My experience with Apple TV and iPad mirroring via Airplay in a college / university environment

Far and away the most intriguing use of the iPad for me in music education is the ability to show what you’re doing on the big screen, in front of the entire class. A few ideas:
- Using a piano app such as Real Piano HD to show what’s being played at the keyboard
- Using a notation app such as Symphony Pro or NOTION to illustrate musical examples at the board, without need for dry-erase markers or special whiteboards with staves (which always fell apart in my former classroom)
- Illustrating and annotating a score using a PDF viewer, like pdf-notes
- Presentations using Keynote while able to remain mobile in the classroom
The list goes on. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about my experience getting this to work in a University setting, with a University-managed wireless network (Hint: that’s part of the problem).

So, here’s an overview. Our general use network employs Enterprise security, which keeps our data safe, but poses a huge problem (heretofore referred to as Huge Problem #1) with Apple TV. More on that in a bit. We also have restrictions on that network to prevent virus spread, but those completely disable peer connections – e.g. iPad to computer – via wifi (heretofore referred to as Huge Problem #2).

Huge Problem #1 is a fairly simple problem to explain – Apple TV simply does not support Enterprise network configurations. So, it’s impossible for the aTV to even connect on our general network.

Huge Problem #2 is an understandable security precaution, but means I can’t even use Mobile Mouse Pro to control my computer from across the room, as I enjoy doing in my class and presentation settings.

I can’t get around Huge Problem #1. That’s not in my hands. I can, however, get around Huge Problem #2 with an ad hoc network using my MacBook Pro. I’ve covered that in this post. HOWEVER, in addition to not supporting Enterprise security, aTV further refuses to join Ad Hoc networks! Foiled again! I reached a similar failure in my attempt to do Internet Sharing with my Mac, likely due again to our own network restrictions.

By this point, I came to the reasonable conclusion that if I, as the School’s technology “buff” couldn’t get it working with this many steps, my faculty would surely consider it completely impractical for their use. But, seeing as how I am the School’s technology buff, I decided to push it farther, if for no other reason than self-satisfaction that I got it to work.

So, I added another device to the mix. Mind you, I’m already using the aTV, an HDMI-to-VGA converter box, and a VGA source (projector). Not including the iPad, I’m up to three devices. I decided that, in order to make this to work, I would completely forfeit internet access altogether, and I brought in an old wireless router from home, and make my OWN network (so there).

Sure enough, after some router reconfiguration, I was able to get everything working as expected – the router broadcast a network signal, my iPad and aTV joined it, and the aTV displayed my iPad screen by way of VGA conversion with no wires attached. I then decided (in the style of Mythbusters) to go full-scale, and get myself into an actual classroom teaching station.

The first thing I noticed is the complete impracticality of bringing in three devices that need to be plugged into the wall. I was able to put my aTV and the converter up near the teaching station, but I had to locate my router somewhere else across the room. Nonetheless, it was only a matter of time before my iPad screen was being broadcast on the projection screen. Success! Except, wait, the picture looks all squished. Dang. So close. Long story short: as I understand it, HDMI is a widescreen format, meant for devices that can handle that sort of thing. VGA is not. Thus, converting between the two presents some…well…problems.

I fiddled with my aTV’s display settings a whole lot until I finally decided to try 720p @ 60Hz. My picture suddenly looked correct proportionally, but also suddenly VERY wrong in terms of color. So close, again. Standing on a chair in the classroom, I channeled my remaining patience and decided to take a chance in the projector settings. After a few minutes, I discovered that the projector was reading the source input as Component instead of RGB, and as soon as I made the switch to RGB, my patience was rewarded – my iPad was FINALLY being projected on the screen wirelessly, with proper color and proportion. Success, at long last!

Now, of course, after playing around a bit with my iPad and getting excited about the possibilities, I looked around and thought back to everything I had to do to make this happen. In short, I had to:

  • Use my own router to create my own network
  • Sacrifice any access to the internet on my iPad (no 3G)
  • Use a separate box to convert HDMI signal from aTV to VGA
  • Change aTV’s output resolution
  • Change projector settings

Hate to say it, but there is no way in heck that I’ll be able to convince ANY of my faculty here that this is a worthwhile undertaking. ┬áSo despite my success, I’m still back to square one – how can I make this just WORK?

In short, there isn’t anything I can do about it. I’m limited by two things: 1) Apple TV’s network limitations and 2) UNCG’s network restrictions. It’s been an incredibly frustrating thing for me to see all of this potential hampered – iPads are MADE for the classroom. They were born for it. It’s a natural thing. This needs to happen, and I have some ideas.

I have little pull with this one, obviously, but Apple needs to come out with a device that makes this kind of thing possible. An Apple TV that supports Enterprise security. That is a must. Latest rumors suggest that the next Apple TV will be a physical TV set, though, and that kills any hope of a cheap classroom add-on device. That’s too bad. I’ll be leaving this feedback for Apple, but aside from that, I am not holding out hope.

The other place where I DO have pull is here at UNCG. I have read about and heard about situations where campuses institute an alternate wireless network, with Personal-level security, and made it generally open to peer connections. This network is generally inferior to the “main” campus network somehow, in order to discourage people from using it as their “main” internet access point. Here, you have the capability to connect devices to each other a la Mobile Mouse or Apple TV or whatever – this gets around both Huge Problem #1 and Huge Problem #2, and would allow the iDevices to shine in all the ways that they are capable. I will be bringing this topic up at an upcoming committee meeting to see if I can get ITS on board with it.

So that’s it. If you’re still with me, thanks – and if you have any feedback, please do contact me. Comments are disabled on this blog to prevent the massive amounts of spam I get. (Let’s face it, my readership is close to nil, I’m sure, so the ratio of useful comments to spam is infinitesimal as it is.)

11 thoughts on “My experience with Apple TV and iPad mirroring via Airplay in a college / university environment

    • David, this is great news – please do keep me in the loop on how this works! My IT team here is working on an alternate solution for me as well – I’d love to compare solutions once we get them both working.

      Cheers,
      – Matt

  1. David-
    I am also an educator and campus IT dude, including webmaster, and I found and taught a solution that might work for you. First, let me say that our projectors do support HDMI, so this was not an issue. My T-Mobile Dart cell phone serves as the adhoc “hotspot” wireless access point, thus keeping the aTV out of the Enterprise network yet providing 3G access for my iPad and aTV. Sometimes I do need to run an actual PC software to make the SmartBoard, CPS Response System, etc work. For this, I have Splashtop 2 host running on the classroom PC and routed through my cell WAP (keep the aTV out of the network, they say!!). This also allows me to access docs on the PC and use the PC as a share host for a printer. You are correct, sir, that enterprise net gurus have little understanding about the work “connectivity” beyond a router, so this is always a school challenge.

  2. So frustrating… After going through the hassle and expense of ordering a flat panel TV, getting it installed/mounted on my office wall, buying an Apple TV I only then learned about the Enterprise security limitations! Ugh. I don’t have high hopes our networking engineering team team will support David’s solution, but I will ask. David, please let us know if it works for you.

  3. Hi,

    I’m just wondering, with a possibility of having multiple AppleTVs in a enterprise network ( school to be precise ) with teachers connecting to them for teaching purposes, is there a way to manage the passwords set on the actual units?

    In case passwords get found out by students and need to be changed. Or is there a way to hide the broadcast from students ?

    • Scott,

      I am assuming that you don’t mean a true Enterprise-level wifi network, as the aTV can’t actually join a wireless network with Enterprise-level security. That said, each individual Apple TV unit can have a password assigned to it for AirPlay – look under “Settings > AirPlay.” You’ll need to enter this AirPlay password on the device you wish to mirror each time you connect. It can be changed if necessary. I do not believe there is a way to mask the broadcast (on the device’s end); anyone on the same wireless network will be able to see the devices as potential AirPlay companions.

      To avoid confusion, I would suggest that you ensure each device is aptly-named (e.g. “YourSchool-room-100″, “YourSchool-room-101″, etc.). As far as passwords go, it’s a fine line – you need to have something that’s easily rememberable by the faculty (e.g. they don’t need to write it down, which would be the primary culprit for leaking to students), but also that can’t be easily guessed (e.g. don’t make it the same as the unit’s name). There’s also the discussion of whether to have a separate password for each unit, or to use one “master password” for the unit. I like the idea of a master password, for simplicity’s sake (again, to prevent people from writing it down), but it’s less secure if someone discovers it – then you need to change all of the units’ passwords, which can be a giant pain. Which leads me to…

      …the idea that you could explore a solution that involves the creation of a separate wireless network SSID, if your IT folks are up for it. A network’s SSID can be hidden, and can employ a MAC filter to only allow trusted devices to join. That could be a more ideal solution, but is decidedly more complicated. For instance, create a new network called “YourSchool-AirPlay,” and assign it a password. Hide the SSID, and configure the network to accept only your Apple TVs’ and iPads’ MAC addresses. The students won’t be able to access that network without a) knowing it exists, and b) knowing the password somehow. From there, you can add Apple TV AirPlay passwords as an added level of security. All the faculty would need to do is join their iPad to the “YourSchool-AirPlay” network, and they would be able to see all of the Apple TV units and choose the one in their room. Hiding the SSID and using MAC filtering aren’t foolproof solutions, but I would imagine they’d get you far enough.

      Long answer to a short question, but the last paragraph is personally the way I’d approach it, if I had ultimate control.

      Hope that’s helpful!
      – Matt

  4. Thanks for the long reply. Il ask a couple more if its OK?

    What I will ask is with the passwords for the units, if I was to have individual passwords for each of the units, is there a way to manage each aTV unit, similar to how AD works with managing different groups and different users on the network ?

    Also, with creating another wireless network and hiding the SSID, is this a long process or is it possible to replicate the existing wireless network, rename it then put restrictions on who can join the network, therefore removing all students from being able to access the network even if they were somehow able to get the password for the wireless network.

    • Scott,

      I’ll do my best, though be forewarned – I’m not a sysadmin.

      I don’t believe there’s any management of aTV units as you describe; the aTV is meant as a consumer-grade device, so any “advanced” functionality that you’d find in an enterprise network with users, etc. is not to be found. I believe you’d have to manage each unit individually.

      And with the alternate SSID, I’m not sure. The extent of my networking experience / expertise ends beyond setting up my home network. I’ve never attempted to replicate a wireless network’s settings, either. I do know that you won’t be able to restrict access to a network unless you know specific MAC addresses to use in the MAC filter, or you have something that can authenticate against an AD-type structure…which I believe requires enterprise-level security…which in turn makes the aTV impossible to use on that network.

      Hope that helps at least a little…
      – Matt

    • Juan,

      Thanks. 2 things:
      1) Way too cost-prohibitive for colleges.
      2) Still uses Wifi peer connectivity, which is the central issue here.

      But it looks like an interesting product!

      – Matt

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