Monday, November 5, 2012

Alternative to Apple TV?

My brother's school is looking to pilot iOS devices as a teacher device in its language division, so he called me with a few questions - I'm only addressing one in this blog. He began asking about mirroring the iPad through the projector wirelessly (to not have to deal with the annoying little VGA or HDMI adapters and to be able to walk about the room). I immediately brought up Apple TV as the only obvious way to mirror your device through projection. He then surprised me by questioning my vast amount of iPad knowledge by simply discussing two software programs about which he had been reading. I, as the techier of the two brothers, was shocked that I had somehow missed these products. Every time a student in an iPad class asks how to get their iPad projected wirelessly, I tell them that Apple TV is the only option... Not any more.

The products: AirServer and ReflectionApp. Both computer software programs - not apps.

[Update: It is now called ReflectorApp]

I naturally thought that these had just been released, and I must have simply missed the announcement. Nope. AirServer has been around over a year and a half. ReflectionApp is nearly a year old. How on earth did I miss these? Perhaps they were so poorly made, that no one gave them press because they were more headache than beneficial. It was time to try them.

Test Run
I started with AirServer because, frankly, the website looked more impressive. I installed the trial version. I was getting more excited by the second as it downloaded. I began the testrun. I made it about three seconds before my computer completely froze (a mac less than a year old, running lion with 4GB of RAM). Dang. When my computer restarted, I realized I had a ton of programs running. That must have been the problem. (Sidenote: my hard drive was also re-indexing itself at this point - never a good sign). I quit every program except Chrome and retried. This time I made it 10 seconds before a full freeze. So much for AirServer. I was beginning to think there was a reason I had never heard of these options. On to ReflectionApp...

After a restart (and indexing was complete), I ran Reflection App with only Chrome running. Worked like a dream. It doesn't display full screen on my laptop (see screenshot below), but who cares? I now might have an alternative to the $99 Apple TV. Maybe it was only good when I was running minimal programs. Time to fire up the six programs that were running when I tried AirServer. Flawless. Next test. Will it run video? I went into Sock Puppets to play one of my previously recorded creations - no go. I then tried to stream a show from the ABC player app. Worked great! AND (get ready for this)... audio came through my computer speakers! Tried Sock Puppets again and it worked just fine. Must have been a small hiccup.

Wrapping up
Please understand how rarely I use the exclamation mark. I usually reserve it for significant life events (e.g., my sister is having a child, a friend finished the Boston Marathon in the top 200). I used this punctuation mark twice in the last paragraph. I am extremely excited by an alternative to Apple TV that doesn't require schools to purchase more hardware and strap them up to projectors. A way to mirror the screen with full audio...amazing. If you have any friends that have been hesitant to spend the full $99 on an Apple TV (still a solid investment), please share this software with them.