Streaming in the classroom: Mersive Solstice

READ ALL THE REVIEWS ON THIS PAGE – STREAMING IN THE CLASSROOM SERIES

I’m on a quest and here is the next forray into that quest. I present to you the Mersive Solstice. On paper this thing looks great! It really does. It can allow many people to connect to a single screen at one time, you can even bridge multiple Solstices together so people in other room can see and hear what is happening. It supports 4K output and has Apple AirPlay built in so it is just as easy for Apple devices to connect to the Solstice as an Apple TV. Not to mention that it has a dashboard that you can remotely manage and configure multiple Solstices at one time, troubleshoot, etc. So, do I like it? Not really but we will get there soon enough.

FYI- If you are interested in the Mersive Solstice, you can contact them through their website to arrange for a demo unit like we did 🙂

Cost

Let’s start right here. The Solstice costs $1199 or $1399. The difference between the price is one includes a dashboard to remotely manage your Solstices and the other does not. Either way, it is very expensive. Just to be clear that is the cost for one device.

Setting it up

While the Apple TV is ridiculously easy to set up the Solstice ain’t too bad either. As you can see from the picture below, you have an HD or 4K output option, an ethernet point and audio out a power adapter plug and two USB 3 ports. On the other side is an HDMI port and a USB C port.

What’s really nice here is that the ethernet port supports POE (Power Over Ethernet). This means if you have a switch that is POE or POE+ then the switch will provide enough electricity to run the device itself. Something the Apple TV cannot do. So you get your Internet connection and the electricity needed to power the device all in one port. Very snazzy and convenient.

It’s also pretty small and light, so connecting it and placing it on our mounting near a projector is a real possibility. This means you can install this in house and save a bit of money. Here is a picture next to a current generation Apple TV.

Once you plug it in you need to connect a keyboard and mouse to the Solstice. This will let you access the settings for the device. If you have the dashboard feature you could merely plug it in and configure it from the dashboard, but this is a demo unit so we did all the configuration on the device itself.

It really was pretty simple. You could connect it through the WiFi if you wished (though an ethernet connection is far more stable and recommended), you can name it, give some security features if you like, configure the name and more. It was very easy to find and get going.

Connecting to it

First off – anything can connect to this thing (well maybe not Linux). Android, Mac OS, Windows – no problem. If you have an Apple Device you can connect through AirPlay (like the Apple TV). You can also use the Solstice app which is a free download. The app gives you many more options which we will get to.

Either way you connect, it will ask you for a 4 digit code which is prominently displayed on the screen. Once connected you have some choices. You can Share your Desktop, Share just an App or Share a Media file.

Using it

Here we run into some issues but there is also some good stuff as well.

The Apple TV you can share or extend your screen and that was all. The option of sharing just an app or a media file is pretty great. You don’t have to worry about notifications popping through onto your Mac screen (iMessage notifications) or accidentally showing your email or gradebook on the screen. Nice.

You can also have multiple people share their screen at the same time and the Solstice handles that pretty well. The screens resize to who all the other screens and as a teacher you have the ability to hide all the other screens and bring one forward and then quickly switch to another screen. The Apple TV cannot do this – in fact it takes a little bit of time switching devices. As a teacher, I think we can all appreciate what downtime between presentations is like and minimizing this makes it really handy.

What is also neat about this is that it shows a live view of each screen, so you can see what is happening in real time. Now, if you were thinking of throwing 20–30 screens on the Solstice to monitor what is happening in your class – that is not what this is designed to do and I would be surprised to see if this even works. If it does, I bet it doesn’t work all that well. Go find a monitoring tool – there are plenty out there.

There are other features too, but we didn’t really explore them too much. The reason why is that video streaming is not good. It just isn’t. It doesn’t matter if you are streaming through AirPlay or using the Solstice app on your computer. Streaming wirelessly is not good. We saw it go from laggy, dropping frames to down right unbearable where the difference between the image and the sound was at least 1 second. Check out the video below. It is a short clip (11 seconds) of a TED talk. The lag is very noticeable and in our testing we had seen it even worse.

What was even more surprising is that we connected our computers directly to the Mersive Solstice via an HDMI cable and there was still lag. I am not sure why this happened. Just to be sure, we unplugged the Mersive and then connected our computer directly to the screen we were testing the Solstice out of and it worked fine.

Add the Solstice in between the computer and the screen and there was a subtle lag. We tested this with local video on our computer and YouTube.

Complicated

Another downside we found to the Solstice was that it was not as straight forward as we would like. There was one time when we had it set up to extend our desktop and didn’t realize it. We spent a good five-seven minutes trying to figure out where the setting was. We knew what we were looking for, but couldn’t remember or quickly find where it was. A regular classroom teacher with a room full of students doesn’t have that time to dedicated to troubleshooting problems like this.

The Mersive Solstice can do a lot – there is no question, but in offering so many options it needs to offer those options in a far easier and more intuitive manner. I am not sure what this would look like or how they could pull this off, but the current model does not accomplish this. I can see teachers getting lost and frustrated with the settings and not wanting to venture too far away from simple mirroring or streaming so as not to put a lesson at risk. If that’s the case there are far cheaper options out there.

I know what you’re thinking dear reader and you are right. Workshops and PD preparing the staff for the change would be necessary but there would always be those who still forget. Also, we are a Mac school – getting our teachers to not use AirPlay on the MacBooks would be near impossible and if they only use that – then they would be missing out on some other great features.

If this whole package cost say $300–400 dollars per device I could work with this but at more than $1000 it is hard to accept these compromises. At this price point it not only has to work but has to work better than an Apple TV. While it can do more than an Apple TV it cannot stream or mirror as well as an Apple TV which is what our teachers (and many other educators0 want.

Why it is not for us

The Solstice is not a terrible device. If you are in a mixed environment (BYOD or Windows/Mac mix) then this could work. For us, I cannot justify switching from an Apple TV (less than $200) to something that is more than five times that cost. We are almost all Macs and this does not work nearly as well as an Apple TV. While walking to each individual Apple TV to make changes is a pain, it is not a deal breaker for us.

Also, we are a single building. If you have multiple buildings or maybe even multiple campuses, a device that allows the Tech department to see them all, manage their updates, power cycle them, make changes to settings, etc. all from a single dashboard, then this is definitely more appealing than an Apple TV despite its lacking performance when it comes to streaming.

Conclusion

The Mersive Solstice has great potential. It can do a lot but it’s too complicated for many teachers to use in their day-to-day, the streaming video performance is bad and the cost should make everyone pause before writing the check. Right now, this is a product to watch but I honestly cannot consider it a strong contender to replace our Apple TV’s.

About Patrick Cauley

I teach middle school technology and love to play around with tech and teach students and colleagues alike. You can read my blog at www.itbabble.com
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