Apple TV and my Classroom

So I have an Apple TV in my Band Room now! So excited!

One issue is a bit annoying though. When I use the AppleTV 3rd gen, to mirror my iPad the picture on my screen is not the size I expected. The classroom projector displays the image but with black space around it. In other words it is not filling the screen. I thought maybe this was simply the resolution of the AppleTV and that was as big as the image was going to get. Then I put on a movie. To my surprise the image filled the entire screen! I tried a photo slide show and again the AppleTV was utilizing the entire screen!

I am running the AppleTV through the KanexATV Pro adaptor because my projector does not have a HDMI input. I do have to say that I am very happy with this adaptor. What totally blows me away is that salespeople in electronic stores have no idea about this adaptor! But that's another post later!

Now, in comparison, when I use the AirServerApp on my iMac, and mirror my iPad the image fills the entire screen. Again I at first thought that AirServerApp was doing its magic through software and that there was simply limitations in what the AppleTV was able to put out. Until I tried the movie!

So here are some pictures…. The first is the AppleTV mirroring the iPad. The next is AirServerApp mirroring the iPad. The last two are of the AppleTV showing a video and a picture show. Those two prove that the AppleTV is capable of filling the screen but for some reason doesn’t when simply mirroring the iPad.

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Reflection on the ReflectionApp and the AirServerApp and Apple TV

I have been very excited because every year when I get my tax refund back I usually convince my wife to let me buy a new toy. Like my iPad’s or a new kayak. This year I’ve known for a long time that I was going to be buying an Apple TV with the converter from HDMI to VGA with audio. I’ve been using my iPad for two years now every day in class and I wanted to take things to the next level. I want the students to be able to see many of the tools that I have at my finger tips.

I’ve been using the AirServerApp, running on my classroom computer for a year now. That app was the previous version 3. I used it to AirPlay music to my classroom sound system. Of course it has worked flawlessly, with the one exception that there was no security on it. That meant that frequently some kid working out down in the weight room would discover a pretty new icon on his iPod Screen (you know, that one for AirPlay that is never there until you can actually use it!) and in the middle of rehearsal I would suddenly have some pumping jams in the middle of a Michael Sweeney festival piece! Now during a high school rehearsal we would simply enjoy the commercial break. I would dance a bit for the class and then flip the mute switch then back to work we would go. BUT I REALLY tried to leave the mute switch on during middle school class because the rest of rehearsal after an episode like that was usually useless! It was worth it though to be able to wirelessly stream music, at will from anywhere I had my phone, iPod Touch or iPad!

You are probably wondering why in the world I didn’t just buy an AirPort Express and use that. Those have pass codes on them! Well I did! The only thing was that my PC tech guys freaked out! Plus I could not for the life of me get that darned thing to work at the school, on the school network! I even talked to the “big guys”, the ones doing the install on the new wireless servers going into our school to see if they had an answer for making it work, These are tech guys not form our school but instead with a big company whose only job was to install these wireless servers. Their answer was – don’t bring in home network devices, our devices will simply block them! I was in fact afraid I would have similar trouble with an Apple TV. I was hoping though that it would work.

Turns out I might not even try though! This last week of February was a great week! Especially for those of us school teachers in situations like this!

First, the ReflectionApp came out! This is from the same company that makes AirParrot – which puts your mac screen on your AppleTV. ReflectionApp is meant to mirror your iOS device onto your Computer! Of course your iOS device has to be capable of this, the iPad2 and iPhone4s both are. Not only does the mirroring include the picture but it streams the audio as well! So in other words, instead of having to but an AppleTV ($99), a convertor ($45 or more), and get it to work with my school network, I simply bought a $15 app and installed it on a computer I already have hooked up to my classroom projector and I am in business.

Second great thing was that the same day I bought and installed the ReflectionApp an error message showed up on my computer. Getting excited about error message is not normal I know, but this error came from an app called AirServer that I have been running for a year now! The message said that I needed to purchase an upgrade from AirServer in order to mirror my iPad! This startled me! I had not heard, and still haven’t, anything about AirServerApp adding the capability to mirror from an iOS device! So I headed over to their website – http://www.airserverapp.com/ and found it plastered all over the front page of the website! I quickly bought the $3.99 update. I had some issues with the update because when I originally bought the AirServerApp I used an old email that I never use any more. I bought the update with a new email. This really ticked off the AirServerApp and for a day I was in a limbo with the update screen from the app freezing up when it tried to authorize the update. The tech support took a day but considering that it was Friday night that’s probably not bad. They updated their databases of paid people and I was in business. I like their tech support.

So now, the good stuff! I’ve been playing with both apps for all of today and it’s been great fun. Of course I am at home with my MacBookPro and no projector hooked up. My kids walk by and I’ve had one of them do a double take and say – Whoa! Your iPad is on your computer! Then one of the other boys said, Why are you doing that?

Here’s what I’ve discovered. With the ReflectionApp there are more options for you to configure. At first boot the iPad (or iPhone) pops up with a border around it. This looks cool at first but in my case I want the image as big as possible so the students can see it better. It’s easy to take the border off. Another option that helps get the image bigger is to have the app go fullscreen. Now I have not really liked using the full screen mode in Lion. But I like it in this app because it is more what I expected – when using my iPad everything is full screen all the time. Plus I want no other distractions when projecting that image to the students. A quick shortcut (command F) and the app pops out of full screen mode. There are different optimizations for what image size you want mirrored, iPad, standard iPhone, Retina iPhone, or High resolution. This has been one of three issues I have found when using ReflectionApp. When I switched to High Resolution I really messed things up. I had to quite Reflection and reboot my iPad both to get things mirroring again. The second issue I found with ReflectionApp is when switching from portrait to landscape mode. If I am in landscape mode when I start the mirroring the image on the computer is filling the full screen, top to bottom – right to left. Then I can switch to landscape and the image is still top to bottom (not right to left of course) BUT when I switch back to landscape the image is no longer filling the entire screen top to bottom. It is smaller. A quick flick of the command F shortcut pops it back but I am not going to want to do that in the middle of class. The image when it is not filling the screen still is large and acceptable though.

Mirroring with both apps have gone very well – I will mention one exception at the end of this post about trying to mirror instrument apps though. In face with the ReflectionApp I found that I can end up mirroring both my iPad2 AND my iPhone4s! OK – I take that back I can mirror both devices with both apps! If you really want to do this though you should not have the automatic full screen mode on though because it is kind of a pain to get it to look like my screen shot. One of the amazing things I’ve found is that I can be running both the ReflecitonApp and AirServerApp at the same time. They are working very well together and they are not fighting each other at all! I even have been running audio from iPad through ReflectionApp and mirroring it too while mirroring my iPhone with AirServerApp! The audio plugged away and the video behaved as it had all day long with just one of these apps running at a time. I have been running the mirroring all day when I have been at my computer (my daughter did become a teen though so my time has been limited with her party and bowling and shopping though!). Every thing runs smooth as I would expect for all normal apps. I even tried photoBooth. There is a bit of a time delay in PhotoBooth as well as FaceTime with the video. At times I do get a stutter in the audio too. You should understand though that I am running an old AirPort Express with only 802.11b and I know that two of my boys have been running iTunes, FaceBook, Web Surfing and the like through their iPodTouches too.

My only complaint is when I have tried my musical instrument apps. For instance a piano app, MorphWiz or something like this. The lag is not going to work at this time for live performance! There is not way I could mirror this at at a concert and play a song on my iPad so the audience could see what was going on. Now I’m not sure what the problem is though because the PR on both web-sites show gaming apps running and they say that people could be using this for mirroring games! I am not a gamer but I do have a few games loaded on my iPad and I tried BugDom and it worked pretty well on both apps. Cro-Mag Rally crashed the ReflectionApp but worked in AirServer. So for gaming and musical instruments…. I wouldn’t hold my breath too much. These apps are not rock solidly performing in either mirroring app yet!

In wrapping this post up… there are two more points I need to make. The ReflectionApp tech support is really super and really super fast! I sent an email requesting and asking about a passcode (because the first version I downloaded didn’t have a passcode in it) Within minutes they had responded back to me. The next day there was an update to the program! Now don’t get me wrong – I know the update was not because of me but these guys are working hard on their app and want to interact with their users.

The AirServerApp has been rock solidly streaming music in my band room for a year now. This app is a bit more polished. For instance, there aren’t very many settings that we can adjust, the app just does it for you. When you select a song on your iPad in the Music app and push play there is a little notification (very Growl like, if you know what Growl is) on your Mac that tells you what song is playing. When you play videos, like YouTube, and take the video full screen, AirServer uses it’s own built-in movie player. AirServer has some more info about this sort of thing on their web site.

Both apps are great. ReflectionApp requires OS 10.6 or higher. AirServer will work somewhat with Tiger, Snow Leopard, Leopard and Lion as well as working some with Android devices (I think just for audio though) they are both $14.99 (the upgrade for AirServer from v3 was $3.99)