Friday, June 15, 2012

Apple TV - Not Just for the Home

At my company one of the most important meetings we have is our weekly development sprint review and planning session.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Agile development methodology this is where the development team showcases what they've been working on during the past week, and it's also where we plan and prioritize the upcoming week's set of stories, or to-do list.  Anyway, one of the biggest challenges we've faced is that the meetings tend to run long, and one of the main contributors to this is the fact that during the meeting anywhere from 4-8 people are projecting their laptops onto our conference room TV in order to display something to the entire audience.  With one fairly short VGA cable to share amongst all of us, we not only had to play musical chairs within the conference room anytime someone new had something to present, but whoever was presenting also needed to make sure their display settings were correct and that they were projecting the right desktop window onto the TV.  All told I would estimate that we wasted 15 minutes per meeting doing all this logistical juggling, and when you multiply that by about a dozen participants that's a total of 3 hours of lost productivity for the team.

Luckily we recently moved into a new office space, and in this space we had the luxury of setting up our new conference room from scratch.  We decided from the get go that we were going to purchase one of those conference tables where all the wiring is accessible from the center of the table, so we didn't have to hassle with wires strewn all over the table and tripping on them as we walk in and out of the conference room.  But at the last minute I decided we could go even one better...enter Apple TV.

As most people know, Apple TV is a cool little device that allows you to stream video (and/or audio) to your TV.  The video streams could be from iTunes purchases, YouTube, Netflix, and a host of other available content sources.  However, there is also a very cool and somewhat under promoted feature in Apple TV called Airplay.  What Airplay allows you to do is a couple of things.  First off, you can use Airplay Streaming to wirelessly stream multimedia content from your iPhone, iPad or iTunes-enabled computer directly to your TV via Apple TV.  When you're in the media player you will automatically see a new control pop-up on the screen, and when pressed it enables you to select which available Apple TV device to stream through.  It works wonderfully, and you can stream movies and TV shows in all of its high-def and multi-channel audio glory.  But in addition to this the Apple TV also supports a feature known as Airplay Mirroring.  What Airplay Mirroring allows you to do is to stream any content to your TV via a supported device.  Right now the only supported devices are the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2 (or later).  However, Apple is about a month away from releasing Mountain Lion, the next version of Mac OS X, and that version will support Airplay Mirroring as well.  Given the fact that most everyone in our company is on a Mac, once Mountain Lion is out we'd all be able to stream anything from our laptops onto the big screen.

But there's no reason to even wait for Mountain Lion, because there are already 3rd-party solutions to enable Airplay Mirroring from Mac OS and even Windows clients today.  We're currently using one called Airparrot, and at $6 per license (when purchased in blocks of 5) it's really a no-brainer.  It allows you to either mirror or extend your desktop to the TV, lets you enable/disable audio streaming on-the-fly, and even provides an option for only displaying a selected application vs. your entire desktop.

All of our employees are now using Airplay to wirelessly stream their laptop screens during group meetings, and I have to say the productivity gains are immediately evident and the three Apple TV's we purchased have paid for themselves multiple times already.

In case you're wondering what our setup looks like here's a picture of the wall in our main conference room with dual 52" monitors.  My iPad is being streamed on the left screen; my Macbook Pro on the right.



Here's a pic of one of the Apple TV's, which we conveniently hide behind the TV screen:



And of course, since the Apple TV is still a consumer device there's always a little time for fun as well:


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