At our school, we’ve mostly used Reflector as the way of doing AirPlay mirroring from our iPads into a large projected image. This has worked well when using old-fashioned VGA projectors and a 4:3 image. However, the connection can sometimes be unreliable, which is probably down to network/wifi issues. But, due to the advantages I’ve previously outlined, Reflector seemed a better choice than the main alternative: Apple TV. Apple TV is a little black box that works (amongst other things) as an AirPlay receiver for content from your Mac or iOS device.
However, after some discussion with some fellow ADEs, I’ve come to appreciate the advantages that Apple TV has over Reflector.
- It’s Apple’s AirPlay mirroring solution, rather than a third-party reverse-engineered hack, so that means it’s more likely work more reliably.
- If connecting to an HD device via HDMI, setup is super simple.
- You can have one-time device authentication, where a new AirPlay connection requires entering the on-screen passcode. This stops accidental AirPlay connections (thank you Early Years!) without having to remember or share a password.
- Peer-to-peer. Which is amazing! With a lightning connector iPad, it uses Bluetooth to set up a direct wifi connection to the Apple TV, thus bypassing the local network and so reducing the network load.
- Modern macs can AirPlay to Apple TV. I’m interested what impact this will have on its use in the classroom, is it makes it the same class citizen as the iPad.
Here are some things I’ve discovered to make setup easier:
- Turn on Conference Mode so that it shows instructions for AirPlay mirroring, rather than the normal grid of video apps.
- Turn on device authentication to make peer-to-peer AirPlay connection work.
- Have a wired Ethernet connection to the Apple TV to reduce load on your wifi.
- Do a restart on the Apple TV after setup to make the changes take effect.
- Make sure it’s an HDMI HD display your connecting to, either a projector or a TV. It just doesn’t work very nicely with old school VGA projectors, even widescreen ones.
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!