Monday, February 11, 2013

Cut the cord

Longtime readers of my blog know that on occasion I will utterly geek out. This is one of those occasions, so proceed at your own risk. There are, however, many readers of the Director's Desk that share the nerd gene, so cut us some slack.

Every year, I teach a two-day course called Information Resources to new recruits in the police academy. I always enjoy it, and have blogged about it before. It was on the agenda for last Thursday and Friday, in week two of the current class. On Friday afternoon, I moved the 13 trainees from Classroom A to the main conference room. My motive was twofold: first, a change of scenery after a week in the classroom would be nice; second, I wanted to use the big 60 inch monitor in the conference room instead of the LCD projector in the classroom, in order to try out a new toy.

Right before Christmas, I bought an Apple TV. One of the factors in my decision was the ability to mirror content wirelessly from Macs, iPads, and iPhones--a feature Apple calls AirPlay. On Christmas eve, we streamed 3,000 or so family photos from Tonja's iPad to the LED television in the family room while the holiday music played and we all enjoyed the grand kids rampage through the wrapping paper. I started thinking, though, about other uses for the Apple TV at work, and on Friday I implemented the trial run.

I wanted to run a presentation, and then demonstrate and train on some applications that require a computer (CrimeView Dashboard), an iPad and an iPhone (CrimeView NEARme). So during the lunch break I hooked up my Apple TV to the big monitor in the conference room. During the afternoon session, I moved back and forth mirroring the content from a MacBook Air, iPad, and iPhone--wirelessly, seamlessly, and with nothing more than a swipe. Had I thought about it, I could have had the students with iPhone 4S or 5 (about half) do the same thing, and we could have passed control of the content on the big screen around to our hearts' content.

I've put a kit together with a spare power cord and HDMI cord, so I can steal the Apple TV from the family room without having to snake cords from behind the entertainment center. It seems to me that this would be a terrific setup for a college instructor or someone like me that does a lot of business presentations or training sessions.  Your iPad becomes a full-featured wireless presentation pad, allowing you to roam at will, hand it off to anyone else, and even trade off control of the content with other devices in the room. Actually, it's far more than a presentation device, because you can do much more than navigate among slides: you can switch applications, surf the web, and interact just as if you were standing at a computer hard-wired to a projector. Apple's presentation software, Keynote, works very well with this set up. I can open a PowerPoint stored in Dropbox, Keynote converts the format automatically, and I can run it from my iPhone or iPad mini while wandering. It looks just as good as if I had done it from a laptop on the podium tethered to the projector.

The caveat is that all the devices and the Apple TV must be on the same WiFi network, and it's HDMI out, so you need a monitor or projector with HDMI in. In a room with an HDMI projector and WiFi, this just beats the pants off a laptop and a long VGA cord. One other thing I've noticed about my Apple devices is how easily they all seem to work with various LCD projectors when using standard VGA. For years I've wrestled trying to get projectors to recognize laptops. The drill is to show up to your room 20 minutes early, futz around with resolution settings, graphics properties, and Ctrl-F8 until your hands are sweaty and the audience is fidgeting waiting for an image. Not with Apple. Plug it in, and it just works.


Steve said...

I've been dreaming about just such a setup at my home for bringing the computer or tablet screen to the large format of the television. Even if I had the money, I'd need someone to help me figure out what I need and how to make it work. I suppose I could figure it out on my own, but I don't have that kind of initiative, and my experience has usually been one of frustration when I do everything I'm supposed to do and it still doesn't work.

I am, however, quite pleased with my new iPad. I put it on my Christmas list on a whim, not really knowing what it could do or how I'd even use it. While there are some disturbing things about some of the Apple software, it is amazingly simple most of the time. I use it when I mentor my math students in several ways: bringing up web content related to math, finding definitions of terms or specific numbers, such as the distance to the moon, using the scientific calculator app or the doodle pad (like a small dry erase board), and playing math related games like cribbage or backgammon. I also use it in similar ways with the driver's ed students. Not only is it more convenient for me, but it is much more interesting for the students than a book, a sheet of paper, or a blackboard (do they still have those?). Probably the nicest thing I've found is the effortless way it connects to whatever network is in range.,

BB said...

If you're wanting to project in an environment where you don't have an Apple TV, but do have a Mac or PC, check out AirServer. It's cheap and has the same great AirPlay features - we use it in our office pretty regularly.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering is this actually Apple TV or the small adaptor you can buy for $100???

Fireballs said...

We love our AppleTV. It's how we consume most of our entertainment ever since we cut cable out of our lives.

If you're the type of guy that likes to archive your DVD collection on your PC, you can use a program called AirVideo that will let you stream videos via AirPlay to your AppleTV without the use of iTunes.

Tom Casady said...


The name is deceiving. An Apple TV is not a television: it's a small black box similar to a Roku, which connects to your television set, and to your WiFi or wired ethernet network, to allow you to stream content to the connected television.


Just looking over their web site, the attractive thing about AirServer to me would be the ability to use an ad hoc network, rather than WiFi. I tried one of these previously, with nothing but frustration, so it's good to hear that there is an app that works. I might have to try the 7 day trial....