AirServer – 30 Apple TVs for the price of One (and instant sharing and engagement in the Classroom)

This is not a Plug. I actually happily used AirServer’s competitor, Reflector, before I discovered AirServer, and it has some features AirServer lacks ( namely the ability to record the iPad screen in action on your computer). I also am a happy owner of an AppleTV at home.

What is your tech of choice for getting groups of children interacting with technology? Interactive Whiteboards? I was a big fan early on. I used to prepare my whole day on my computer at home with all my lessons set up on the software available and come to school all ready to go, After a while I saw a teacher ( or an individual student – maybe two) standing in front of an expensive whizzbang electronic version of a blackboard, doing the same chalk and talk method we’d been doing for decades. A lot of money invested, not sure if it was value for money. What about Apple TV? Much cheaper than iWBs, able to mirror iPads on screen, pass the iPad around to engage children in the learning, but still only one at a time. You still need a screen, TV or iWB, and it’s still a fair investment at $99-$129 ( depending on country) per Apple TV.

Last year, I discovered a better AND cheaper alternative. First it was Reflector, then AirServer. Both were originally Mac OS X only apps, then limited PC versions without audio, but now regardless of operating system you get the full feature set. So what is AirServer? ( I often assume everyone in Tech and using iPads has heard of everything I use but I always discover it’s not the case.)

AirServer is basically a MAC/PC app that turns your computer into a mirroring device for iPads, iPhones and iPods ( depending on the version you have) as well as Mac Laptops running Mountain Lion . Your entire iDevice screen appears on the computer screen and whatever you do on the iPad et al, is seen AND heard on the computer screen. Connected to a iWB, data projector (and speakers) or LCD TV, an AirServer enabled computer becomes an Apple TV. The creators were, and probably still are, more interested in marketing it as a way for iPads to replace Wii/Xbox/Playstations as a game console on a big screen, but I see it as a far greater tool for education, IF you are serious about iPad implementation at your school.

 Compared to Apple TV, or a iWB with software included,AirServer + iPad has several advantages.

First the price. Check the screenshot above. $3.99 per computer! For that price, we are virtually fitting out our whole school with Apple TV functionality for the price of one Apple TV.

Portability and ease of connectivity. Last year, when we first started using iPads in the classrooms, if we wanted to show what was on the screen, we had to attach an iPad VGA connector to the VGA cable and remain tethered to the iWB. With AirServer, you just swipe up ( or double click Home Button)swipe across on the iPad App switcher bar at the bottom, hit the AirPlay Button and the iPad is on the screen. You can even do it from another room.

Multi-view. This is the ‘game changer’ ( ugh! I swore I’d never use that cliched buzzword but…). The biggest difference between Apple TV (0nly one screen at a time) and AirServer is the fact that you can mirror multiple iDevice screens on the computer/iWB/TV screen at the same time. Instead of waiting for control of the whiteboard pen, students and teachers can just project their iPad screen straight onto the larger screen. No longer do we have to wait for the teacher of student to finish writing on the board and then getting out of the way so we can actually see it. The work that is done on the iPad screen can be instantly shared without wasting time reproducing it on the iWB. Time saved, time used more productively. This has so many possibilities in the classroom.

  • A Maths classroom where multiple strategies created by the students are shared simultaneously and discussed.
  • A Literacy classroom where students can share their notes, collaboratively write paragraphs, edit shared texts and compare choices, or share drafts for others to read to feedback on, with the writer making real time changes as the feedback comes.
  • Multiple videos showing different views of the same event or object.
  • A music classroom using Garageband with children combining different instruments at the same time to create a digital orchestra,combine parts of the same song for harmonies or multitrack experimentation or simply share their individual creations wirelessly.
  • A Science classroom where different observations, diagrams, videos of experiments are shared and compared.
  • A video and text can be played simultaneously to compare and contrast how a particular part of the story is portrayed in different media.
  • Ideas can be shared concurrently instead of waiting for turns, allowing students and teachers to focus on a specific point of their choice rather than waiting for turns.
  • Collaborative teams presenting the work without having to spend time cobbling all their individual efforts together into a single PowerPoint/Prezi etc. Each student can just mirror their iPad on the screen at the same time and control a video, audio clip, slideshow, comic strip, ebook, themselves.

Multiple iOS devices on the one screen

I could list many more possible uses but I’ll let you brainstorm for yourself. Feel free to share here. Remember, all the screens are fully operational at the same time. That includes App switching, multiple audio,video and game playback at the same time, file editing, and with very little lag time ( depending on your wi-fi quality, of course.) I have mirrored seven iPad screens on the iWB at the same time but there comes a time when they get too small to view. Of course, you can select a single screen to enlarge to full screen, while the others remain connected in the background, waiting their turn to take centre stage. (UPDATE:apologies for being slightly misleading here: while this is certainly a very useful feature on Mac computers, this enlarging function doesn’t seem to be available on PCs. Hopefully, this will be added in a Future update. I spend most of my time on Macs with AirServer and I will update if other features aren’t available on PCs at our schools. Sorry for the misinformation. Should have checked)
It’s easy to set up, a couple of swipes and clicks to activate and cheap compared to the alternatives. Reflector, which I discovered before AirServer has similar functionality plus the ability to record what is mirrored. The big difference, and its not a plug but reality, is the price difference.Individually, there is little difference but when it comes to bulk purchasing, $3.99 per computer versus $55 for 5 computer licences made AirServer my only choice in the end. Both are great, though, and have the potential ( I hate using that word but….) to make a big difference to educational technology and education in general if done properly.

Download AirServer and give it a go. You can download a 7 day trial for free to see if it works in your school environment before you spend the money.

And again, please add your suggestions to my list of uses by posting a comment.

17 thoughts on “AirServer – 30 Apple TVs for the price of One (and instant sharing and engagement in the Classroom)

  1. Thank you for this great post. I own Reflector and it works just as you described, except that it doesn’t seem able to mirror videos. I am going to try AirPlay and see if it really works with videos. Students create Explain Everything projects that are not able to be displayed with Reflector on my system, just the audio comes through. Could it just be a tech and wifi issue? The 7 day Airplay trial should answer my question. It sent the link to your post to my school’s tech team encouraging them to consider a school-wide purchase. Thanks again!

    • Are you PC or Mac? Originally both programs were Mac only then PC functionality, though limited, was added. I have used video at school on our PCs with AirServer and it worked fine, although I only tested for a few minutes, not the duration of whole movie. I have a Mac and I just spent time before writing this post testing out video from my son’s iPad while also playing Garageband music at the same time as also showing my daughter’s comic. It does the job.

  2. Mr G.
    I have used both air server and reflector for mirroring the iPads. They both have gotten much better in terms of the audio and connectivity. I haven’t used it for video yet. Have you tried it with playing a video? Also, I’ve had issues with photos app. Occasionally, air server will crash but overall I like to use airs reverie reflector. However, now that more and more teachers are using it,our technology services has investigated it and now blocked air server and reflector because it creates a hole in the network that hackers could potentially use. What has your tech services found or am I just bound by a tighter ship?

    • The network hole is not something I’ve heard about before,Jamie. It’s not an issue our techie usually raises. I’m no tech expert, more an edtech user and teacher. It’s interesting as I don’t see how it connects to the Internet for hacking but I’m probably showing ignorance there. You can actually create an ad hoc network between computer and iPads without using school network ( I can on my Mac anyway ). It’s something I’ll investigate though. Some tech teams are tighter than others.

  3. I have tried to download air server and it keeps telling me that I need to download DirectX 9.0c. It gives me a link to which I follow and download. After the download, I go back to airserver and it still says I need to download DirectX9.0c. Has anyone else experienced this? If so, do you know what I am doing wrong?

    • Suzonna, that actually happened to me at school a couple of weeks ago when I tried to set up Air Server on a PC that wan’t ‘imaged’ by our tech guy. The computer was obviously missing something else that was on all the computers that had been set up by him. I tried to download DirectX as well and got a similar message. I can’t remember what else happened but I think there was something extra to download. Sorry I can’t help you – more of a Mac Person and Macs don’t need DirectX for AirServer to work. I’ll look into it, though.

    • After downloading DirectX 9c on a PC, run the package. It will extract DirectX installer files into a folder on your PC. Locate this folder on your PC and run DXSetup.exe to complete the installation process.

      • Thanks Pratik. I was in a hurry when that happened two weeks ago and didn’t get to that part. Then I forgot what happened. Hope Suzonna checks in to get this help.

  4. I have used AirServer for a while now – not as creatively as some of these suggestions but I plan to incorporate a few. It is a great product, especially for the price. One must remember to deselect the iPad from the mac book tethered to the IWB, lest the iPad from a classroom across the corridor starts projecting into your other class because you didn’t turn it off…. Very spooky when it happens for the first time!
    I contacted customer service for some details about a bulk order and the service was excellent and prompt.
    I mostly use it for demonstrating new apps or techniques to little ones, and to give a visual to oral instructions when needed. All staff have access to it now and I am looking forward to some positive reports. Thanks for another helpful post Mark 🙂

  5. We have tried to implement Airserver on our network, but it has been buggy and unstable. It has crashed so many times that few teachers use it now. We are still looking for a more stable product.

    Thank you for the great ideas though! Really appreciate your thoughts.


    • Appreciate the different experience, Ben. Will keep an eye out for any problems. We haven’t had any yet, other than our wifi sometimes overloading, which affects anything from Internet access to network login, not just AirServer.

  6. How are you able to select a screen to enlarge to full screen, while the others remain in the background? I’ve been playing around trying to figure this out and can’t find any information on AirServer’s support website.

    • Sally, UPDATE included in blog post now :apologies for being slightly misleading here: while this is certainly a very useful feature on Mac computers, this enlarging function doesn’t seem to be available on PCs. Hopefully, this will be added in a Future update. I spend most of my time on Macs with AirServer and I will update if other features aren’t available on PCs at our schools. Sorry for the misinformation. Should have checked

  7. I can’t wait to try airserver. I am just concerned about having to manually hook up my laptop to my big screen tv. I currently use apple TV which is hooked up to my bigscreen tv to wirelessly show my ipad screen on my Big Screen TV. I like the idea of using airserver and having the ability to show multiple ipad screens simultaneously. Do you know if I can mirror my classroom ipads to my MacProAIr laptop using AirServer and then use airplay on my MacProAir laptop to connect to my AppleTV which connected to my big screen TV instead of hooking up my MacProAir laptop to my Big Screen TV (which I guess would entail video out-thunderbolt to hdmi to TV LCD input.)??

  8. Can you explain what you mean by “you can actually install an ad hoc network between computer and ipad without using school network”? I ask because I supposedly can’t run reflector on our our network because the network is not compatible…works seamlessly at home, but ipad won’t recognize it at school. Thanks!

    • Michelle, this is related to a Mac OS X feature ( it may well be a Windows feature as well but I’m not an expert in that system). So if you have a mac, it s very simple to do.

      Select the wifi menu on your Mac and click on Create Network.
      The name of your Mac will appear as the name for the network you want to create.
      Click Create and you have created a network that links your Mac to any other Apple device within reasonable range.The wifi icon changes from the curved wifi lines to a Computer in a Curved shape.
      On your iPad, go to wifi settings and select your computer from the Devices options. This connects your iPad to your Mac with Airserver installed and enables you to use AirServer/Reflector as you would at home. The only caveat is that neither your iPad nor your Mac is connected to the internet. You will get a warning about this when you create the connection. As long as you just want to show iPad apps on the screen this is not a problem. But if you want to use the internet will using AirServer this is not a solution.
      I have used this option successfully when presenting at conferences and PD days where I have not been able to access wifi but wanted to use AIrServer to showcase iPad apps.
      On your iPad, go to your wifi setting

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