This is the final post of this series. I’ll link all the reviews at the end of this post and link them all on their own page.
Here is the rundown. It uses something called Miracast technology. It is found in a lot of devices. I think Epson even makes some projectors where it is pre-installed. It’s cheap and it works. Let’s dig into it
This is the champ when it comes to price. One of these adapters will run you $50 USD (though currently on sale for $40). The next cheapest option is the Apple TV HD which costs $150 so this thing is $100 cheaper than its next competition.
So price is great!
What can it do?
It can display video and sound from your Windows 10 computer to an external display wirelessly. It can be used to mirror your display or extend it as a second screen. There is a way you can rename it and you can add a password to it if you’d like.
One thing it cannot do is work with Macs. There maybe a third part software that you could install to make it work, but you will be better off just using Airplay with an Apple TV.
As you can see above there are two parts to this setup. A USB connection (which is how it powers itself) and an HDMI which is how it delivers the image and sound to the display or adapter. There is no audio line out so the sound will be going straight to the projector or display, so there is that limitation.
Connecting is pretty straightforward. Your PC (using Bluetooth) will pair with the wireless adapter.
I picked another TedTalk because they usually have lots of talking and closeups so you can see if the audio is in sync with the video. As you can see here it’s not too bad. Sorry for the low volume – there was a class going on next door.
It’s not too bad but there is a small lag. The original video was for 45 seconds but there were a lot of cuts to visuals and wide shots. Is it as good as an Apple TV or BenQ Instashow? No, but it is better than the Mersive, Barco and Airtame.
Honestly – there weren’t too many issues. It does take a little time to power up and be ready to connect to. I did use this for 6 weeks last school year as I filled in as a math teacher and was only dropped once during that time. I rarely streamed any videos though, just me and other students using it to solve math problems.
There was one time I accidentally connected to the wrong adapter and a teacher next door politely me asked to disconnect. 😬 Sorry about that Trent. So you can’t just kick someone off but that may be an OK thing.
Another time I was having an issue connecting to it and quickly tracked down the issue that my SurfaceBook’s (1st gen) WiFi adapter was locked to only 5GHz signals and couldn’t see the adapter. This is obviously not something that your average teacher would know to look for, so that could be a problem for some.
There is no management of them. Even Apple TV’s can be placed into an MDM (mobile device management) and somewhat managed. These on the other hand must be individually managed, but like most of these devices covered in these reviews, there isn’t a lot to do with it once it is plugged in and set up. You just leave it there.
You can rename them using your computer and you also can add passwords to them for security. I do know that you cannot kick someone off once they are connected.
Would teachers like it?
YES! It’s simple, easy to use and it works fairly well. It’s obviously not perfect but at $50 a unit I think people could learn to live with its short comings. Obviously, the big caveat here is that it only works with Windows 10. If you have a mixed environment (like a BYOD) then this is not a solution.
Will it replace Apple TV’s?
No – we are an Apple school for the most part. We do have a single teacher who uses a Surface Book and he does use this adapter while teaching and he seems very content with it. Since this doesn’t work with MacBooks then it is a quick no for us.
If you’re a Windows 10 school – it is seriously worth your consideration. The price is hard to argue with and the performance is surprisingly good for something so cheap.
Corona virus is disrupting how the whole teaching and learning process happens. When it hit the US back in early 2020 it sent a lot of schools spinning to figure out how to successfully implement distance learning and what tools would be needed. One tool that our teachers wanted or found very useful was a document camera. Our school was rocking an old Elmo TT-02RX document camera.
This document camera is a tank. It is very durable, tough, and it works fine . . . as long as you are in the classroom.
Here are problems our teachers ran into with these Elmos at home. They are large. They can easily dominate a desk or kitchen table. Carting them from school and then back again isn’t the easiest task. The built in camera is less than 2 megapixels which is OK but far from great especially now that even Chromebooks have HD displays. Finally the software is bad. It works, but it is not easy to get around and looks horrible and getting it on computers also was a pain.
This particular model we have is almost ten years old so looking for a replacement was a priority. At first I looked at Elmo for an updated model of what we currently have. They had it but . . .
That is a lot of money. In fact that is nearly as much as our teacher’s MacBook Air just to put that in perspective.
Now Elmo does have some more affordable options that looked good but there was a problem with those as well. A lot of schools were looking for document cameras as well and they were sold out.
So finding document cameras over the summer was a challenge. After some research I found a company called IPEVO out of Taiwan. They make a number of document cameras and within our budget. We had purchased one before and it worked out fine and they had stock which was something else important to us 🙂
So we landed on the IPEVO VZ-X – and it was on sale for $260 US dollars. Now it retails for $299.
So let’s break it down.
It’s a document camera and nothing else. It is not trying to be a computer/document camera, it is only a document camera and that works well.
It is fairly compact. The arm with the lens can fold down, making it a pretty small footprint on a desk and if you need to ferry it back and forth it is doable. If you need to travel all over the place for work, then maybe look for a more compact design – they’re out there.
It has a good battery that lasts 9-10 hours. This is good for distance learning as you only need to plug it into your computer for that connection.
The image quality is good. It has an 8 megapixel camera and the image looks very sharp.
The build quality is good. It is all plastic and it is not as durable as the Elmo, but I don’t expect to be replacing these in the next few years. If they can last 4-5 years I will be happy with the purchase.
It focuses fast and stays in focus. There have been sometimes where it was confused and didn’t autofocus. This happened because I was moving lots of objects in and out at different heights, but a push of the button forced it to focus on the image.
The arm moves! So you can manually “zoom in” but simply dragging the arm closer to the subject. Likewise you can manually “rotate” the image on your screen by rotating the head of the camera.
It has a good light sensor that handles lots of lighting situations. When the room is dark it does have an LED light that you can turn on which does a surprisingly good job of illuminating the area.
The software works . . . most of the time. It looks fine and is easy to use. The fact that you need to go to the Mac App Store or the Windows App Store means that it has been vetted to some degree.
The battery takes a long time to charge. The cameras arrived at our school dead and it took 9-10 hours to charge them.
The document camera did not include a charging block in the packaging – only the USB cable, so that was something else we needed to purchase.
The software doesn’t work some of the time. We’ve run into issues of recording and it messing up the audio. As long as you are using the software for the basics (short recordings and image capture) you should be good.
You can connect to it via WiFi but this is gimmicky. You must join its WiFi network which means your laptop, mobile device must sacrifice its Internet connection in order to work. I guess it could be OK if you’re taking video or some pictures with it outside, but other than that I wouldn’t bother with it. (I know I said this is handy in my video above, but after some reflection – I am wrong:(
The zoom on the device is not the best. It is a digital zoom which means that the closer you get, the worse the image will look. Also, the zoom in has its own preset so it is not a smooth zoom in. This is why moving the arm is a better solution to zoom in then using its own buttons.
There are filters on the camera. Not sure why they are there, but they are kind of silly.
Overall, this is a solid document camera. It does what it needs to do and nothing more. I like having a device that only does what it is designed to do and does it well. This is one of those devices. What document cameras are you using in your school and how do they fair? Leave those in the comments below!
Not too long ago I reviewed the Barco WePresent and found it pretty good especially at its price point. Now we are taking a look at the ClickShare. Barco offers a few options with their ClickShare product and this one is the CS-100, the current entry level. This can be managed remotely with additional software from Barco at an additional price, but we did not have access to that for our review unit. So let’s get into it!
There are newer models on the horizon but I am not sure if they are available for sale yet.
$1000 for this unit. Yep – that’s a lot. I looked the price up at a number of different retailers and for the average Joe that’s what you’ll need to shell out. Barco is really focused for the corporate world and I am not sure they have an educational discount. The unit has a receiver and one button one transmitter. Also remember that this is the entry level model as well.
For that money you will get one base station, one button and a power adapter.
What can it do?
It will mirror your screen to a projector, monitor or television with just a click of the button. The BenQ Instashow and the ClickShare seem to work the same way. The receiver and transmitter create their own private network and transmit all the data over it. This reduces stress on the school’s network and usually keeps a much more solid connection since no other device is on it.
The base station has all the standard ports you would come to expect.
It has a power port (no power over ethernet here), a port for the included power adapter, a network port and an audio port for audio out. I like this and I don’t think we’ve seen it on any other device thus far. It’s a small thing (no pun intended) but I like it. There is also a USB A connector on the back and one on the front. I believe these are used to pair other buttons to the base station.
The button is small, plugs into the USB port of a computer and has a satisfying click when pressed. Mine was USB A but the latest models has a USB C option. In my testing, the USB A worked just fine with a standard USB A to C adapter and never felt like it was going to fall out of my laptop.
Set up was ridiculously easy. Simply plug the base station into power and then connect it to a display via an HDMI cable. Wait for it to boot up, then plug the button into your computer and wait a few seconds for it to boot up, then click the button and you’re connected! If you ever forget the default Barco screen displayed will guide you through it all.
Here is a video of of me connecting the button. It seems to take a long time, but once you press that button you are connected with no hesitation. Then when you press it again, you are disconnected. It is fast.
I do believe you need to install the software each time you plug the button in. I may be wrong about this, but I do find that a little annoying.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you can only mirror your screen and not extend it. For most teachers I don’t think this would be a problem. A lot of teachers I know don’t seem to care about that and prefer mirroring to the extended set up, but if you rely on it then it will cramp your style for sure.
As you can see in the image above, it even has iOS and Android apps. It even works fine with a Chromebook [need to check this out.]
OK – with all of these reviews – this is one of the most important factors. Can it stream video well. This is what teachers want to have. Mirroring their screen is nice, but teachers are demanding more now and we have been searching for something that can rival the Apple TV. So check out the sample below from another TED Talk.
It’s not good at all. Every few seconds it seems to drop frames and audio for a moment. It is jarring and not acceptable in any situation. In a classroom just showing a slideshow, webpage, or some documents, this is fine. If you want to stream even a short video, this is not going to work.
Outside of streaming video and the high cost, there really aren’t any. I mean the setup is super simple, connecting to a computer or device is very easy and secure. It does require a power cord and I really wished it had power over ethernet and who knows – maybe the next generation of ClickShare will. I also wish the base station was a little smaller. We have projectors and they are a little bulky sitting on top of it, but I imagine you could easily mount it or even stick it to the ceiling.
Managing the ClickShare
This can be done remotely but like I mentioned earlier it requires additional software to be installed on a server and we did not have access to it. I am sure it will allow you to update the base station, add more buttons to a base station, turn it off and on again if necessary all from the comfort of the IT office, but really, these things are pretty bullet proof.
They don’t seem to need much in the way of maintenance. I imagine updating the firmware could be done via USB or even remotely if you connect to the device itself and push it from your computer.
Would teachers like it?
If it is a BYOD environment then yes. I think they would though the BenQ Instashow is the same amount of money, works pretty much the same way and is vastly superior than the ClickShare. Of course, you may not have access to the Instashow but there are good chances you do have access to the Barco. Of course the money is the real sticking point here. $1000 per unit is nothing to sneeze at and you may be able to cobble together a cheaper solution that works pretty well.
Will it replace our Apple TV’s
No – there is no way. Teachers want to stream video and for the money the ClickShare cannot touch the Apple TV in that regard. While the Barco product creates a near perfect connection each time and doesn’t rely on our network, teachers will trade away that stability to better streaming each time.
I do like how customizable the Barco ClickShare is and I can see the appeal from an enterprise perspective but not an educational one.
This is clearly a product that was developed for enterprise and is not a 100% fit with education. It is like an octagon fitting into a round hole. It will fit with a little force but there are better options out there that fit a lot better.
I wrote a review about Airtame back in July of 2018 and I was pretty impressed by it. The price point was fair, the fact that it could mirror most devices (limited with iOS and Android but still not bad) and it could be used as digital signage. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that we can manage them in a cloud dashboard. Yep – there is a lot to like.
Now there is Airtame 2 and I have thoughts people. Some good and some not so good but let’s get into it. Oh, before we do that – I would like to mention that we had to purchase this Airtame 2 from Airtame itself. They did give us (my school, not IT Babble) a 50% discount for the purchase which I felt was very generous.
Got to start here. The original Airtame was a little north of $200 if I remember correctly. The newer Airtame 2 costs $400. I believe they have discounts for buying in bulk, but that is almost double the original price which should raise your eyebrows a little.
That price is not just greed though. The Airtame 2 has much better internals. The original Airtame was pretty underpowered and since it plugged directly in a display, that can sometimes make it difficult for it to connect and stay connected to the wifi.
This new design allows you to place the Airtame out in the open so it has a better chance to grab onto and hold onto the wifi signal. Smart.
What can it do?
Well – it can do pretty much everything the first Airtame can do, but since it is more powerful inside, it can simply do it faster and better. Loading times are cut down for digital signage (in my experience), connecting your computer to it to share your screen is faster as well and the streaming is better, but more on that later.
You still have the cloud dashboard which can let you reboot the device if it gets stuck, update at appropriate times (Apple TV – I’m looking at you) and of course change the on screen directions and customize the screen to have your school’s logo. Nice
The first Airtame took a while (a looong while) to update. This new Airtame 2 updates really fast. To give you an idea – the Airtame 2 had an update waiting right out of the box. It took 2-3 minutes to update and reboot. The Airtame 1 would take more than 10 minutes. This was not a one time occurrence either. It was painfully long.
To connect the Airtame to your display you will use the Aircord. One side is the USB C plugs which goes into the Airtame 2 and then it the Aircord splits into two other cords. One is an HDMI that clearly goes into the display and the other is a USB that must go into its own power source. I was told to not plug it into the projector/display. The display will not provide it enough power to work properly. We used an included USB plug and then plugged that into a power strip.
To connect your device to the Airtame 2, you will need to download the Airtame app. If you have a Mac or iOS device, you can use Airplay, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You will get significantly better results streaming through their app. In fact, I was told by a sales rep that it will use a third less data when using their app.
When connected, basic usage has a noticeable lag. The mouse looks a little choppy gliding over your desktop. All the other devices seemed to perform a little better in this regard. Trying to use my trackpad and looking at the display really threw me for a loop. I got confused and had to just look at my screen. If I was just showing a slideshow, website or PDF this would be fine as the lag isn’t terrible enough to disrupt what was being displayed.
I also didn’t have any unwanted disconnections while testing, which of course is a good thing.
How did the Airtame 2 fair? Really well 🙂 I am impressed with the performance. It is nowhere near as nice as the BenQ but it was far superior to the WePresent and the Mersive Solstice. In fact, I would go so far to say that it is almost in the same league as an Apple TV – almost. The audio was never out of sync with the video. There were times when frames would drop out but when the video resumed on the display the audio was right there with it.
It really was impressive.
Teachers may grouse about these dropped frames and without longterm testing I can’t say if it gets worse but for right now I find this completely acceptable. Below is my example. You don’t see any dropped frames in this example. By the way – the TV color is wonky – not the color of the video.
The worst I saw was a bunch of dropped frames in period of 5-7 seconds and then it seemed to stream just fine after that.
The Airtame 2 does have Airplay built into it, but the results are stinky. I didn’t record a video, but the lag between the audio and the video was there and consistent through every video test with threw at it, so use the app fellow reader. If you want a video – let me know in the comments below.
The biggest issue I have is the Aircord (that is its actual name). It is just not practical. The connection to the Airtame itself is a USB C. Because the unit is circular in shape, when I plug the USB C in it feels loose, as the cord can wiggle. I do find this disconcerting, but it doesn’t feel like so loose as it will fall out.
Now we get to the “Y” part. This is what I really don’t like. So it goes from a USB C cord and splits into two: an HDMI cord and a USB A cord. The cord itself feels like it is made of quality material, but that material also means that it is stiff and not easy to manage.
Also, the length of the cord is problematic. Obviously the Airtame needs to be near the display, so HDMI isn’t an issue but then you have to plug the USB A plug into its own dedicated power source. This can be a stretch – literally. It really limits where you can plug this into. If you have a projector and the power outlet is more than a meter (or about three feet) from the power source you will need an extension cord (which Airtame will sell to you) or reposition your outlet.
It is just maddening! All the other units we’ve tested have much more flexible power options:
Mersive Solstice – POE or a USB plug
WePresent – POE or a USB plug
BenQ – Draws power from the device via a USB cable
I believe the USB option for the Airtame 2 is an option and it may give you a lot more options when placing it than the Aircord.
There is also a POE adapter that you can buy from Airtame which would work, but that adapter currently sells for $119 USD, which seems an outrageous sum for any adapter. I mean it is more than a quarter of the price . . . for an adapter!
Maybe I am making too big of a deal out of this cable, but it really bothers me. The POE adapter does give you some more flexibilty but then that cable is not super flexible and managing it is awkward. It is almost too long to really hide behind a device but not quite long enough for the power. I don’t like it.
Managing the Airtame 2
Like I mentioned earlier they have a dashboard that is in the cloud, so you can access it anywhere and do some basic management. It is included in the price but they do have a cloud plus subscription that will give you much more power over them. This is more for the digital signage aspect than the actual streaming uses. It’s good, easy to use and pretty straightforward.
Would teachers like it?
Ultimately, yes – I think they would. I am not sure if it streams better than an Apple TV, but it does a pretty good job. The Aircord worries me with its longevity and the price of the POE adapter is also a worrying cost for a dongle. We had an Airtame 1 that lasted only a year and a half before completely dying, but the Airtame 2 feels much sturdier and a higher quality of production.
Will it replace our Apple TV’s?
Probably not. Having a few on hand for presenters doesn’t seem like a bad idea, but on a large scale it doesn’t offer enough, given the price. The Apple TV may not be the best streaming device we’ve tested but for the price it is hard to beat that value. Digital signage is something we do implement in a few places at school and having and owning the device (with no subscription) may be a good way forward in that aspect, but I can’t think of the Airtame 2 replacing the Apple TV’s . . . yet.
The journey continues! This time we are looking at the BenQ Instashow. A lot of people may not be too familiar with BenQ in North America, but they have it looks as though they have been making steady inroads into the continent. They may a bevy of products and this is one of them.
If you are familiar with Barco’s ClickShare (review coming soon) you will notice an immediate similarity, and you would be correct! It basically works under the same principal which I’ll check out below.
OK – let’s get this out of the way. The BenQ Instashow is expensive. I looked the cost up on CDW and the cost for this system is $1100 USD. That’s a hunk of change people. The version I have is USB but they do have other connector types available to purchase and all are around the same price point.
One unit is good for one display. We do have two buttons that will allow you to quickly (and seemlessly) switch between one computer and another on the same display.
What can it do?
It can mirror your screen or allow the second screen to act as an extended display. Let me tell you fellow reader – it works really well. That is all it does though. No whiteboard, no multiple computers on the same screen simultaneously, just takes your screen and puts on a projector/TV.
You get a button or two and a base station. The base station obviously plugs into the projector or display and the buttons plug into the computer. The first time, you will need to pair the buttons with the base station. This initial pairing is pretty quick and you only need to do it once.
On the back of the base station you have few options.
As you can see, there is a pairing button, an Ethernet input, and HDMI connector and a microUSB connector (for power). Unfortunatelye the BenQ Instashare does not have Power Over Ethernet (POE). Meaning you need to use the micro USB port to power the device. The good news is that connecting it to a TV or projector’s USB port is sufficient to power the base station. The packaging does include a traditional plug if your device doesn’t have a USB.
What makes this different from the Mersive and the Barco WePresent is that no software is needed. There is no client to download, install and run to connect. It just connects. You plug in one of the buttons into your computer, wait for the light to turn green, press the light and you’re connected.
The lag is nearly nonexistent and the image is crystal clear. It really is pretty nice.
How this works is that the button and the base station form their own private (and encrypted) network. You don’t have to connect the BenQ to your schools’s WiFi or even the LAN. All you need to do is plug it into the display make sure it has power and you’re off and running. Something to note though, the dongle must be plugged in the entire time to work. Which means you are carrying that dongle plugged into your computer with you at all streaming times.
When it is connected to the display here is what is shown.
That is really all the instructions you get. No navigating to an IP address or anything else. Just very straight forward which is really nice.
Ease of use is one thing, but performance is another. How does the BenQ stream video? It streams video great! There is no lag, no distortion of picture or dropped frames. Audio came through with no problems (though I did have to change the audio output on my Mac each time I connected).
It worked very, very well. I would go so far as to say it streamed video better than an Apple TV and at this price point it had better. Check out the example below. Again, I used a random Ted Talk because you get to see a lot of people talking on screen.
Pretty good eh?
When we had two buttons connected, all a person had to do was hit their button and the image switched instantly. There was no loading screen, no black screen while it was processing. It just switched. We did this many times even trying to see how fast it would go. The BenQ handled it all with ease. Very impressive.
It does take a little time to connect but more about that below.
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops with the BenQ though. It works pretty well with MacBooks, Windows laptops and Chromebooks, but it was a no go for iPads or mobile phones with USB. I am not sure why, but it wouldn’t react at all when plugged into my OnePlus 6. Does this mean it won’t work at all? Not sure, but we had no success with it.
Then there was the time it took to connect. I would hope that all I had to do was plug in the dongle and a few seconds later I could connect. Not quite. I plugged in the dongle and then after about 25-30 seconds I got a green light on the ring, but when I pressed the button to connect it failed. Here is a video of that happening. I sped up the speed by two but put a time code in the upper left hand corner for reference.
If you were thinking that you could pass the dongle around from student to student to seamlessly stream you better have some buffer time planned in between. This seemed to be the case with any of the computers we tried including the Chromebook. Sometimes we got it up and running in about 30 seconds, but it was always 30 seconds or more.
Once connected though, it was solid. It stayed connected and nothing we threw at it seemed to deter it at all.
The range of the BenQ Instashow is pretty decent at around 8 meters (26 feet) as advertised in its included documentation. It didn’t stutter or try to keep the connection. When it hit the limit it just disconnected instantly – this is nice. No games, no maybe I can stretch it today, it just stops.
The reason I include this in the Issues section is that if you wanted to use this in your theater or large multipurpose room, it may restrict where you can place it. Keep that in mind, before plunking down all that cash. In most classrooms though this would work without issue.
The last issue is the dongles. They’re not heavy or poorly built, in fact they’re feel good. In order for this to work, your computer must stay plugged into the dongle at all times. I had no issues plugging it in, and picking up my computer and walking around the room with it. It worked just fine. Even accidentally bumping the dongle didn’t interrupt the stream.
Managing the BenQ
Well, there is no management option I could find, but really there isn’t much to manage. Since they are plugged into the projector/display via USB, they pull their power from it. If it were to freeze, we would simply restart our projectors. Since we have laser projectors this whole process would take 15 seconds and then a short boot time for the BenQ. That’s not too hard.
I do worry about the dongles (buttons) getting lost as classrooms can move pretty fast but overall teachers could easily power cycle these units themselves.
Would teachers like it?
Hell yeah! Great video streaming and solid connection? You bet they would. I am sure they wouldn’t be too thrilled with the dongle but right now that is where technology is. I do like the fact that it works with Mac, Windows and Chromebooks. The long load times may keep teachers from freely passing the dongle around the room. The cost of a dongle is around $600 USD, so that may also keep teachers from passing it around as well.
Will it replace our Apple TV’s?
Not a chance. It is just too expensive. I like what BenQ has made, but the cost is waaaay out there.
$1100 vs $179 (that’s the 4K version)
There is no way I can sit in front of our CFO and justify the price per unit cost. I’ll be sure to keep my eye on the Instashow but at this point it may be a good idea to have one in the building for presenters.
When it comes to screen sharing few names are as renowned or respected as Barco. They have a history of building quality products and delivering solid results. So today, I have been playing around with the Barco WePresent. A streaming box that will allow you to connect your device to your projector/display. There are three models that you can chose from.
WiPG-1600W (the model I am reviewing)
As you can see from the picture above, the WePresent is a pretty compact design much like the Mersive Solstice and not much bigger than an Apple TV.
The WePresent 1600W has two USB A ports on the front. You could plug in a USB with media on it and play it right from there or you could plug a mouse into it to access some of the on screen features.
On the back, you will find a VGA port (pretty rare these days) another USB A port, an HDMI out port a port for power (it’s there, just a little hard to see from the picture) and an Ethernet port. The Ethernet port not only let’s you plug right into your network for a stable Internet connection, but it will also power your WePresent if your switch has Power Over Ethernet capabilities. As I mentioned before this is very nice as it is much easier to pull an Ethernet cable where you want it as opposed to running an extension cord or adding a power outlet to a room.
You may notice the antenna on the device. Those can come off but they are there for a stronger signal.
They seem to range in price from around $500 – $650 per device. Much cheaper than Mersive Solstice but still more expensive than an Apple TV. Of course, the WePresent (like the Solstice) will let you connect with any device (Apple, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android). This is nice. As opposed to Apple TV’s on Apple ecosystem.
What can it do?
Well, not as much as the Mersive but much more than an Apple TV. The Mersive could let you connect a bunch of devices at once while this model (1600W) can only accommodate 4. The 2000 model can handle up to 32 (according to its spec sheet) but why in the world would you want to do that?
Here are some of the other options:
Playing media directly from a USB
Locking the device down so no one can connect to it
Seeing who is connecting
Muti screen (up to 4 on this model)
Settings (sort of)
It outputs 1080p full HD. There is no 4K option and while 1080p looks fine, up close on a 4k display it can look a little blurry. Not a deal breaker and most classrooms with projectors have 1080p or lower.
The settings isn’t really settings. On our model there are only two options. You can calibrate the device (this is for touch interaction) and the other one is to make a Plug & Show (PnS) token on a USB.
The PnS (not the best acronym) is a USB that will have the Barco software needed for a new computer/guest presenter. It will also link that computer with that partiular WePresent device. If a guest does show up and needs to present wirelessly, then this will come in handy and be much faster than downloading the app, installing the app and then testing the app. It will (should) all work right from that USB. You can make as many of these as you want as well which is nice.
This is the softare that you need on your device to connect to the WePresent. It’s very easy to use and makes it super simple for anyone to connect. Merely open the software, find the WePresent you want to connect to, input the code (always displayed on the screen) and you’re connected. My computer screen did not fill the image like it does using AirPlay as you can see below.
I found there was a little lag between my mouse on my computer and the display but what was nice is that it was a predictable lag. No matter when I connected or what I did, the lag stayed the same. It never sped up to try and keep up or jerk around the screen. It was smooth and looked good.
When more than one device was connected, the screen was set up into quadrants. This was not great. If there were just two devices, then half the screen was wasted. This is one thing the Mersive did much better than the WePresent.
The WePresent does have Apple AirPlay built into it, so if you have an an Apple computer or iOS device, you do not need the Barco MirrorOP app installed. What I found here is that when I did connect via airplay the lag was still there, but my computer screen filled the entire screen no black bars.
On a sad note, the Barco did not always show up in my AirPlay list on my MacBook Pro. I even restarted my computer but still no WePresent, but when I restarted the WePresent it suddenly showed up. This did not happen often but it did happen more than once.
However, connecting through the MirrorOP app never failed.
I’ll start off with the obvious. It is not as good as the Apple TV. It’s close but not as good. However, it is much better than the Mersive Solstice – by far. In the room we were testing it in, we had built in speakers in the ceiling and while the Mersive sometimes would play through them and other times play through my computer speakers (I never cold figure out why it would switch between the two), the Barco always played through the ceiling speakers. Making that one less thing for teachers to worry about.
Here is a short clip of the lag with the video.
What we found is that if there were a lot of quick shots (think of a Michael Bay movie) then the lag would increase. If the movement was pretty minimal, then the lag wasn’t too bad as you can see above.
Like the Mersive Solstice, it is possible to manage them all from a single dashboard. I am unsure of the cost. Barco calls their solution the XMS Cloud Management Platform and it will let you manage all of your WePresent devices and your ClickShare devices. According to their video (below) you will need to install a physical Barco XMS server on your network or a virtual XMS server.
I imagine this would be extremely helpful if you have these devices throughout multiple buildings or throughout a large building.
Would teachers like it?
That depends on two factors. Are your teachers using MacBooks and do they want to stream videos? If your teachers are using Windows devices or if they have the choice to bring in whatever device they want to us, then yes. They will like this. It will give them the ability to walk into any space and connect wirelessly and do what the need to do. If your staff is all on MacBooks, then I think the response will be mixed. I have a feeling that the WePresent would be more reliable than the Apple TV but the fact that it disappeared a couple of times from the AirPlay list would annoy me.
If teachers want to stream a lot of video then it is hard to recommend this device. The lag, while much better than the Mersive, still is not what I consider acceptable.
Will it replace our Apple TV’s
No, but we are seriously considering getting two or three to put in our shared spaces so guests can easily connect. The ease of use, reliability and the fact that any device can connect to it makes the WePresent appealing and considering the 1600W is over 50% cheaper than the cheapest Mersive Solstice makes it even more so.
I still need to test out the Airtame 2 (review coming in February) which retails for $399 USD to get a better idea.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m on a quest! I’m on a quest to find the best wireless streaming solution for a classroom. 2020 is nearly here and there are more than a few options out there and at a wide variety of price points.
Unfortunately, I cannot look at every possible Frankensteined configuration so I will be focusing on some of the big names that are already out there and their solutions. Right now here is what’s on our table to demo and review.
Mersive Solstice Airpod
Crestron AirMedia 2
Apple TV (latest generation)
To be fair we already have a deployment of Apple TV’s so I will probably start with that device first. My school just recently received a demo unit of the Mersive Airpod so that will most likely be the next post after that. Then we will just see.
Our teachers and staff use Apple laptops and the Apple TV’s are really good for that. However, the inexplicably drop the teacher connectinos, sometimes had serious lag with video and sometimes just don’t want to cooperate at all. We are looking for a device that will allow teachers to stream video and mirror their displays with very high reliability all the while maintaining high resolution and not dropping too many frames.
We (the IT team at my school) would also like to be able to manage them remotely from a single dashboard. This allows us to control when to update them, how to configure them and to download logs to analyze or send to the manufacturer for technical assistance.
Obviously to find a solution that works and that is reasonable in price that is relatively straight forward to use. Will our school find a solution? I am not so sure but it is certainly worth exploring and you, my friendly reader, are invited to join me on this journey.
Back in 2014 I reviewed Kahoot! and was pretty harsh on it. I had sluggish performance, connectivity issues and I didn’t care for the teacher/presenter centric nature of the activity. Despite all those issues Kahoot! seems to have gone on to relative success! Just about any teacher I talk to has either heard of it, knows a teacher who uses it or uses it themselves. Since it is so popular I thought I would give it another go. I mean five years has passed – can it win me over this time?
What is Kahoot!
Kahoot is an interactive question and answer system. A question pops up on a screen and the student/participant answers the question as quickly as they can from multiple options. The faster they answer, they more points they receive. If the student(s) get the question wrong, they receive no points for that round.
At the end of each round it shows a scoreboard so you can see who is winning. It also has a catchy audio loop during the quiz. Did I say catchy? Well, you be the judge. I think it ages like an opened bottle of $2 wine.
There are two Kahoot! sites. One is for the teacher to create and manage Kahoots! and reports and the other is where the student(s) go to find the Kahoot! and start playing. Let’s take a look at the teacher side first. Here is the dashboard.
Pretty straight forward. You can create Kahoots!, browse through other popular Kahoots! and Host games of Kahoot!
For a Kahoot! you host, you can get a report of that game to see who played, how well they performed and so on. Pretty good metrics. To get this information just click on Reports from the top menu.
Then you have the option of downloading it as an Excel file. When you open it up, it does look better than it did five years ago. Notice the worksheet tabs at the bottom. Here you can navigate through more detailed information to figure out what answers were selected (correct and incorrect) and what points they received. The points will give the teacher an idea of how quickly they were able to answer the question.
Creating a Kahoot!
I have to give them points here. This tool is quick and easy to use, easy to navigate between different questions. Let’s take a look at what they offer.
As you can see it is pretty straightforward. Not a lot of explanation is needed. This is nice.
I wish they had a little more question types. Right now you can only pick a multiple choice or true/false. That is it? Why not matching? Why not fill in the blank? Why not ordering? I do understand that playing a Kahoot! is fast and fun and having to adjust to different questions takes a little more time but come on!
Also, once you add a question type you cannot change it. So if I have a multiple choice question and want to convert it to a true/false type I cannot do that. I can delete or duplicate a question only. Not a big deal but it would be nice to switch on the fly.
One feature that is sort of nice is the ability to add symbols to a question. This makes it good for math. I am not sure you are going to be able to throw some calculus up there but for elementary and middle school math this should be fine.
You can also change the general settings of the Kahoot!. You can give it a name, description (which is highly recommended), pick where you want to save it and who can see it. You also have the ability to add a YouTube video which is what people can watch while waiting for the Khaoot! to start. Make sure you click the Done button and your Kahoot is then ready to be played.
Playing my Kahoot!
As the teacher, you need to go to your dashboard, find the Kahoot! and click Play. This view is nice because you can also see all the questions and answers. This is nice so you make sure you didn’t click the wrong Kahoot! if you have many of them. Also, it is a quick way to check for mistakes.
Before you start the game you do have two options. You can either make it Classic mode (each person has their own device) or a Team mode where teams are against other teams. I’m just going to do the Classic. You also have the option of using a name generator. Kahoot! will create the name that is displayed for the user. If not the user can create their own name (be careful teachers of naughty students who). Luckily you will see all the names before it starts, but if someone has made and inappropriate name it will mean more waiting for the rest of the class.
So I ran the Kahoot! on my computer and joined it with my smartphone using the app. A colleague of mine also joined in on her computer. Before the teacher (me in this case) started the game I got to see that I had the correct number of participants. To join, I had to put in the game PIN on the app and my colleague had to put in the PIN on Kahoot.it Once we joined I started the game!
My pervious complaint is back. As a contestant or player I do not see the question on my smartphone screen and neither did my colleague. We both had to look at the computer that was hosting the Kahoot! Annoying and a waste of space for our screens. Check out a screenshot from my phone during a true/false question.
Also we can’t see the choices. Why? Why not put the question and the choices there? It seems like a no brainer but in five years they have not fixed this! Maybe it bothers me a little too much but it seems like such a simple fix.
Now for some reason there was no music playing during my Kahoot! Not sure if that was my computer having issues or if I somehow disabled the music. I went back in and played another Kahoot! and the sound started to play again, so I am pretty sure it was my computer the first time.
So when you get a question correct or incorrect it lets you know which is nice and in between questions is shows you who is winning. Also, you only have so much time to answer a question which does keep the game moving at a good pace.
The music is just as annoying as it was 5 years ago.
OK – there is a way for students to participate in a Kahoot! by themselves and actually see the questions and choices on their screen (one of my biggest gripes). It is called a Kahoot! Challenge. A teacher can set this up and give a time frame of when a student can complete the challenge.
From the same screen you start a Kahoot! you can select Play or Challenge. If you select Challenge you have to put an end date and time like you see below.
Then you get a URL link for the challenge and the Challenge PIN. You also can share it directly through a few services.
So, if you have the app on an Android device, an iOS device or some select Chromebooks (ones that allow Google Play store apps to be installed), the student just fires that up, enter the PIN and they are off. Here is what one of the questions looks like from my smartphone.
See that! It is the QUESTION! It is right there! Wait! I can also see the choices!! See, folks it is totally doable.
OK – I’m happy about that. Now, here is what I am unhappy about.
Hmmmm – that is from my MacBook. Maybe I messed up? NOPE! You need the app on a mobile device to play a Kahoot! Challenge. There is no way around it, even though they give you a friggin link to the challenge! Why give the link if you can’t access it from a Windows, Mac, Linux or Chromebook? Why can’t this be played in a browser like other a regular Kahoot?
After a Kahoot! or a Kahoot! Challenge the teacher can access a report and see who participated, their score, which questions people got wrong and which questions most people got right and if they got it wrong, which answer did they chose. This is good data for a teacher to be sure. It gives that person good information to go and investigate further and find out where there are gaps. The reports look good and even though it is in Excel format, you can open that file up with any modern spreadsheet program.
Kahoot! isn’t as bad as I remembered back in 2014 but that’s not to say that it is great either. If you use it, that’s totally fine. Teachers like reliable tools and if this is working for you keep on, keeping on, but I urge you to check out some other options out there such as Quizizz, Quizlet, Google Forms and more. They may not have that catchy tune and may not be as “fun” but they will all give you the same data and guess what it works with any device with an Internet connection.