AirTame is a wireless HDMI streaming dongle that offers a number of features for the school and office environment. They emphasise reliability, and cross-platform support. While it might superficially look like a Chromecast, they’re quite different.
Currently retailing at $300, this certainly isn’t a cheap option. The makers of AirTame are not afraid to have their device compared to an ChromeCast or Apple TV, however.
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In the box you’ll find:
- The AirTame dongle.
- Micro-USB power cable.
- USB adapter with worldwide plugs.
- HDMI extension cable, as the AirTame itself is quite wide.
Initial setup requires a Mac or Windows PC capable of connecting to the ad-hoc Wi-Fi. They sell a $25 Ethernet adapter if you’d rather set up from a central location, or have sketchy Wi-Fi connections.
I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of configuration options that Airtame offers. You can set the ad-hoc Wi-Fi network on 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz channels, and even manually specify the channel. Crucially, the Airtame supports WPA2 Enterprise security, something which Chromecast notably lacks.
By default a connection guide is also displayed over HDMI, useful for guests and employees who don’t want to refer to an Excel sheet of passwords or conference room guide just to connect their laptop to the projector. They will need the app installed (it’s not native to the OS), but this does ensure cross-compatibility regardless of which OS they’re using.
You can configure the display to show a static custom image, or more excitingly, a URL – and disable the guide text if you want to display it fullscreen. This makes it incredibly easy to show a dashboard or digital signage without any further setup – and still maintain its ability to transform into a streaming player for presentations and such.
They added a PIN code option in the most recent update. A random PIN is displayed on the screen, so this restricts streaming to only those physically located in the room.
How is Airtame Different to Apple TV or Chromecast?
Looking superficially like a more expensive Chromecast or Apple TV, the three devices are quite unique. Airtame addresses a number of comparisons in a remarkably unbiased way on their site, so be sure to read Airtame vs Apple TV or Airtame vs Chromecast for more information. I must say it’s refreshing to find a company that’s not afraid to compare it’s products without downplaying the competition and hiding key facts.
KPI Dashboards and Informational Displays
KPI (Key Performance Indicator) dashboards are really simple to set up with Airtame. In fact, you can display anything that’s available at a public URL. To be clear, Airtame doesn’t offer a dashboard service themselves, but the device will work with any third party service that offers a publicly accessible URL. There’s no support for authentication at the moment, and there’s also restriction on complex web content like Flash.
To test this, I used TheDash.com to build a basic display consisting of news, real-time visitor count from our Google Analytics account, local weather and a Twitter search stream. I then grabbed the fullscreen URL (https://www.thedash.com/dashboard/Bkvcx7Gq/fullscreen) and pasted this into the AirTame configuration on the Display tab.
After applying the settings, it worked and data was refreshed as expected, as it would be in a regular browser.
Streaming Performance and Mirroring
I tested mirroring and media performance primarily on a Mac laptop, with both the laptop and AirTame connected to my 5Ghz home Wi-Fi. Connecting directly to the device’s own Wi-Fi will (in theory) give better performance. In testing, I found very little difference, so I assume my home Wi-Fi isn’t that congested.
Audio streaming is also possible, though it adds a couple of seconds buffer to ensure uninterrupted playback.
Though desktop mirroring of slideshows and presentations or webpages works well, Airtame isn’t suitable as a movie playback device due to the way it handles streaming. It mirrors your desktop by capturing the screen 30 times a second – there’s some obvious compression going on for that to work, so video playback quality suffers from artefacts, particularly during action-heavy scenes.
As well as the ability to setup a URL that all AirTame devices can display, you can simultaneously transmit to multiple Airtame devices at the same time, though only from the desktop app.
Out of the box, iOS integration is weak, with a limited set of options: photos, dropbox, or files. “Files” actually just means PDFs. Although the support pages claim that mobile apps work with Keynote, this isn’t completely true. You have to first export from Keynote as a PDF file, then load that into the app. Dropbox integration allows you open a Keynote file, but this is converted to a PDF in the background. Of course, you lose the beautiful transitions in the process.
Once you’ve exported your PDF slideshow , giving a presentation couldn’t be easier. The app includes a timer, so you can keep pace. There’s no option to mirror your iOS screen as you might with AirPlay. Although technically possible – there are third party hardware devices out there with hacked in AirPlay support – it’s not official. Integrating such unofficial hacks would risk having their app banned from the store entirely.
If you’re happy with PDF as a format for your presentations, it’s never been easier to carry a single device with you. You can display your presentations or slideshow on any screen, wirelessly, with just your mobile device and an Airtame. That’s a killer feature right there, for travelling salesman and entrepreneurial types. Even so, I can’t help thinking the iOS app could benefit from a little more development.
The situation on Android is similar, though it’s at least more likely that future updates will enable device mirroring.
Should You Buy an Airtame?
By their own admission, Airtame isn’t really suited to home users who are mainly interested in video streaming. It’s aimed at enterprise and business customers, who need reliability and central device management. Airtame offers cross-platform support and ease of use.
For strictly video-streaming in the home environment then, you’re better off with a ChromeCast or Apple TV. Though they have their differences, both will stream media resources directly, rather than relying on screen-capture technology; and both are significantly cheaper than Airtame. For the same price as an Airtame, you could buy two ChromeBits. These run a full version of Chrome OS in the same diminutive dongle format.
Where Airtame really excels is quickly and reliably getting a presentation from any device onto the big screen. It’s also great in multi-device networks. It offers a number of connectivity options, and all of them “just work”. They can all be centrally managed, and Airtame is working on a new cloud service for remote management.
The requirement to download a driver application first is fine for intra-company use, but does present a minor barrier for clients visiting your offices. Before guest can stream to your displays, they’ll need to download the app. There is no built-in AirPlay or Miracast support. That said, I’ve had horrible experiences with so called cross-platform streaming protocols like Miracast. Airtame has chosen to concentrate on developing a proprietary protocol which does actually work. Just remember to send you clients a link to the software before they arrive. It also supports Wi-Fi forwarding, so the Airtame can act as a mini-router. When your guests connect to the ad-hoc network, they’ll have internet access (if you allow it).
Airtame is also a powerful tool for distributing informational displays or KPI dashboards around your company offices, while maintaining that flexibility to stream to them at any point.
There’s no better device for streaming presentations and slideshows wirelessly in schools and offices. However, home users wanting to just stream Netflix should look elsewhere.