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Play Things | Mirror image

Play Things | Mirror image
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First Published: Tue, Nov 22 2011. 09 09 PM IST

Big picture: Send content from your computer and mobile phones to your TV screen
Big picture: Send content from your computer and mobile phones to your TV screen
Updated: Tue, Nov 22 2011. 09 09 PM IST
If you’ve been a frequent reader of this column—and really who isn’t—you may have noticed that this writer has a somewhat unhealthy obsession with sending content from his computers and mobile devices to his TV screen.
Over the last few years I’ve written about using a handful of devices that help to either reflect your desktop or laptop display to your TV screen, or stream your multimedia to your TV screen with or without a computer in between. Often, as you will see shortly, the processes required to do this are extremely convoluted. And they are also highly prone to breaking down.
Big picture: Send content from your computer and mobile phones to your TV screen
Yet, for some odd reason, I persist. I wish I had a nice, technically and emotionally rational reason for doing this. But I don’t. All I know is that I feel this warm sense of accomplishment and geeky fulfilment when I manage to get my TV to display something that it is not usually meant to: scrolling headlines, an Internet browser, photos from a hard drive, twitter updates, a blown-up screen of a game I am playing on my computer, and so on.
Hitherto this was a somewhat complicated process. For instance, I’ve spent entire weekends trying to connect my laptop to my TV using an S-video cable. In theory this is supposed to make the screen-mirroring process a breeze. And a friend of mine, Pastrami, has developed the skill of using S-video cables to a high art form. Invite him for a party and he’d come fully equipped with laptop, movies on a hard drive and a bespoke S-video connection kit designed to pair with any TV. After a few drinks, Pastrami would proceed to open his bag, connect everything to everything and, moments later, boom! We’re watching some edgy Russian thriller movie that looks awesome under the alcoholic circumstances.
Unfortunately, I never had the same luck. Usually my TV displayed nothing. And if it did, it displayed my laptop screen at some ridiculous aspect ratio.
Then a few years ago I bought an Amkette FlashTV. This was a device that hooked up to your TV and directly streamed content from a hard drive. A simple if inelegant solution. Inelegant because every time I wanted to watch a movie I had to disconnect the drive from my computer, walk over to my TV, sit and connect wires, and then use a small remote control for the express purpose of navigating the hard drive.
Walk to the TV? What madness! This is 2011 man! Not 1986.
There had to be a better way. And indeed there was. Kind of. And Steve Jobs was the man to think of it. Kind of.
The second-generation Apple TV is the Amkette FlashTV on steroids and Wi-Fi. The device is a cute little box that sits connected to your TV and streams anything you can send it over a Wi-Fi network. Great idea. In principle. The problem is that there aren’t that many things you can send to your Apple TV out of the box: anything from the iTunes store, some YouTube videos, Internet radio and photos.
It still won’t simply play anything you want from your computer.
For the last six months or so I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of ways to bypass this restriction. And the most accomplished method was to use a combination of the Apple TV hardware and two separate pieces of software called AirFlick and Air Video Server.
Bear with me while I explain the process. Air Video Server takes multimedia content available on your computer and streams it to other iOS devices wirelessly. And if the original files are not in an iOS friendly format, Air Video Server will transcode it on the fly.
AirFlick takes this stream of transcoded content and streams it to the Apple TV that, five times out of 10, will stream it on to your massive LCD or plasma set. Sounds good? No? Precisely.
After tweaking this set-up dozens of time I’ve probably only ever watched three movies like this. The system keeps breaking down.
Until now.
After the most recent iOS updates which give mirroring capabilities to the iPad 2, all this set-up has become redundant. You still need a few elements, but the outcome is superb.
First of all, the iPad 2 can stream a facsimile copy of its display to your TV via the Apple TV. Which means apps and games looks amazing on the big screen. I highly recommend viewing the Elements app, which deals with the Periodic Table, like this. Eye-popping. Second, you can use the Air Video Client app for the iPad (or iPhone) to stream content from your desktop to your Apple TV. Unlike AirFlick, this process is slick, smooth and works almost every single time.
Yes, yes, I still need a computer, a TV, an Apple TV and an iOS device to make this magic happen.
But you should see the radiant smile of geeky fulfulment on my face now. No, really, you should see it. On my TV.
Write to Sidin at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Nov 22 2011. 09 09 PM IST