio conferencing, status monitors for attendees, interactive tools, drawing functionality and multiple application sharing or desktop sharing capability.
Broadcast has none of those things. You send out the ‘link-vitation’ yourself, sort out your own telephone call or teleconference, and run them through your presentation. Broadcast is not a screensharing program, so you cannot put up Word documents, or Excel spreadsheets for your viewers to look at. If you want to show a different presentation, you’ll need to go through the same process from that separate instance of PowerPoint, and send your audience another link to open another window. This also means you cannot exit the slideshow and make edits to the slides while your audience watches (something we occasionally have to do) or the broadcast will end. Although you can use the native PowerPoint in-show controls, there are no extra drawing or highlighting tools, no audience interaction and no way of seeing who’s ‘in your meeting’.
Nor is broadcast an ‘on-demand’ service – you can’t record your presentation and make it available for others to view while you’re offline, nor is it a storage area for your files.
This feature has been carefully named to avoid any confusion with ‘sharing’ or ‘conferencing’ applications, and rightly so. It has none of the advanced features you’d normally associate with online meetings, and it can only be used with PowerPoint. Having said that, when used with the right expectations, Broadcast is an exceptionally impressive tool. The setup is fast, and it’s also friendly – you don’t have to ask your audience to download a client, go to a webpage, log into anything or activate anything that might set off corporate IT alarms bells – just click on a web link. Moreover, the high-fidelity of the broadcast itself gives you a very reliable way to show off graphics, which has obvious non-business applications as well. For the Facebook-phobic, using PowerPoint’s Photo Album tool in conjunction with Broadcast makes for a quick and simple way to show off your digital snaps.
If you’re looking for a conferencing program you’ll almost certainly want to look elsewhere and subscribe to a package like LiveMeeting that gives you more powerful control and meeting management tools. But if you need a backup in a hurry because your audience is firewall-bound or your slides aren’t displaying properly, or if you just want a fast and free way to present on-the-spot to a virtual audience, you should find that Broadcast is up to the job.
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