Testing AirParrot and Apple TV for BYOD

One of the biggest challenges in the design of our 1:1 program is building the infrastructure in the classrooms to support a 1:1 iPad program (Middle School) side-by-side with a BYOD laptop program (Upper School). We have to build our systems to work flexibly with all types of devices, while still honoring the mobile mentality of the iPad school. A great example of this is in projecting: How do we build a wireless projection system in a classroom to accommodate everything? I’m now testing a combination of Apple TV and AirParrot by Squirrels¬†to achieve wireless projection in a classroom for laptops and tablets together.

Healthy Skepticism

I, along with several of our staff, had initially dismissed Apple TV as a viable option to use schoolwide. Apple TV has a nasty reputation for slowing a network down to a crawl once there are multiple ATV devices running concurrently, and many schools have reported problems building out a full-scale ATV network. We have been looking for alternatives high and low, but hadn’t found anything. Last week, though, I was on campus at the Schools of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco (#baisnet¬†EdCamp shout-out). Each classroom had its own mobile cart with a flatscreen TV and Apple TV. Howard Levin and Hoover Chan have 65 ATV units running on their network– one for each class, and many more than we’d need to run a similar network on campus.

We’re interested in replicating Sacred Heart’s model if our network configuration can handle the workload, but that means that Apple TV’s back on the table. While our IT department works on the backend, I’m testing the front end to see if Apple TV can work for all three devices.

Who’s a Pretty Bird?

AirParrot is a program for Windows or Mac which enables AirPlay mirroring similar to the iPad (iPads have AirPlay mirroring built-in from iPad 2 on). While both Mountain Lion and Mavericks OS “has AirPlay built in,” Apple doesn’t allow AirPlay native to the OS on any Macs prior to Early/Mid-2011, even if they have the updated OS. Planned obsolescence strikes again. Once installed, the program will function just like built-in AirPlay: it will scan and detect any Apple TVs on the same network zone, and if connected allow you to wirelessly mirror your display to an external display.

The program costs $10.

Yes, but Does It Work?

It works! I was pretty happy with the video performance, streaming YouTube audio and video to the screen. I’ll have to do some tweaking to determine the optimum settings, as AirParrot allows you to adjust overscan and tweak the framerate for optimum performance. That said, we’re trying to build a system in which any student can walk in the room and throw a picture up to the display or projector. I’ll try and come up with some optimum standardized settings, but for purposes of evaluation, it’s important to leave it as “out-of-the-box” as possible, since that’s how most of our students will use it.

You Must Have Had Issues

I discovered a few things worthy of mention. First, unlike native mirroring on the iPad or newer MacBook, you have to connect the mirroring, and then go back into the menu and choose “Enable Audio.” I’m not sure that I can guess why these are two separate steps, but they are. I imagine that having a bit of a learning curve for students and teachers alike.

Second, I initially had problems with the area being displayed. Compare these two pictures from my Lenovo Helix and the mirrored display:

 

Original Display on Helix

Original Display on Helix

Mirrored Display on External Monitor

Mirrored Display on External Monitor

Two interesting things are happening here: First, obviously the mirroring is only showing the upper-left part of the original desktop. Second, look where the cursor is on each picture (not moved between taking the two shots). Click on the images to zoom in if you can’t see the cursors. It appears that the cursor location is relative (e.g. in the bottom-right quadrant of the display) while the application and OS locations are absolute. On the original display, the cursor is over the Google search box, while on the mirrored display it’s floating up in space. While you might be able to resize anything important to be displayed to fit, trying to navigate the screen while reconciling these two different views is a head trip.

The problem is a quirk in how tablets running Windows 8 treat the zoom function. According to Squirrels support, turning off the text-enlarging feature will fix the problem, and indeed it did in this instance (while the Helix is a hybrid laptop, it’s really more of a tablet with an elaborate docking station). The only problem is that the text is so incredibly small on my Helix that even my not-totally-old eyes have a hard time using the device when it’s in the 100% zoom mode– keeping it in 150% zoom was the only way I could use the device sanely. The setting can’t be changed in Windows on the fly, either– you have to sign out and back in for the settings to take effect. This could mean that I would have to permanently set my Helix to a lower resolution setting in order to a) keep the icons and text usable on the tablet and b) project cleanly with 100% zoom.

Bottom Line

I now have AirParrot running on both my Mac and Windows, mirroring to the Apple TV. In concept, this works for a wireless BYOD classroom projection system. The next step is for us to test multiple Apple TV units and see if we are going to be able to support them running simultaneously to bring one to each classroom.

Questions? Alternative Suggestions?

Do you have a similar system running? Do you use AirParrot or any similar software? Are you using multiple Apple TVs in an iPad setting? Do you have questions about this setup that I’m testing? Please share your experience or questions below!

3 comments

  1. kim says:

    Just to inform, it is the same scaling issue in win 8.1 update 1
    om PC as well.
    And using a Dell XPS 15 haswell With 3200×1800, scaling to 100% is small :-)

    • Jeff says:

      Kim– thanks for your note. I’ve heard a lot of rumblings about the scaling settings in 8.1 regardless of the hardware. Seems like a universal problem. Hopefully a future update will get this cleaned up!

  2. David says:

    “Do you use AirParrot or any similar software? ”

    Try AirMyPC as well. I like both AirMyPC and AirParrot but AirMyPC performance were much better on my computer. Also AirMyPC allows you to mirror the Webcamera which i really needed.

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