I noticed the following tweet on the Twitter over the weekend and was inspired to reply.
This kind of response is just as short-sighted and blinkered as those by people who would say “buy an Apple TV”.
I agree with the sentiment that if we work within education, then we shouldn’t waste public money, but to assume that going down the Apple TV route is a waste of money, makes too many assumptions about the context.
So why all this “fuss” in the first place? What is the significance of AirPlay and as a result the discussion over Air Server and Apple TV.
One of the features that Apple have had for many years is the ability to stream media across your wireless network to a device on that network.
You could stream your iTunes audio to the original Airport Express, which was then connected to speakers (usually better speakers than the ones on the Mac) or speakers in a different room. This was known as AirTunes.
The name was changed to AirPlay in 2010 when it could be used to stream video content from your Mac. In 2011 with the release of the iPad 2 it was now possible to stream (mirror) your screen using AirPlay.
What then excited people in education was the ability to mirror your iPad (and now your Mac desktop) over the wireless network. This meant you didn’t need to worry about cables and you could hand round your device without needing to come up to the screen.
Additionally everyone with a device could use also use the technology could use it, so if all your learners had an iPad they could all stream their screens.
Though initially such a technology was restricted to Apple devices, it wasn’t long before developers came up with solutions for other devices.
Your PC could, through the use of Air Server act as an “Apple TV” and allow devices to Air Play or mirror their screens. Software such as Air Parrot allows older Macs and PCs to stream and mirror their screens to Apple TV.
So what was initially an Apple centric solution now didn’t need a single Apple device.
So what about that tweet?
Well if you already have a classroom setup, there is a PC, a projector then I agree an Apple TV is probably not the cheapest solution, I would also suspect that the projector doesn’t have an HDMI connection. In this instance and context then Air Server is the cheaper solution.
However this is not the only context and to say the Apple TV is a waste of money is not correct.
When equipping a new room, or replacing equipment, if you consider the cost of a PC, a projector, an IWB or an iPad, then compare that to the cost of an iPad, a TV and an Apple TV then the Apple TV solution would be a much cheaper solution. Add a wheeled stand to the TV and suddenly you have a mobile solution.
The important consideration when purchasing any equipment is not to favour one solution over another, but consider the context, what do you have already, what do you want to do, where are you going to do it.
In my libraries we have large plasma screens with a Mac mini underneath, in this instance we have gone down the Air Server route to allow us to stream through AirPlay. However if I already had the iPad and the screen, to buy a £499 Mac mini would cost a lot more than a £99 Apple TV.
It’s not about the technology, it’s about the context. Be informed and think about solutions.