update (8 March 2012): The new Apple TV released this morning provides 1080p HD – it also runs on iOS5.1. The current process will not work with the new Apple TV or iOS5.1. If you update your Apple TV to iOS5.1 you currently will not be able to use the device as an eBoard. FireCore will undoubtedly release a new Seas0nPass and aTV3 flash eventually and I’ll let you know when they do.
A simple software solution to implementing a scalable eBoard system. The first eBoard system using Apple TV 2 hardware was conceived and deployed at a college and it came with a few provisors. Namely that the number of manageable number of eBoards would be no more than 5, but after the introduction of the initial 3 their value and the promise of their potential, meant that with in months they are burgeoning on having 25+ eBoards through out the college. The solution below will be cheap enough that primary schools could afford to set this up.
When you consider adding an Apple TV 2 adds wireless mirroring, you can understand how for a very small outlay you could also add them to existing projectors (many colleges are doing this, and financially it makes sense) to provide the same functionality of an expensive custom system. You might be thinking by this point “Well that’s nice but you started of saying only 5…?” and thats what I’d hope you would be thinking, as well as how incredible the advantages of adding Apple TV 2’s to classroom projectors is.
So why 5? well simply the set up and management get out of control very quickly and at a college where there are lots of MacBooks, iMacs or iPads the traffic across the bonjour network (not to mention mDNSResponder hiccups on windows hardware) means that even with a small 1 to 1 cohort your eBoard will drop connection with the managing iTunes account. Also to refresh the eBoards requires a script to reset iTunes on the managing computer. So managing more than 5 eBoards using the standard setup just becomes too much overhead.
In the interests of people that don’t actually read the whole article I will leave out the original design and in place I will leave the revised version yay! So here is what your going to need to do and why this solution might only be temporary. Even though I generally hate hearing the solution to Apple hardware solutions requiring Seas0nPassing (JailBreaking) I have to admit that in a college this is the only way to keep costs down and infrastructure change to a minimum. This also provides the first problem as thanks to a ruling in 2010 the US Copyright Office essentially made Seas0nPassing legally acceptable, that is until later next month when the rulings time limit will run out. Hopefully the ruling will be be made permanent (go here to help the EFF make that happen) and I won’t have to write a new and more complex solution later.
What you need
- Apple TV 2
- TV (720p or higher)
- HDMI cable (not expensive ones)
- Micro USB cable
You will also want something to mount the TV where you want it and something to mount the Apple TV 2 where you want it. The Apple TV 2 requires line of sight for the remote control to work so take that into consideration. Also if you mount the Apple TV 2 in a bracket, ensure that it is not enclosed by metal as it will affect the wireless signal (check it in place to make sure the connection and signal is fine before you do anything drastic.
- wireless network that allows bonjour (port 5353)
If you have a wired connection and you can get an ethernet cable to the Apple TV 2 there is obviously no need for the wireless network, but add an ethernet cable to the hardware requirements. Check that the reflections in the room won’t interfere with viewing the TV from the most common angles. Yes, I’ve seen things installed with out the power points in place so check.
You are also going to need a install all the above software on to the computer before we start. This can be done from any computer there is no specific requirement to use either a Apple or Windows OS.
What to do
Test that the Apple TV 2 has connection to the network from where you plan to install the TV. The Apple TV 2 has no facility for connection to the internet through a proxy so just having signal to the network is all that you need. Install the TV and test the Apple TV configuration connects to your network.
Get your computer with the latest version of iTunes and an internet connection, you’ll also need the apple TV 2, a power cord for the Apple TV 2 and the micro USB cable. follow the instructions here to Seas0nPass the Apple TV 2. The only tip that might help here is that sometimes the USB cable doesn’t provide enough power to get the Apple TV 2 into DFU mode, so you can jump start that bit by plugging in the power cord and once the DFU mode is initiated (quick flashing light) remove the power cord.
Be patient I did 4 in a row perfectly then had one that took 5 attempts to get right, just know that it will work and you have every right to hate the iTunes error messages. A quick google search will help with the codes but basically make sure the power cord doesn’t stay attached, don’t put the HDMI cable near it until it is Seas0nPassed and make sure you disconnect any devices that are connected to your iTunes this includes connection with Wifi Sync.
After successfully Seas0nPassing the Apple TV 2, go and install and mount the Apple TV 2 to the TV. Configure it to the network settings (get the IP address of the Apple TV 2) and then return to you computer to start the aTV Flash. Make sure you are on the same network as the Apple TV 2 as this program will find the Apple TV 2 with out it being physically connected to your computer. Run aTV Flash on the Apple TV 2 by selecting the correct IP address.
This is optional if you have a solid shared drive structure at your college, but this way allows for connection from anywhere, anytime and ensures there is an independent backup of the messages. This is where management and scalability becomes much easier too, in fact even with the original setup this is the key to managing multiple eBoards. Download and install DropBox onto the managing computer, many IT Admins won’t necessarily like the idea of installing DropBox onto a server and that is not a problem, just install it on a computer that will have un interrupted connection to your network and to the internet. Get a SMB share setup with the folder structure that matches how you want to deploy the eBoards. Connect your managing computers file connection to the SMB share to be synced in the DropBox.
Now based on who you want to be able to manage each eBoard share the synced folders setting permissions through DropBox. This means that the Staff or Students that are in charge of updating the eBoard can set up DropBox on their devices and instantly update to the eBoards by copy files into the correct folder on their local device.
This is the part that makes Seas0nPassing worth it, go to your Apple TV 2 and you will find that aTV Flash will have installed a Management option on the Apple TV 2 menu, inside you can navigate through and enable XBMC. Once installed, enter the XBMC main menu item, from here you can navigate through to Pictures. Add the SMB share folder for the eBoard and thats it working. From here I suggest going through and disabling the majority of the menu options and adding your own graphics to brand the setup and as a tip don’t remove the settings menu from the main menu of XBMC.
Interestingly you can use XBMC from behind a proxy to access the internet and even set up a http control panel to manage it but you won’t really need it unless you plan on taking over all the Apple TV 2’s and broadcasting the same looping video or something similar as XBMC was designed much like the Apple TV 2 to be a personal entertainment system.
Keynote – PowerPoint:
The eBoard is designed to show pictures only, this means either becoming very efficient at Photoshop or utilising presentation software. Create your own template that suits your users and brand it so it looks like the kind of message board you intend the eBoard to feel like. Store the template in a shared drive available from the DropBox this way the slides for each eBoard can use the previous days layout. Both Keynote and PowerPoint allow you to export presentations as a set of pictures and uploading, deleting and managing existing pictures in the shared DropBox folder allows ownership and control of the eBoards for Staff and Students.
With iPad mirroring intact and all the advantages that the Apple TV 2 and an iPad provide in conjunction they should be considered a smart board killer. The apps and the flexibility of having students engage with this type of system is both scary and exciting the benefits are huge and policy is the best method for developing correct use. Colleges and schools can use the scalability of this implementation for a variety of scopes and the flexibility of the system allows anyone to set this up. It is also, despite what it might sound like above, a very simple process to get them into place. There are many ways to setup an eBoard the advantages of which are quickly realised once in place.
If you have any questions or need any help contact me or leave a comment below.
Make sure the Apple TV 2 is set to never sleep and the screen saver is not on.
Use the same type of settings in the XBMC too.
iPad mirroring and passwords will become a big issue, make your policy about who can use the Apple TV 2 as a mirroring device, who has password access etc. very clear from the start.
Staff passwords are vulnerable whilst being projected on any screen and with the iPad showing the character for a brief second, Staff and Studtends need to know not to type passwords when they are mirroring.
Choose a good theme from XBMC and spend a bit of time branding the look of it.
If you need to refresh something thats not working for some reason on the Apple TV 2 there is an option in XBMC to do a restart and it will reset the devices cached memory.