One of the really cool things about an iPad in the classroom is how you can mirror your iPad’s screen to any AirPlay-receiving device. Like an Apple TV. I use this functionality all of the time, basically using my iPad as a replacement for the notorious ‘smart’ board, particularly when using Explain Everything. It’s very handy and means I can have my iPad sitting on the piano whilst I’m teaching and easily change slides, annotate things, move things around etc.
Apple TV is Apple’s preferred way of doing this, which is their little black box of goodness which you then plug into your widescreen TV by HDMI and go from there. If you have a widescreen HDMI TV, then this is the simplest solution. However, most schools are instead running some sort of fangled VGA projector+computer+monitor+speakers+amp, without an HDMI input or output in sight and projecting onto a 4:3 interactive whiteboard.
This results in the following problems:
- you’ll need to buy a HDMI to VGA converter. Kanex do the very cool little adaptor that does the trick, but the problem with this (so I’ve been told) is that it can’t cope with a really long VGA cable to the projector as isn’t powered. Most schools have the VGA cable running up the wall and along the ceiling, adding a good 5 metres of cabling. You can buy powered HDMI to VGA converters, but this adds another little box, another power lead and all sorts of other tangles.
- screen ratio issues. The Apple TV assumes you are going to a 16:9 output, so it just adds black bars to the left and right of the image when mirroring the 4:3 iPad. When you are projecting to a 4:3 screen, this results in either a weirdly stretched image or a rather small image.
- you’ll need to switch between displays. If you’re already running a smartboard computer, the teacher will have to switch displays on the projector to the Apple TV input. Not difficult, but still a bit of a bother.
Enter Reflector (formerly Reflection). It’s a Mac (and PC) app that turns your computer into an AirPlay receiver. It’s only $15 and you can buy multiple licences slightly cheaper. All you have to do is start the app running, and then you can mirror your iPad to your Mac’s display.
The advantages are as follows:
- true 4:3 mirroring. If your computer is already running a 4:3 display, then the iPad mirroring will fill the whole screen. Yay!
- no display switching. It just uses your existing screen and projector.
- no extra wires or boxes. Which is always good.
- cheaper! £10 vs £85 speaks for itself.
The only downside is that iPad Keynote slideshows don’t fill the screen. This is because the Keynote app assumes it’s mirroring to a 16:9 Apple TV so adds it’s own black bars to the left and right of the image. Swings and roundabouts I guess!