Apple TV: Wireless that Works!

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By Scott Tiner

I am a wired kind of guy. Wireless connections have failed me time and time again. From wireless mics that screech noise when they have interference from cellular phones, to Wi-Fi touch panels that need specially configured routers to work properly and still just drop off the network randomly, wireless is just not my thing. I love to tell my clients that the worst wired connection is better than the best wireless connection. Then, I met AirPlay and AppleTV.

For now, I am going to ignore all the consumer features that the Apple TV provides, as it links with your iTunes account. I think that trying to stream movies that you purchased or rented from iTunes into your classroom, may present technical and legal issues. Most institutions have their own rules about this type of thing, and I recommend that you think this through with your copyright officer or legal counsel.

However, get working with AirPlay now! The AppleTV costs a mere $99. This is in everyone’s budget. Better yet, the client is built into iPads, iPhones and any newer Mac running Mountain Lion. If you are using a laptop that is running Mountain Lion, you can set your display options to automatically show in the menu bar, whenever it recognizes an AirPlay device.

Connecting to the TV just happens. I know that we often tell people how easy something is and then proceed to give them a 15-minute training on how to use this “easy” technology. This is not the case with the AppleTV. It really just happens. I used it with a faculty member this semester.  My instructions to her totalled an email with about five sentences and she had it running in class that day. The faculty member is really interested in the technology because it allows her to move around the room, sit down with the students, connect with them and still connect with the display in the room. She has indicated to me that this product is a game changer. A game changer not due to the technology — we have seen various incarnations of wireless video — but because of the ease of use and easy availability of the client. The idea that you don’t have to download a client, troubleshoot it with all your students and faculty, and then worry about upgrades, makes it appeal to me as a tech manager.

Perhaps the biggest hang-up right now with AirPlay is that the protocol it uses (Bonjour) is not routable. Also, it is a “chatty” protocol that is designed to work on typical home networks, but not in large corporate networks. Your network administrators will tell you that using AirPlay on your network will bog it down. However, some of the major network manufacturers, along with other third party vendors are working on this issue and coming out with solutions.

Some benefits of the AppleTV implementation with AirPlay are that it can be password protected and the particular device can be renamed. So, a user can easily find the device they want to connect to and students (or others) cannot jump on the system and display things that are not desired. However, part of the beauty of the device is that students CAN connect to the display with their own devices. I know that the idea of sharing screens around a room has been something that I have been asked about several times. Until now, the solutions have been very expensive hardware solutions, or very clunky software solutions.

IR drivers are readily available for the Apple TV. This allows programmers or integrators to easily integrate these devices into new installs. The resolution of the streamed image from an iPad does leave something to be desired. While Apple promotes it as 720p, it looks more like 800×600. It would be desirable to have a better resolution, but the image is viewable. Also, when you go to full screen video (even from within a web page) the resolution improves.

If you are an installer, you are not going to make much money on the device.  It would probably be easier for you if you just let your customer just buy it on his own. Yet, that does not mean you cannot make money. If you deliver a solution that can solve the routing issues with Bonjour and offer a nice interface on the classroom touch panel, then you have a winning (and profitable) solution. There are plenty of third party software applications that allow Macs and PCs to be AirPlay servers. Come up with a solution that integrates some of these tools and sell me a service. This is where integrators and designers need to be creative: Technology Managers are very savvy about what is on the market, so don’t offer us a different solution that is much more complicated and is exponentially more expensive.

I would like to end my first article here with a thanks to rAVe ED for the invitation to be part of the rAVe family. I would love to hear what you are thinking about, or would like to hear more about in future columns. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Scott Tiner, CTS, has worked in the AV/IT field in public K-12, private K-12 and higher education institutions. With a BS in Secondary Education from the Boston University School of Education, he has a deep interest in the use of various types of technology in the classroom. Currently, as the assistant director of user services: digital media, classroom technology & event support at Bates College, Scott designs learning spaces, oversees event support and staging and manges all video streaming on campus. Scott also oversees the Digital Media Center. The Digital Media Center provides support and instruction on all video and audio editing on campus.

Scott is very active in the field, having presented at both regional and national conferences. In 2011, he was appointed as chair of the Technology Managers Council of InfoComm. Scott can be contacted via LinkedIn, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/stiner or via email at