AppleTV Revisited

Today I helped run some iMovie training for teachers at school, which was fun.  Part of that involved rigging up a MacBook Pro to a projector in our training room, which also has an AppleTV connected to it. I was presenting Keynote slides, but also wanted to occasionally mirror an iPad to demo how to use apps like Educreations to do basic storyboarding.  I was using Reflector to set up an AirPlay receiver, but it struck me that I should just use the AppleTV instead.  After all, Mountain Lion lets you mirror your Mac’s screen to an AppleTV.

My problem with AppleTV from before was that the aspect ratios seemed to go a bit wrong when mirroring 4:3 content vs 16:9.  I tried fiddling with the projector’s aspect ratio and putting it on some sort of widescreen zoom mode made a difference.  However, I then installed an update on the AppleTV and set the projector to good old 4:3 (rather than ‘auto’) and it all seemed to work!  Mirrored 4:3 iPads filled the screen, but also Keynote slides too!

So maybe AppleTV works better than I originally thought!

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Reflector vs. Apple TV

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!

iPad mirroring with Reflection

Whilst at the South London Apple Education Summit, I discovered an app called Reflection, which allows you to mirror your iPad screen, wirelessly over wifi, to the screen of a Mac. It’s about $15, which is substantially cheaper than AppleTV+cables/adaptors (not that they’re truly expensive). I’ve had a try with it using the free trial, and it seems to work a treat! Hurrah!