This post will give you a rundown of what we currently use for our A/V solution and what we are going to be switching to. I will be using specific names of products (and current prices if I can find them), but that is in no way IT Babble promoting those items. IT Babble receives no ad revenue or any financial compensation for mentioning them. This is just what my school is doing and what works for us. This set up may be complete overkill for some schools or completely not appropriate for others.
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.
Ah yes, the Apple TV. This is currently what we are using in my school and while it is pretty good there are problems I will get into. First, let’s talk about what is, what it does, how much it costs and all that good stuff.
Here are the different connection types on the back. As you can see pretty good stuff here but a dedicated audio out would be nice like they had on some of the older models the HDMI always makes things easy.
The Apple TV is not only a streaming box (like a Roku or Firestick) but it also has the ability to extend or mirror a teacher’s MacBook or iPad/iPhone. This technology is called AirPlay and it is built into all Apple devices (except the Apple Watch).
You can’t do this with a Windows computer or Android device. This feature only works with Apple products.
The good thing here is that it is built into the operating systems. There is no app or program to launch. It is just there. On a Mac it looks like this.
As you can see all those listed are separate Apple TVs. We have set up a little security on each that requires the user to input a 4 digit code that the Apple TV randomly generates and displays on the screen. This helps keep unwanted people from joining or accidentally joining.
Where it shines
The Apple TV shines if you have a school that uses primarily Apple devices. This is not a surprise to anyone. From a tech department stand point we merely connect it to our projectors through a receiver and then plug it into power and do minimal configuration (changing the name, setting up the security PIN code option, etc.) and then we basically leave it alone and it just works. It is very simple and for the staff or students, using the Apple TV (which requires just connecting their Apple device to it) is very simple, requires minimal training and the results are pretty good.
The price is also a great feature. When a school or organization is looking for a way to let their users share their screen with a common display you will not find much out there that is as good.
The quality of the image and the quality of streaming video is also very good. The image and the sound match up seamlessly and there is little lag when just displaying your desktop screen.
Where it falters
When the Apple TV does not work it just doesn’t work. We have had times when it does not show up in the Airplay list. No reason why it does this and it requires us to unplug it back in. Sometimes it shows up but will not a connection. Again, there is no setting or reason why this is happening, it just happens and we usually perform a power cycle (turn it off and back on again by unplugging it).
Sometimes it just disconnects from an active screen. While it is a box that just sits there, it is also very much a black box that we cannot peer into. We have no idea why it performs this way or what causes it. This makes managing many of them in a networked environment a little problematic.
From and tech department standpoint, they are difficult to manage remotely. You would need to use a mobile device management (MDM) solution like Filewave to manage them and the options you can control are pretty minimal. I don’t believe that we can power cycle these devices remotely even with an MDM solution.
Also, there is no power button. If we want to restart the Apple TV we have to walk to the classroom, unplug it, plug it back in and then wait for it to reboot. A power button or a quick way to restart it would be awesome.
Also, being able to brand it would be nice. A lot of solutions will let you have a splash screen or a screen where your school name and logo are presented. Not the Apple TV. It does have a conference room mode which hides the Apple TV video options but it is replaced with a video screen saver of a flyover of famous cities around the world (this is mesmerizing by the way).
Finally, the most obvious shortcoming of the Apple TV – it only works with Apple laptops, desktops, iPads and iPhones. I’m not talking about AirPlay which has found itself in a number of Sony, Samsung screens. I’m talking about taking a computer, smartphone or tablet other than an Apple and sharing your screen to it. It’s not going to happen.
You have Chromebooks? Forget it. You have a guest speaker with a Windows device? Nope. It does this to help lock you in and as a school you may not have nor want that total lock in. We have teachers on staff who want a Windows device and the Apple TV in the mix throws a wrench into their plans.
Summing it up
The Apple TV is a really good device for streaming and sharing ones screen if your school is heavily invested in Apple products. Despite its shortcomings this may be the best option for you. Sure, they can be a bit of a pain to manage, but their reliability and long life (we have some in our building that over five years old!) they are quite the bargain.
If you are in a BYOD situation or use a lot of Windows, this is not feasible for you. If you’re currently a Mac school but even thinking about the possibility of switching down the road, then avoid it. That lock in situation is very real and having options is good.
If you want it to do more than just share a screen, then look elsewhere. I’m not sure if you will find anything that can that is near the price point of an Apple TV but you can look – that’s what we are doing and why I’m chronicling this search!
Please leave comments below – all criticisms and points of view are welcome!
Tony and Patrick and talking Cyber Security (more like Cyber Fear) and Patrick’s quest to find a good wireless streaming option for classrooms other than Apple TVs. As always please subscribe to us on your favorite podcasting app or on Apple Music.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.