Modern meetings: How to share your screen to your conference TV

Apple TV, Chromecast, and Miracast can take you some of the distance; AirParrot and Ditto a little further

screencast
Shawn Downey

Go to almost any meeting these days and you'll see a sea of laptops around the table and sometimes some iPads or other tablets. That lets people look up information, take notes and do on-the-fly research during the meeting.

But if someone wants to share what's on their screen with the rest of the participants, good luck. The typical solution is to connect a computer or tablet to the TV via an HDMI cable, hoping the inputs are correctly set and requiring each presenter to move to get near the cable. The good news: A better way is emerging.

That better way is wireless screencasting. Macs, iPads and iPhones have supported screencasting via the Apple TV for several years. More recently, Google has supported screencasting via its Chromecast device on Android devices, some Chrome OS devices, and (for web pages only) from Macs and PCs via the Chrome browser. Microsoft supports a technology in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 called both WiDi and Miracast (some Android devices also support this technology) over a variety of Miracast devices.

If your meeting attendees use a variety of devices, the corresponding variety of screencasting methods can get downright confusing. Sure, you could get an Apple TV, Chromecast, and Miracast device for each room and connect all three to the room's TV (if it has enough HDMI ports), then have users change inputs based on who wants to present. But that's only slightly better than the HDMI-cable shuffle of today.

A company called Squirrels (yes, really) is now offering a service called Ditto to partially unify the device diaspora. You may know Squirrels: Its Reflector app is used to display iOS and Android screens on a computer -- and directly to YouTube, if desired -- so you can make training videos. Its AirParrot app for Windows, MacOS, and Chrome OS lets those devices stream to both AirPlay and Chromecast devices.

If you want to get really fancy, combining Reflector and AirParrot lets you cast your screen to individual devices as well, so everyone in a meeting can see the same thing, such as when you have no TV. Yes, that can get complicated!

Your mix of computing devices will steer you to a particular path: If you only use Windows PCs and they're newer models, Miracast is the way to go. If you're an Apple shop, Apple TV is. If you're Google-based, you might be able to standardize on Chromecast since it supports Android and some Chromebooks (classrooms could be a use case, for example).

But I suspect most companies will need to support two streaming technologies. And the combination of Apple TV and Chromecast will give you the widest support -- if you also use AirParrot or Ditto.

Let me start with how each of the specific streaming devices work, then I'll explain how to combine their use with Ditto and AirParrot. Note that for all these devices, both the streaming device and the computers and mobile devices streaming to it must be on the same Wi-Fi network and subnetwork, and Apple's Bonjour services should be enabled as well to use the Apple TV.

AirPlay in action

AirPlay streaming is built into MacOS and iOS, so there's no client software needed. You do need an Apple TV (available from the Apple Store) to stream to; the $69 third-generation model is sufficient for conference room use. You connect the Apple TV to a TV or projector via a standard HDMI cable. So, each display device would need its own Apple TV.

In MacOS, if an Apple TV is detected, the Display icon in the menu bar becomes the AirPlay icon. (Make sure the “Show mirroring options in the menu bar when available” option is selected in the Displays system preference.) Click it and select the desired Apple TV from the menu. The AirPlay icon turns blue so you know it's active. That's it! Your screen will be transmitted, though video content may be blocked based on its licensing restrictions.

screencasting: Apple TV on Mac

If you want to send audio along with the screen, such as when playing a video, AirPlay doesn't always redirect the audio from your Mac to the Apple TV. Open the Speakers system preference and select Apple TV in its Output pane to remedy that.

When done, go back to the AirPlay menu and click Turn AirPlay Off.

In iOS, open the Control Center (swipe up from the bottom of the screen), tap AirPlay, and choose the desired Apple TV from the popover's list. By default, only videos and audio are sent to the Apple TV (whether played from an app or a browser). To send your screen, so you can show apps and web pages, set the Mirroring Switch to On. When done, change the AirPlay setting back to My iPad or My iPhone.

screencasting: Apple TV on iOS

Note that you set up an Apple TV's name in the Apple TV itself, using the remote that came with it. With the Apple TV home screen visible on your TV, go to the Settings app and then choose AirPlay > Apple TV Name to rename it. You can also set a password for the Apple TV via AirPlay > Security. And you can turn on handy connection instructions that show on the TV when not in use via AirPlay > Conference Room Display.

The Apple TV is the only one of the streaming devices that IT can manage through policies, as it can other mobile devices. Many mobile management platforms support the Apple TV, or you can manage it yourself by connecting an Apple TV via a MicroUSB cable to an admin's Mac and using Apple's free Configurator 2 app (available in the Mac App Store) to specify settings such as its Wi-Fi SSID (so if stolen it can't connect to another Wi-Fi network).

But Apple provides no documentation as to which of its several hundred management policies actually apply to the Apple TV, and I've yet to find a good third-party reference. So, you're not likely to get much done with Configurator beyond a few basics that you can apply to each Apple TV in turn from your Mac.

screencasting: Apple TV setup via Configurator 2

Chromecast in action

Using Chromecast takes a bit more work by the user. Once you have a $35 Chromecast (available from the Google Store) running, users need to download the Google Cast app from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. To screencast from the Chrome browser (others are not supported) on a Mac, PC, or Chromebook, download the Google Cast extension.

To screencast from the Android app:

  1. Open the Google Cast app.
  2. Tap the Menu button (the icon of three lines, aka the hamburger icon) at the upper left of the screen.
  3. Tap Cast Screen/Audio in the screen that appears.
  4. A new screen appears, listing available Chromecasts. Tap the desired one. The list disappears.
  5. Tap Cast Screen/Audio to begin sharing your screen.

To stop screencasting, repeat steps 1-3, and then tap Disconnect in the screen that appears.

screencasting: Chromecast on Android 2
screencasting: Chromecast on Android 2

Chromecast support in iOS is limited to video playback apps such as YouTube and Netflix, as well as some website videos. To use Google Cast in iOS, open the app, sign in to your Google account if not already signed in, and then switch to a compatible app like YouTube. Then follow the instructions below for Chrome screencasting.

To screencast a web page or video from Chrome on a PC, Mac, or Chromebook:

  1. Click the Google Cast icon that appears in the upper right of the screen to search for available Chromecasts.
  2. Select the desired device.
  3. Click Cast This Tab.

When done, repeat steps 1-2 and then click Stop Casting.

screencasting: Chromecast on Chrome browser

Of course, you first have to set up the Chromecast to be able to stream to it. The basic instructions are to plug the Chromecast into power via the USB port and then into the TV via HDMI. In the Chrome browser (no others) on your Windows or Mac, go to chromecast.com/setup and download the installation software, then follow the prompts. Note that the Chromecast setup app does not install on Windows 10 because it requires .Net Framework 3.5, which Windows 10 won't install.

If you can run the setup app, you'll basically connect to the Chromecast via Wi-Fi to its own SSID, tell it what network to use, and then switch your computer or mobile device back to the same network. Google has handy setup instructions for each supported platform. 

You can also manage Chromecasts from the Devices pane in the Google Cast app on an Android or iOS device. You can add Chromecasts by tapping Add New Device. You can enable streaming access to users who are not on your wireless LAN using Guest Mode; their devices must support Wi-Fi Direct. Tap the More button (the … icon) and then Guest Mode. There's a toggle switch to enable or disable Guest Mode, as well as an auto-generated PIN the user must enter to connect directly.

screencasting: Chromecast setup on Android

Miracast in action

Microsoft's answer to Miracast got little uptake when it debuted in Windows 8.1, partly because Windows 8 was so reviled and partly because few PCs' video hardware could support the Miracast protocol. The situation is a little better in Windows 10, simply because it's a usable version of Windows and more Miracast-compatible PCs now exist.

How to set up a Miracast device, such as Microsoft's $50 Wireless Display Adapter (available at Amazon), depends on the manufacturer of the device, so rely on those instructions. To use Miracast:

  1. Open the Devices settings.
  2. Click or tap Project.
  3. Click or tap Add a Wireless Display, if one is not already available.
  4. Choose the desired wireless display.

To end the screencast, repeat steps 1-2 and click or tap Disconnect.

AirParrot and Ditto in action

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, each of the platform's native streaming technologies can add up to a confusing mess if you support multiple devices in your organization. Most companies these days have three operating systems under official support: Windows, iOS, and MacOS (often for specific departments). Some are also adopting Android devices and/or Chrome OS devices into their official equipment ranks.

One approach to that heterogeneity is to furnish an Apple TV, Chromecast, and Miracast device on every conference room TV, and have users switch inputs as needed.

But with a tool like Squirrels' AirParrot or Ditto, maybe you can avoid the input switching for most users, and give them (and IT support) a consistent user experience for screencasting during meetings.

AirParrot. The tool you should choose is AirParrot, not Ditto. AirParrot works easily and well. At $13 per client (volume discounts available from Squirrels' website), it's not terribly expensive.

Once installed, AirParrot resides in the Windows taskbar or MacOS menu bar. Click its icon, and the controls pop up. Select the desired Apple TV or Chromecast from the list, and you're done. Yes, you can adjust various video settings, but you likely won’t need to. Any audio streams along with your screen visuals nicely and automatically though you can silence the audio if desired.

Deselect the streaming device when done.

It's that simple -- and the screen display is quite snappy, too.

screencasting: AirParrot on Windows

AirParrot gives you simple, consistent access to both Apple TVs and Chromecasts from Windows PCs, Macs, and Chromebooks. (Mac users can still use direct AirPlay if they want, of course, and Chromebook users can still use Chromecast directly if they want.)

It doesn't help iOS or Android users, though, so you'll have to use the native streaming devices for those two operating systems. At most companies, that means you need just an Apple TV and Chromecast on each conference room TV: the Apple TV for PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, and iOS devices, and the Chromecast for PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, and Android devices. Pick which one has the default TV input based on whether you have more iOS devices or more Android devices. The minority mobile users will have to switch inputs while they're screencasting, unfortunately.

Ditto. Although the new Ditto service was meant to simplify conference room screencasts, it does the opposite. The concept is that, with a $149 annual subscription per streaming device, anyone with a Mac or Windows PC can walk into a conference room, enter the service's URL, enter the room code, then be connected to that room's streaming device. Except that's not really how it works.

First, you do have to download software to the PCs and Macs to use Ditto -- and you have to download it every time you want to use the service to screencast. 

Once you enter the Ditto URL and the room code, a room-specific version of the Ditto app is downloaded for that room. (The room codes are auto-generated, and fairly silly, like "adopt thrill." I'd prefer to set my own, such as to match the room's name.)

screencasting: Ditto on Windows

Run the app and then choose My Entire Screen or a specific application to screencast, then click Start Sharing. Switch to whatever you want to share. Return to the Ditto app and click Stop Sharing when done.

If you go to a different room, you have to start over again at the Ditto website, enter the new room code, and then get another copy of the app installed. If you previously used Ditto in a room and sign in again, you still get another copy of the app. If you rename each version to reflect the names of the room it's in, you can reuse those app copies rather than do the whole "enter a room code and download the app" dance -- but few people will think of that. Most people will just get a bunch of apps like Ditto32.exe, Ditto32(1).exe, and so on in their Downloads folder.

Another drawback: the Ditto app download is hardly fast -- it takes much longer than downloading AirParrot, which you download once and only once. 

Second, it doesn't support audio streaming, so if you want to share a video or anything with audio, you have to rely on your computer's speakers. Those won't fill the conference room.

Third, it supports no mobile devices, so iOS, Android, and Chrome OS users have to go native. Many companies will still need both an Apple TV and Chromecast in their meeting rooms.

Ditto can be cheaper than AirParrot, depending on how many users actually screencast, but even if the dollar figure ends up lower, you'll still pay for those savings in more meaningful ways. It's not worth it.

This story, "Modern meetings: How to share your screen to your conference TV" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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