A surprising number of faculty members at our institution own iPads. I know, because I recently had the opportunity to present a short iPad Ed workshop which was well attended, and I asked. As I say, a surprising number of hands went up. Part of the workshop was what I intended to be a brief discussion of using Apple TV to wirelessly project in the classroom, but the discussion was not so brief because there was a great deal of interest in the iPad and projection technology. Thus, this post, on the various ways to use the iPad with a classroom projector, both wired and wirelessly.
In the discussion below, I will be referring to the iPad 2 and new iPad (commonly called iPad 3 or third generation iPad). The products and technologies discussed will generally not work, or not work completely, with the original iPad. There are also some rare apps (that I have read about, but not actually seen) that simply will not output video, and these will also not work with the solutions outlined below, though I have tested many apps and could not find one that would not output video. I did my testing with the Hitachi CP-X3015WN projector, except in a couple cases where I tested on one of our older EIKI projectors.
My favorite projection solution, because of its elegance and simplicity, is to connect an Apple TV device, via an HDMI cable, to the HDMI port on the room projector, and then connect the iPad wirelessly to the Apple TV device via Airplay mirroring. Problem solved. The lecturer is free to roam around and room, displaying through the projector anything that appears on the screen of the iPad, including hand written annotations in apps that accept them (like Educreations or Explain Everything, which can even be recorded at the time of the lecture).
Here are the particulars:
- The iPad and the AppleTV device (a 4″ hockey puck with an HDMI out port) must be connected to the same wireless network.
- The wireless network MUST be multicast enabled.
- The AppleTV must be connected to the projector’s HDMI port by an HDMI cable.
- AirPlay must be enabled on the AppleTV.
- The iPad must connect to the AppleTV via AirPlay and AirPlay mirroring must be enabled on the iPad.
- The projector must be in HDMI mode.
Here are some things to know about the implementation, in general and at our college in particular:
- At our college, the open, publicly accessible wireless network, called “InternetOnly” is multicast enabled, so wherever wireless networking is possible this projection solution is also possible.
- The cost of the AppleTV device is $99. The cost of an HDMI cable is around $20. I used an in-wall 40-foot CL3 HDMI cable for our two library classroom labs, and a 25-foot external CL2 HDMI cable for our faculty lab. Both have worked well.
- The real “gotcha” with this solution is that almost all of the projectors on our campus DO NOT HAVE HDMI ports. The newer projectors do have a single HDMI port. I used the Hitachi CP-X3015WN in my tests—but wonder why they only have a single HDMI port when multiple ports would be more useful. They also have lots of other nearly useless legacy ports, but that is another issue. Since most of our projectors do not have HDMI ports, one of the solutions mentioned below will be apt for most users.
- Since most of our projectors do not not have HDMI, you may be tempted by one of those HDMI to composite/S-Video converters. We actually tested one, but the quality of the projected image, at least using our standard EIKI projector, was, in our opinion, completely unacceptable. We cannot recommend using such an adapter.
- When setting up the AppleTV, be sure to password protect the session (General > AirPlay > Set Password). The security on the AppleTV devices is clearly intended only for the home market. You do not even need to know the password to change the password. All you need is an AppleTV remote. Nonetheless, a simple password protected session should be sufficient for most academic purposes.
One of the really nice features of this solution is that anyone with an iPad can mirror their screen to the projector, not just the professor, provided they know the password on the AppleTV device (professors will ponder the significance of changing the password if they use this feature).
Another nice feature with this configuration is that it lets you bypass the classroom computer entirley, so you can have a separation presentation set up on the classroom computer, and quickly switch back and forth between the iPad screen and the computer screen by simply selecting inputs on the projector.
The image quality is excellent, but will be as large as the scaling in effect on your projector, and this will vary by projector. When playing video (and this solution had no trouble with HD 30fps video) the video expands to fill the screen. Video motion is smooth and colors are true. Video, however, will play only through the projector and will not be mirrored to the screen of the iPad.
Apple VGA Adapter
For those with a projector that does not support HDMI, a simpler solution may be to purchase the Apple VGA Adapter ($29 plus tax). The down side of this solution is that you are tethered to the projector, and cannot walk around as you present.
Since most of our classrooms are equipped with a second VGA input to the projector (that blue, 15-pin D-shell adapter lying about on the lectern or podium) it can be plugged into the VGA Adapter and by simply changing from computer 1 to computer 2 on the projector input the instructor can project from the iPad. (Once again, be sure to use an iPad 2 or 3, not the original iPad with this solution. There are serious limitations to the VGA adapter and the original iPad). This solution also has the disadvantage of not being shareable, if you want your audience to share what is on their iPad screens. It also has the disadvantage of not carrying audio. You need a separate audio cable (and only some of our classrooms have an extra audio cable, which would plug in to the iPad’s audio out earphone jack).
Apple also makes an HDMI Digital Adapter ($29 plus tax), but since most of our projectors do not have HDMI ports it hardly matters. Furthermore, if you do have an HDMI port on your projector, the AppleTV solution seems far superior to me.
Screen mirroring and video display fine through the VGA adapter.
Reflector and AirServer
Note: The app mentioned in this section called “Reflection” has changed its name to “Reflector” and the web site is now at http://www.reflectorapp.com/.
A software-based solution may be the best for most users, considering the vintage of our projectors and classroom computers. It is cheaper and easier to implement by far than the Apple TV solution, and allows for untethered presentation, giving it a leg up over the VGA adapter solution. There are a couple of screen resolution and bandwidth issues to be aware of related to video quality, but overall this is an excellent, inexpensive solution. Here are the details.
Reflector ($14.95 downloadable software, with discounts for bulk purchases) and AirServer ($14.99 for Mac, $7.99 for PC with bulk discounts) are software AirPlay emulators, allowing PC or Mac workstations to act as the AirPlay host for the iPad. In other words, once these client programs are installed, you can mirror your iPad 2 or 3 (or iPhone 4S) to your PC or Mac. Then, provided the PC or Mac is wired to the classroom projector via VGA and audio cables, mirror your iPad screen through the room projector.
Of the two products, I much prefer Reflector because it has screen recording functionality. That’s right. Not only can you display your iPad screen while remaining untethered from the projector, but you can record it too on the host workstation. It is important to realize, however, that the audio recorded is the system audio. That is, you cannot record voice over audio while displaying. But, of course you could if you captured the workstation screen in a program like Camtasia while presenting. We have tested this and it works fine.
Here are some considerations to be aware of:
- Reflector requires Mac OS X 10.6.8 or above, or Windows XP or above.
- AirServer runs on a Mac running OS X Tiger / Leopard / Snow Leopard / Lion / Mountain Lion (Intel/PPC) or a PC running Windows 7 or Vista.
- Reflection screen recording requires Windows 7.
- Windows Firewall must be set to allow AirPlay connections. This should occur automatically during PC installation, but if not, it is easy to setup manually.
- Your iPad 2 or 3 and your classroom workstation must be on the same wireless network. This could be an issue, because many of the older classroom workstations on campus are not equipped with wireless connectivity, though they could be with the addition of an inexpensive USB wireless dongle. This should be a minimal issue if the professor is providing her/his own laptop because laptops are likely to have built-in wireless adapters.
- Full-screen 1080p video can cause Reflection to stutter. If you have problems mirroring full-screen video, lower the workstation screen resolution (to 1280 x 720, for example) and try again. I got mixed results in my tests.
- Activation with AirServer was a bit funky, requiring registering an email address when you make the purchase. Activation with Reflection was more standard, with a license key being issued once the purchase was made.
- Both Reflector and AirServer allow for free trials. Reflection for 10 minutes (though as many 10-minute sessions as you want); AirServer for 7 days.
Both worked extremely well in displaying mirrored app and video content through a typical classroom projector.
The Hitachi USB Dongle
Just to be complete, I read the manual that came with my new Hitachi projectors and learned that there is a wireless dongle that can be purchased (about $100) for the CP-X3015WN (and several other) projectors. I thought this might be a solution for wireless broadcast to the projector, but on testing it turned out to use such low bandwidth, and reset the client workstation to such a basic color depth, that it proved to be useless. Transmissions through the dongle were very slow and delayed, with audio echoing after a notable delay after it plays on the workstation and video being unwatchable.
I also found a new iPad app that purportedly connects Hitachi projectors to iPads for wireless transmission, but could not find supporting documentation other than a single web site in Japanese. The app is available through the app store and is called Projector Quick Connection, or PJ Connection, Unfortunately even though my projector was listed as being supported, and the app could see the projector, it could not connect to it after repeated tries. Chalk it up to not ready for prime time. This app might be worth watching over time, however, unless it’s performance is as bad as the Hitachi wireless dongle.