Streaming in the classroom: Airtame 2

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

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.

Price

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.

The unit itself has three ports:

  1. USB C connector
  2. Micro USB (for power only)
  3. Kensington lock hole

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.

Streaming Video

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.

Issues

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.

Airtame – A review

I normally do not review hardware. Primarily because it costs a bunch of money and I don’t feel comfortable receiving products from companies to review – it just feels weird. Anyway, our school needed a way to stream from a computer to a display or projector for outside people who show up to make presentations.

Our teachers have MacBook Airs and an Apple TV in each room and that works quite well for this, but if someone shows up with a Windows machine, well then it is a scramble to find the right adapter, get them connected, test it out and then realize they want sound as well. Well, then we are scrambling to find an audio cord. It doesn’t take too long but it definitely doesn’t feel professional.

Enter Airtame.

Airtame is a wireless device that plugs into the HDMI port of your display or projector, it is powered through a USB connection and works on both Mac and Windows (iOS and Android will be addressed later on). It costs $299 USD (though if you buy 10 or more you can get it for $249) and has some nice features such as digital signage opportunities and cloud management. Let’s dive right in and I’ll give my thoughts about Airtame at the end of the article.

What’s in the box?

In the box you will find the following.
1) The Airtame itself
2) Micro USB to USB A cable
3) HDMI extender cable (approximately 15cm)
4) A power brick
5) Three types of power plugs

Having a power plug and an HDMI extender is a very nice touch. I’ve seen some projectors with no USB input and so a power adapter is necessary. I’ve also seen some projectors that make the HDMI port inaccessible due to the manner in which it was mounted on a ceiling. Having these extra peripherals included is smart thinking from the people of Airtame.

The Airtame itself is fairly small. Though it is a bit wide which could prove tricky for some installations. Here it is next to a standard Sharpie marker.

Setup

Setting up the Airtame is pretty easy. It basically works like this. Plug it into the device’s (in this case my Dell monitor) HDMI port, plug the USB cord into the Airtame and the USB port of the display and wait a minute for the setup screen to load.

Here is what the Airtame looks like plugged into my screen. Something to note, the USB can be plugged into either side of the Airtame. I just chose not to mess with it this time as it did not affect my set up.

When the setup screen pops up it will look something like this.

So when you go to http://airtame.com/setup you will need to download the Airtame application to your computer. The application is free, not that big and downloads and installs quickly. However, this must be done with a computer. I do not believe there is a way to set up an Airtame with an iOS or Android device.

Once installed it lives in the menu bar of Mac and I believe it lives in the system tray on a Windows computer. When you open it up by clicking on the application icon you will see a list of all installed Airtames and any new ones that need to be set up.

When you click that setup button it will ask you to name the Airtame (don’t worry this can be changed later on) and to select what network it will need to connect to and the password for that network. Then click the Set up now button.

What happens next is pretty neat. The Airtame has its own WiFi hotspot that your computer will connect to. Once connected it will transfer the new name and network information over to the Airtame. Then your computer will disconnect from the Airtame network and then reconnect to your old network. The Airtame will also rename itself and then connect to the same network. Thus letting the two talk again.

All the while the Airtame will be giving you visual clues that this is happening and it all happens fairly quickly which is nice.

When you’re done the Airtame will let you know and when you click the Airtame app your new streaming device will appear in the list. To start streaming click the Start button. It’ll connect in a few seconds and you’re ready to present!

Streaming

The Airtame is set up and you’re streaming your screen to another screen. You can only mirror your desktop which means whatever you see on your computer screen is what others will see on the second display or projector. The quality is pretty good if you are streaming a slideshow, website or basic documents. The basic settings on your Airtame will be more than suffice. If you stream animation or video the quality starts to drop but we will talk more about that a little later.

By default the Airtame does not stream any audio. If you want audio you will need to open the Airtame app and click the sound button (next to the Start button).

This will create a 1 second buffer to give the Airtame app sufficient time to process the audio and to help that it stays synced with the video (if there is video).

Airtame has a huge amount of options when it comes to streaming. Just click on the SETTINGS link in the bottom left hand side of the Airtame application. Then toggle to Manual Mode

Here you will be greeted with all those settings. You can change the quality of the image, the buffer (0–30 seconds), the resolution and more. Just look at those options!

Now regardless of those settings – streaming a 1080p movie from your computer to a projector for two hours should work in theory, but I would not expect anything close to Netflix quality. The Airtame can do this (not 4K though), but it’s not the greatest. You may have image issues and audio not syncing with the video is also a possibility. Our teachers experience this even with the latest version of the Apple TV, so streaming still has a ways to go before it is truly seamless, but for basic streaming the Airtame is more than capable.

Guests connecting

Having guests connect is just as easy. The Airtame displays a pretty space picture and then there are instructions on how to connect. Check out the screen below.

Now this works fine with Mac computers, Windows computers and I’ve even gotten it to work with our Samsung Chromebook 3’s which is pretty wild.

They will connect to the same network the Airtame is on, download the app and the Airtame will show up in their list. It is really quite easy and so far I can’t seem to find any fault in this. It’s certainly not as hassle free as the Barco Clickshare solution but then again it is considerably much cheaper than a Barco.

On Android and iOS devices it is limited. You need the Airtame app and then you can only stream images, slideshows or certain files from your Dropbox account. So there are those limitations but wait! There is some news. In a beta version, Apple’s Airplay is enabled. This means that from an iOS device you can mirror your screen! This is impressive and I hope an Android option is coming soon.

Signage

The Airtame has a neat little trick up its sleeve. It can serve as a digital sign. When you first power it up there are these wonderful space images, but if you would like to have your own images, slide show or dashboard present instead you absolutely can.

Just access the settings (where Manual Mode is found) and you can change where the instructions are located on the screen (if at all) and you can point the Airtame to a website, an image (either web based or uploaded from your computer) or leave it to the Default space images.

If you point it at a website (say a Google slideshow). It will display that over and over again. A great way for students, parents and staff to see some basic news about upcoming events. Since the Airtame is so small and since a Google slideshow can be updated anywhere it makes it super easy for even basic computer users to create something to share with a large group of people.

They also support a number of dashboards. Now from an school perspective, we wouldn’t have a ton of use for this but then again maybe I’m just not dreaming big enough.

Cloud management

Now we are talking about some fun stuff. An issue we have with our Apple TV’s is that some are updated, others aren’t and when there are issues we typically have to go down there, unplug and take it to the IT Office to test it out. There isn’t a convenient way to remotely manage these devices. I know that you can put them in a system like Filewave but that seems like overkill.

With the Airtame Cloud I can easily enroll these devices and have all the control over each one or a place them in a group and manage the group if I wish. I can change the resolution, point it to a website, reboot it, change the background image add a PIN code to it and even update it to a beta version to get newer features. Check out the very simple and easy to use dashboard below.

It is very easy, intuitive and if you want to update all the Airtames on 5am Sunday morning from your home then go right ahead. You can watch the process while you sip on some tea or coffee.

You can also invite people to help manage the Airtames making it a team effort. That way if one person is unable to assist, then there is a backup.

Should I ditch Apple TV?


OK, this is certainly a great question. If you and your staff use Mac then no. The Apple TV allows teacher to not just mirror but extend their display which is very, very handy. It can allow teachers to have a window that only they see while presenting something else to the class. Also, the image quality on Apple TVs seems to be higher than that of Airtame. Let us not forget the cost. a regular 1080p Apple TV costs $149 USD.

If you have a mixed environment then the answer is probably yes. While a more integrated and centrally controlled system like a Barco Clickshare is probably more desirable the hefty price tag that comes along with it certainly makes Airtame a lot more attractive.

We have two Airtames and will most likely pick up some more. I think that they are definitely worth the $250–300 price tag especially considering the alternatives on the market and all the features it offers.

Wrapping it all up

Airtame is pretty great. It really is. For the price you get digital signage, a streaming device that is quite small, portable and a way to remotely manage them that Apple TVs cannot do.

While I wished the quality of the image was a little better. What the Airtame does deliver is quite adequate and since it is pretty simple to connect most devices to an Airtame this makes it very useful and flexible.

Also, let us consider how quickly they update and try out new features often. The current Airtame beta version gives you the access to use Apple’s Airplay and the ability to stream a single window. It seems that the people at Airtame are always working, tinkering trying to deliver a great product with great and practicable functionality.

If you’re looking at a wireless streaming solution and not sure where to start check out Airtame.

Airtame

Episode 156 – Angry Grandpa

My apologies IT Babblers – I should have posted this a while ago. At any rate check out the latest episode of the IT Babble podcast. Tony and I discuss imaging difficulties with Mac OS High Sierra, AirTame and what it means to be Tech Savvy. As always you can find us on iTunes or on your favorite podcasting app.

  1. World Cup Fever & 4th of July
  2. Important High Sierra Changes for IT Admins by Adam Engst of TidBITS
    1. https://tidbits.com/2017/09/11/important-high-sierra-changes-for-it-admins/
    2. It is very hard to do
    3. MDM Solutions – Why pay to push out a free image
    4. Mac Migration Assistant – https://support.apple.com/en-us/ht204350
    5. Mac OS Server – https://www.apple.com/macos/server/
    6. Deploy Studio – http://www.deploystudio.com/
    7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIV6Bt3L1ks
  3. Tech Savvy, Are You Sure? By Tony DePrato
    1. https://itbabble.com/2018/07/05/tech-savvy-are-your-sure/
    2. Thinking long term
    3. Making tactical decisions
  4. Airtame
    1. Wireless streaming for a mixed environment
    2. www.airtame.com
    3. Set up
    4. Digital signage
    5. Cloud management
    6. $249-$299 USD
    7. Who is this good for?
    8. Barco – http://www.barco.com
  5. Chromebook monitoring tools – GoGuardian vs Netop
    1. https://www.netop.com/
    2. https://www.goguardian.com/
    3. What’s the same?
    4. What’s different
    5. What my school went with?

Download this episode HERE!

https://itbabble.podomatic.com/enclosure/2018-07-23T06_35_06-07_00.mp3″