UPDATE: Recently we did a new investigation of available wireless display solutions, which resulted in us recommending the Mersive Solstice for implementation over the Crestron AirMedia. Read the full post here.
Managing connections for classrooms and studyroom displays has always been a very tedious task. The major issue being the lack of consistency for connecting a personal device to a display. You could either offer a variety of cables to accommodate all types of connections, offer a variety of adapters, or just have one connection type and require users to bring their own adapters. All of these options have significant pitfalls, and most of them are far from aesthetically pleasing.
Due to the state of perpetual disarray our study rooms and classrooms would be in to facilitate a variety of connections, we decided it would be wise to investigate wireless display solutions for these spaces. We ended up successfully implementing a device called the Crestron AirMedia, which allows display mirroring on Mac and Windows laptops, and media sharing on with Apple and Android mobile devices using a locally installed application.
Why did we choose the Crestron AirMedia?
Our initial investigation was inspired by technology we already saw implemented at other universities or showcased at conferences. The two devices that we became familiar with were the Crestron AirMedia and the Mersive Solstice and they ended up being the options we investigated.
At the time we began investigating these products the Mersive Solstice was limited in capability and only allowed media sharing (pushing photos, videos, and screenshots), but not full screen mirroring. While the media sharing capability could be useful in certain circumstances, it wouldn’t remove our need for supplying connections to facilitate screen mirroring, so it didn’t exactly accomplish our goal. This made the decision very easy since AirMedia did allow for screen mirroring for devices using Windows or macOS.
That being said, we have recently begun investigated the updated Mersive Solstice, which now allows mirroring and media sharing on any personal device. Comparing the two devices now, the Mersive Solstice would be the clear winner with regards to functionality and features. This investigation will be discussed in another post.
We initially piloted the Crestron AirMedia within a single study room with a wall mounted monitor. Our biggest concern was if the AirMedia wasn’t used enough it would cause burn-in on the screen. To prevent this we had our student staff turn off the monitor while they were staffing the desk in the area (Since they were there, they could assist anyone who couldn’t figure out how to turn it on), and turn it on while the desk isn’t staffed. This issue would eventually be resolved by including an external button panel that allowed users to turn the screen on or off themselves, or control the volume.
We initially provided paper instructions below the monitor with URLs that linked directly to the AirMedia software for each OS. Once we deployed AirMedias into more of our spaces, we took advantage of the ability to manually set the personal splash screen of each device when nothing was connected. We created a template that could be customized depending on which ip address that specific device had.
From initial pilot to full-scale deployment we observed very little difficulty with communicating use instructions to our users. We’ve received nothing but positive feedback. The couple times we had to troubleshoot the devices were due to users tampering with them, and unplugging. We limited this by securing and hiding cabling as much as possible.
In our study room spaces the AirMedia was mounted behind the TVs, and the controls for the TV were either mounted below the wall mounted TV, or on the tabletop of the standing TVs. In rooms with projectors, the AirMedia just simply sat on top of the projector.
Observations and Impressions
A building wide deployment of wireless display hardware has definitely made support of study rooms and classrooms simpler. Using wireless display appears to have a very small learning curve to the average user, and we are required to provide less frequent support for individual study rooms. Oddly enough, wireless display connections have proven to be more reliable than wired connections in our classrooms.
If instructors are having issues displaying content with either the provided computer or their own devic, we will generally use wireless connection as a reliable, temporary solution for the issue. Frequently that instructor will switch to using wireless exclusively. Eventually we would love to move classrooms entirely to wireless. This would cut down on the cables users can unplug, which typically results in the system not functioning properly and requires staff intervention.
There are a few usability issues with the AirMedia that the vast majority of users will not notice. The first, and most problematic from our perspective, is the AirMedia mobile app. While the app offers some media sharing (no mirroring) with mobile devices, it does not do it very well. At times the app will function as intended, but periodically the app will lose random functionality for reasons we have not been able to determine. While we have contacted Crestron about our issues with and criticisms of the app, we received the impression that they had no intention of updating it any time soon.
Another issue we have is with a feature of the AirMedia that can be easy to miss. The feature is the ability to switch between pre-buffer or low latency modes for casting your device. Low latency mode offers the shortest lag between a user performing an action on their device and that actions being mirrored on the display. However, with low latency casting video will result in the visual and audio not syncing properly; this is what pre-buffer is for. Pre-buffer increases the latency so that the audio of a video syncs with the visual better. This isn’t an ideal mode typical use since the latency is so high, and would be problematic for average use. It would be ideal if switching modes was unnecessary, but if a user needs to do so, the option can be very easily overlooked on the software.
On the administrative side of things, managing multiple devices can be difficult. There is no utility, to our knowledge, that allows admins to make one change across all devices simultaneously, so it needs to be done for each individual device. While we very rarely have to make changes, updating something like the firmware can be time consuming and tedious. On the plus side, you can export your default configuration to easily apply it to every device you have, without having to repeat several changes. While tedious, It is still a very welcome trade for the amount of support we needed to provide to the spaces prior to implementing AirMedias. There is also very limited feature and customization options within the admin options for the device.
Lastly, the hardware that we initially purchased (AM-100) is already outdated. The new version (AM-101) has AirPlay capabilities, which means that most of the devices we already purchased will never have iOS mirroring available to them. This isn’t a major drawback though, since users can’t make use of the AirPlay capabilities of our AM-101s because AirPlay does not work across networks, and our wired network is different from our wireless (which is the only network users have access to).
Despite the drawbacks mentioned, the implementation of Crestron AirMedia in our environment has been a substantial improvement. Support of our spaces has been made simpler in many respects, and our users seem majorly content with the upgrade. Moving forward, we will continue to investigate other wireless display solutions to make sure we continue to offer the best one for our environment.