Using an Apple TV for journalism training

Last month, as part of a three-year journalism training programme run primarily by BBC Media Action, I helped train 10 Jordanian and Palestinian journalists on using basic web and digital tools to improve their journalism, digital ethics, and things like that. It was really fun and illuminating. I’ve written more about the project and the training itself in a post that will go up on AFP‘s blog (which I will cross-post here). But today, I just wanted to make a brief mention of a useful tool for journalism trainers who have Macs — the Apple TV.

Apple’s device has its flaws — you are locked into iTunes, you cannot use all file types, and the range of services is limited outside the US.

However, at the relatively inexpensive price of $99, it’s a neat piece of equipment that could be useful to make presentations a little more interactive. I originally bought the ATV originally just to mirror my MacBook Pro onto TV screens in hotel rooms where I was travelling, or places I was staying, essentially as an entertainment device. It’s small and light enough that it does not make much of a dent in my suitcase, so I can avoid checking in luggage at airports, and one key feature makes it worthwhile for presentations (particularly, in my case, for journalism training): AirPlay Mirroring.

AirPlay Mirroring is the software that replicates an iPod, iPhone, iPad or Mac screen onto a television via an Apple TV. The mirroring happens in real-time with virtually no lag (assuming you’re on a good wifi connection — see below).

So, at several points, instead of showing screenshots of techniques for taking photos and video on smartphones, I just mirrored my iPhone’s screen onto the projector screen (via an ATV connected to a projector). Because it is just mirroring the iPhone, I could show various mobile-only apps like Camera+ and Instagram in real time. An iPad running presentation software would do the trick as well.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Apple TV needs a decent wifi connection to really be useful. Ad hoc connections are not ideal, because they mean you cannot actually connect your device to the internet, meaning you are just mirroring a device without being able to actually show the useful stuff (i.e. mobile social networks). Performance really suffered when I used the main wifi network, which all the trainees and trainers were on, but improved considerably when I switched to a secondary network set up by the hotel technician that only I was on.
  • Hotel wifi networks are not a problem, at least when it comes to presentations and mirroring. Our training sessions were taking place at the InterContinental in Amman, which has an open wifi network that requires log-in details to be input on a sign-up page. The Apple TV does not have an in-built browser, but it doesn’t need to access the actual internet for AirPlay Mirroring, so you don’t need to log-in to the hotel wifi. It just needs to be on the same wifi network as your mirrored device (i.e. your iPod, iPhone or iPad).

So there you have it — I’d be interested in your thoughts on other useful, and ideally inexpensive, tools to enhance journalism training. Let me know in the comments!

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AirPlay Mirroring is new to me. So where can I download the software for it? Is it free? And yeah, it's true, a good Wi-Fi connection is very reliable for an Apple TV to show its useful stuff, so be sure to have a great one.