Airtame, First Take: Enterprise-class wireless screen mirroring

airtameheader.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    Not yet rated

There are dozens of options for sending your computer screen to another display, but most of them are either tied to and optimised for a particular ecosystem (Apple, Chrome, or Miracast devices, for example), or they involve spending the first few minutes of a meeting fiddling with cables, apps and projection settings. The Airtame HDMI stick is different: it promises to work with Windows, Mac, Ubuntu Linux, Chromebook, iOS, and Android, and any screen (or projector) that has an HDMI port. It's also aimed firmly at business and education users, rather than consumers wanting to stream video.

airtameuse-the-extender.jpg

The Airtime is small but wide (there's a small Linux PC inside), so you may need the extender to plug it in.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

The Airtame 'stick' is small but wide -- too wide to fit directly into the three-port HDMI switch connected to the Samsung monitor in our office meeting room (which already has an Xbox One and an Xbox 360 plugged in), but there's a short HDMI extender in the box.

If you're concerned about securing the Airtame physically, as it doesn't have any way to attach it securely, you could substitute a longer extender cable and conceal it inside furniture.

You also need a USB port that has enough power (at least one amp) to run the Airtame via its Micro-USB connector; the USB ports on our Samsung screen didn't put out enough power, but our Xbox One's USB port does. Alternatively you could use the supplied AC adapter.

Once the Airtame is plugged in, it displays the URL for downloading the Airtime app on your device, and its own network name (although we didn't need to use that as the Windows app automatically detected the Airtame via wi-fi); just click to name and configure the Airtame, and it automatically downloads any waiting update.

Setup copies the network connection details from your computer, so you don't even need to type in the wi-fi password (which is why the installer needs to run as admin).

airtamedownload-the-app.jpg

The Airtame website auto-detects what device you're connecting from and shows you the right software; for Windows you can choose the full app with admin access or a run-only guest app.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

Top ZDNET Reviews

If you don't allow multicast on your network for security, the Airtame won't be automatically detected, but you can navigate to it by IP address (again, that's displayed on-screen automatically). There's also a guest version of the Windows app that runs without installing, and an MSI installer for preconfiguring and deploying the app to multiple devices.

airtamehelpful-info-on-screen.jpg

The default on-screen information helps new users connect to the Airtame; you can customise that with company-specific information or display a web page instead.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

Once the Airtame is set up, it switches to displaying the information you need to connect to it (shown on a selection of space-themed images); if the wi-fi signal gets too low to be usable, you'll also see an on-screen warning. You can customise the standard text shown to add company support information and change the image to show your company logo or an animation, or have it display a website instead. This turns the Airtame into a handy digital sign when you're not using it for presentations and training; you could use it to show the schedule for the meeting room (or the school timetable) it's in, or to show a dashboard of KPIs or your team Kanban board, for example.

To connect, just choose the device from the Airtame app and click Start to start sharing your screen. By default only the graphics are streamed (compressed using H264 and Airtame's own transfer protocol), with audio staying on your computer.

If you want to use the speakers on the screen you're streaming to, Airtame adds a one-second buffer to both audio and video; in future, that might be enabled only when the network speed requires it. If it's a large room with multiple screens, you can mirror your screen to multiple Airtame adapters at once.

airtameapp-settings.jpg

If you want to stream a lot of video, switch into manual mode to increase the buffer.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

The Airtame is designed for presentations and meetings; it handles complex PowerPoint presentations with lots of transitions and animations well, although the laser pointer effect did have some lag. It was also great for group collaboration and sketching using Microsoft Whiteboard; you can sit comfortably in front of your laptop and draw on a big shared screen in real time, while your colleagues are doing the same. It also handled screen-sharing apps like Skype and Skype for Business well.

It doesn't handle video quite so well -- especially from websites like YouTube, where we experienced some lag and artefacts. Playing a video from the local network resulted in better quality -- but again, that's not what this is really designed for. If you need video playback, switch into manual mode and experiment with adding a longer buffer as that can improve results, or use the optional Ethernet connection.

Airtame also supports screen mirroring from iOS by appearing as an Air Play device. We found it took several more seconds to start an Airtame session on an iPhone than from a PC or Mac, and it took even longer for video to start playing -- although playback was both smooth and high quality.

On Android, you can stream JPEG and PNG images, PDFs and Word, Pages, Excel, Numbers, PowerPoint, and Keynote files from the Airtame app (which means that notifications and incoming messages don't get mirrored); you can stream the same file types from other Android apps like Gmail or Dropbox too. In future, Android will get the same full-screen mirroring as iOS.

airtamedevice-configuration.jpg

There's a good range of options for managing the Airtame device and how it uses your network.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

Where the Airtame really stands out is connectivity and management. Because it's designed for enterprise and educational networks, the Airtame works with WPA2 enterprise protocols (TLS, EAP, and PSK) and VLANs, and you can connect Airtame to multiple networks, or use the (optional €20) MicroUSB-to-Ethernet adapter to put it on a wired network. (The second port is hidden behind a cover, so it won't gather dust if you're not using it.)

The app lets you configure more options, such as turning off the blue LED that shows activity levels so you can see if it's struggling to handle a stream, turning on PIN protection so only authorised users can connect, changing the resolution, or configuring more complex networking options. All these settings can be password protected.

You can turn on wi-fi forwarding, for example if you're using a screen in a hotel or convention centre and you want to use the Airtame from your notebook rather than using the local wi-fi network (that's not on by default for security reasons), or switch the internal hotspot between 2.4GHz and 5GHz. You can even use the Airtame itself as a wi-fi hotspot for a guest network for visitors joining the meeting (again, the Airtame can show those details on-screen).

airtamecloud-configuration.jpg

The cloud portal combines device information for troubleshooting with configuration, and new features like iOS screen mirroring are supported here first.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

If you want to deploy Airtame at scale, the Airtame cloud service simplifies management, although you can't use it to set up devices initially and you have to copy a token for each device into the cloud portal to connect it.

You can configure all the options for the device (and a couple more that aren't yet in the local configuration, like turning on AirPlay support) and you can select multiple devices to change the options at once. A future update will let you group devices so that adding a new device to a group will give it the same settings, as well as APIs to integrate with meeting-room systems like Crestron to add information like the schedule for the room to the Airtame background automatically.

The cloud service is also handy for troubleshooting: you can see the IP address and signal strength for all devices, as well as which devices are already streaming and if any have a software update waiting.

The cloud service runs on AWS in Germany, avoiding concerns about data residency for Europe, and only device information goes to the cloud (over an encrypted channel) -- the content you display on-screen never leaves your own network.

Conclusions

Airtame isn't cheap, at €299 each (or €249 if you buy ten or more), but the combination of simplicity and management is appealing. This is a very easy way to do screen mirroring for a wide range of devices with good-quality results, while the ability to change settings and see signal strength from the cloud portal should be a big timesaver when you get a support call from someone who can't connect. There are nice touches in the software, like disconnecting automatically if you shut the lid of your laptop, and Airtame has been adding features regularly -- iOS screen mirroring is new, for example.

Read more reviews

Top ZDNET Reviews