• Hookups: What do I need for iPad presentations?

    The iPad a really great presentation tool. It's smaller than a laptop, it's lighter, you can go wireless, and the apps available to create & deliver presentations are now very solid (Keynote, Perspective, Prezi & many more). However, one of the big barriers at the moment to going iPad-only is the hookup. There's nothing worse than arriving at a conference room, boardroom or classroom, and not being able to get your screen to play nice with their projector or TV.

    Do that enough times, and suddenly you're lugging your laptop in your bag (as well as the iPad) as your don't-look-like-a-dickhead-in-front-of-strangers Plan B. Nobody wants that.

    So, how exactly do I get my iPad screen to that TV or projector? Well you've got a few options, and they all have their pros and cons. Here's a toolkit that hopefully covers a wide variety of possible scenarios, so you can take your iPad to your next presentation with confidence.

    Option 1: The Apple VGA adapter

    I know, I know. Adapters suck. But like it or not, VGA is still the standard port that many, many places still use to hook up devices to a projector. Especially in the education space, where it's not uncommon to see a projector that sports HDMI, but is totally un-available because the room's cable runs & wall sockets do not.

    They're $35 from the Apple Store, they go from the 30-pin dock connector to a VGA socket, and they're practically essential if you seriously want to use your iPad as a presentation device.

    Requires: Any projector (or TV) with an available VGA port.

    Pro: Cheap. Easy to throw in a bag. Doesn't need separate power. Super-reliable, because most places have VGA, or an adapter that allows you to use VGA.

    Con: No wireless. Hope you like standing behind the lectern, because you're now tethered to that VGA cable. Also, you can't charge the device & present at the same time.

    Cost: $35

    Option 2: The Apple Digital AV Adapter

    More common if you're in a room with a TV instead of a projector, this adapter allows you to go from HDMI directly to the 30-pin dock connector. Niftily, it also packs a second 30-pin dock connector on the HDMI side that gives you the option to plug in a charger at the same time. Available in the Apple Store for $45.

    Requires: Any TV (or projector) with an available HDMI port.

    Pro: Cheap. Easy to throw in a bag. Reliable (as long as you know the place you're presenting at has an available HDMI port). Doesn't need separate power. Allows you to charge & present at the same time.

    Con: No wireless. HDMI ports still not as common as VGA.

    Cost: $45

    Option 3: AppleTV (& Kanex ATV Pro)

    AirPlay is great, and if you've got an iPad, you'll definitely prefer it for presentations. The advantage to presenting this way is pretty clear; you're able to be completely wireless while you present. That's a huge deal, especially if you'd like to have other people in the room interact with your device. There's nothing quite as powerful as opening an app, handing it over to an audience member and having them use it while you continue talking. It's very cool.

    So, to get AirPlay working, you'll want an AppleTV. The AppleTV for $109 is the best way to mirror an iOS device up onto a screen, but requires an HDMI port. However, if VGA is your only option, how do you get the AppleTV to talk to the projector?

    Well, I'm using the new Kanex ATV Pro adapter for $79.95. It's an adapter that converts from HDMI to VGA (as well as a 3.5mm stereo jack for sound), and the only adapter I could find that does it without a separate box & power supply.

    The main downside to a AirPlay setup is that your venue needs Wi-Fi that both your iPad & AppleTV can connect to. This can sometimes be a challenge unto itself, with locked-down, or terribly slow Wi-Fi networks a fairly common occurrence in presentation venues.

    Additionally, if you can indeed connect to the Wi-Fi you'll also need a few minutes to boot up the AppleTV & enter the Wi-Fi password (with the Apple Remote, yuck).

    Requires: Fast, reliable Wi-Fi that you can connect to solely with a Wi-Fi password (for example, conference venue Wi-Fi with a login page will probably not work). Projector (or TV) with an HDMI or VGA port.

    Pro: Wireless presentations! The future! Looks rad. Can charge & present at the same time. Works with either HDMI or VGA. Can also switch to other compatible AirPlay devices (for example, show off an iPad app, then switch to your iPhone to show off the iPhone version)

    Con: More expensive. Requires decent Wi-Fi you can connect to — don't bother if the Wi-Fi is slow. Needs a separate power socket for the AppleTV. Requires a few minutes to set up — definitely not ideal if you're presenting back-to-back with other people.

    Cost: $109 + $79.95 = $188.95

    Option 4: AppleTV, Kanex ATV Pro, AirPort Express.

    Now we're really going down the wormhole. This is another AirPlay set up, specifically to address the Wi-Fi issues of Option 3.

    It relies on using the AirPort Express for $119 to create your own Wi-Fi network, which you can then use to connect your devices to ahead of time. Then, when it comes time to present, you simply switch on the Airport Express, and your AppleTV & iPad should automatically connect to it. This bypasses the awkward steps in Option 3 with set up, and also the potential dodginess of the venue's Wi-Fi.

    The AppleTV & Airport Express look very similar these days, and both stack together quite nicely too. It's almost like they were designed this way or something...

    The major downside to this set up? It's a closed loop set up; there's no way to connect to the internet. Even if you've got a 3G iPad, you'll be routing traffic through the Airport Express, and you can't choose to route AirPlay through one Wi-Fi connection & data through a 3G connection; it's one or the other.

    However, this kind of set up will work great if the venue has an ethernet cable as the only available internet connection. You can route that cable into the AirPort Express & have it wirelessly extend the wired connection (I've used this many times in hotel rooms, for example). That may not be a sure thing though; it can depend on the network's configuration.

    Requires: A presentation that doesn't require internet OR a wired network connection you want to make wireless for internet. Projector (or TV) with an HDMI or VGA port.

    Pro: Wireless presentations! Can charge & present at the same time. Works with either HDMI or VGA. Can switch to other compatible AirPlay devices. Does not rely on a (potentially problematic) external Wi-Fi network. Can extend wired connections to wireless devices.

    Con: More expensive. This set up (might) not work if you require an internet connection to present. Requires 2 power sockets.

    Cost: $109 + $79.95 + $119 = $307.95

    Option 5: AppleTV, Kanex ATV Pro, iPhone in Personal Hotspot mode.

    Believe it or not, this works pretty damn well. Same as option 5, but substitute the Airport Express for an iPhone in Personal Hotspot mode.

    All you have to do is:

    1) Put your phone in Personal Hotspot mode
    2) Join the AppleTV & iPad to the new network created by the phone

    You can do this ahead of time, and your AppleTV should remember the Personal Hotspot Wi-Fi settings for later (as long as you don't change them). This method also has the advantage of being able to pull down data on your iPad —from the iPhone's 3G connection— for internet, whilst also being able to mirror the iPad's screen on the AppleTV. Weirdly enough, you can also mirror the iPhone's display on the AppleTV too!

    I thought this might suffer from poor speeds, but I tried games, streaming video & a variety of apps and I couldn't find anything other than a slight delay on graphically intensive games. Very impressive actually.

    Requires: An iPhone with a 3G data plan. Projector (or TV) with an HDMI or VGA port.

    Pro: Wireless presentations! Can charge & present at the same time. Works with either HDMI or VGA. Can switch to other compatible AirPlay devices. Does not rely on a (potentially problematic) external Wi-Fi network.

    Con: Uses your phone's data. Will thrash your phone's battery. Requires 1 power socket.

    Cost: $109 + $79.95 + your phone's data = $188.95+

    Option 6: AppleTV, Kanex ATV Pro, 3G/4G Pocket Wi-Fi.

    One final configuration which substitutes the Airport Express (or iPhone in hotspot mode) for a 3G Pocket Wi-Fi device.

    This comes with the advantage of being a separate device — one that can be organised (and billed) aside from your phone. This might be an attractive option for those working in a company, and also makes it easy to buy one and share it within a team.

    All of the major networks have 3G options (see Vodafone, Telstra & Optus) now, but for my money I'd be taking a long hard look at either the $79 3G Telstra Elite Pre-Paid or if you have the need for speed, the Telstra Pre-Paid 4G Wi-Fi option. Optus also has a 4G Pocket Wi-Fi device too, but their 4G coverage is still pretty limited (definitely not available in Brisbane yet for example), and it's also not available on Pre-Paid yet either.

    In this configuration, you can switch the Pocket Wi-Fi device on ahead of time, and then connect your AppleTV & iPad to the newly-created network. Then when it comes time to present, simply switch the network back on, and your devices should recognise it and reconnect.

    Requires: A Pocket Wi-Fi device with a 3G/4G data allowance. Projector (or TV) with an HDMI or VGA port.

    Pro: Wireless presentations! Can charge & present at the same time. Works with either HDMI or VGA. Can switch to other compatible AirPlay devices. Does not rely on a (potentially problematic) external Wi-Fi network.

    Con: More expensive. Will come with a data charge (to keep your pocket Wi-Fi data topped up). Connection speed will vary based on coverage. Requires 1 power socket.

    Cost: $109 + $79.95 + Pocket Wi-Fi (eg. $79) = $267.95 + data charges

    Wrap up:

    This begs the question; what am I using at the moment? Well, I've found that the combination of the wired VGA adapter, an AppleTV, a HDMI cable, the Kanex ATV Pro adapter & my iPhone is sufficient to suit pretty much any need I've encountered so far.

    This combination gives me both an instant wired option in the VGA adapter, or if I have a minute & a spare power socket, I'll hook up the AppleTV & put my iPhone in hotspot mode for a wireless presentation. The HDMI cable also gives me a direct AppleTV-to-HDMI option if that's available, and I'll use the Kanex ATV Pro for VGA if it's not.

    James Croft runs Go Make, a business helping education with technology in a post-PC world. He's on Twitter, Google+ & even LinkedIn from time to time.
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