Setting Up AirPlay

Black Hole

May contain traces of nut
I'm posting this in case somebody comes across it and finds it helpful. While googling for help myself I found a lot of people on various Apple forums having similar difficulties and not coming up with solutions (and I have no desire to sign up to yet another forum).

As regular readers will know, I recently upgraded from a 16GB WiFi iPad3 to a 128GB WiFi iPad Pro Mini (9.7" - same size as an iPad Air2). A consequence was that I no longer have a 30-pin accessory port, and although Lightning to 30-pin adapters exist all they really do is copy the 8 Lightning pins to the appropriate pins on the 30-pin port - so there's no video output, for example. Therefore, my old HDMI output adapter I used to throw the iPad3 screen onto a TV is no longer any use.

(Incidentally, Apple were offering me £89 trade-in on my iPad3, and I sold it to a mate for £90. I came across a recycling point in Sainsbury the other day, and it would have given me £92!)

So, what to do? I regard being able to use the iPad as a photo album as a valuable part of its USP, especially if it can put the photos/videos onto a TV screen.

An Apple Lightning to Digital Video (HDMI to me and you) adapter costs £40, and there are no cheap knock-offs because Apple have put a security protocol into the connection so that the video output function is not enabled unless a validated adapter is detected. (The same is true of Apple ear buds - connect third-party headphones and they will reproduce the audio, but in-line volume and transport controls won't work without the Apple security chip, which explains why we can't come up with a simple remote camera trigger like the volume buttons on an Apple ear bud.)

There is an alternative for TV output, and that's an Apple TV box and AirPlay. This requires Apple TV Gen3 or above (which means anything on the market today), and the Gen3 is available (even from Tesco) for £59. In theory, all one needs to do is connect the small Apple TV box to the mains and the TV, and use peer-to-peer AirPlay from the iPad to present on the TV screen.

The Apple TV can also connect by WiFi or Ethernet to your network, and if the iPad is on the same network it doesn't need the peer-to-peer connection for AirPlay. However, my WiFi password is a long random string and a pain to input unless it can be sent by email by another route, and the Apple TV has a password input screen using pick-and-click, so that's a non-starter. There is also the possibility that there is no convenient network where I might want to present to TV, so peer-to-peer is the way to go.

The extra £20 over a straightforward cable connection from an adapter gives me wireless. The other facilities of an Apple TV are of little interest to me, and increasingly redundant with the "smart" facilities built into modern TVs. I decided to go for it, and bought direct from Apple on-line so I could send it back if not satisfied.

The first connection attempts were frustrating. Peer-to-peer requires enabling Bluetooth and WiFi on the iPad, which I did, and the AirPlay button appeared in the control panel alongside the AirDrop button. So far so good. Click AirPlay, and the pop-up only showed a ticked "iPad". On-line help said scroll down to see other devices, but there was nowhere to scroll to. Then the AirPlay button disappeared again, and only returned intermittently.

The on-line help said the Apple TV Gen3 needed to be version A1469 or later (it is) and to check that the Apple TV and the iPad are on the latest software (the iPad is; the Apple TV was on 7.2 - recent enough surely?). The existence of the Apple TV was being recognised, otherwise there would be no AirPlay button at all.

The clue was in the Apple TV's Settings >> General >> About menu. It said "not activated". Apparently the box needed to "phone home" via an Internet connection to complete its set-up.

Now, I will own up to an indiscretion here. I provided the box with an Internet connection, but instead of just letting it activate I also searched for a software update - it's now on 7.2.1. Whatever, I can now connect peer-to-peer AirPlay absolutely fine (with no network connection to the Apple TV box) - but I think it was the activation rather than the software update which cracked it.

Peer-to-peer AirPlay is clever. It requires the Bluetooth turned on and also the WiFi (which I tried turning off). It seems to use Bluetooth to announce the service and initiate the connection, and then an ad-hoc WiFi link to provide the actual data transfer (or maybe Bluetooth+WiFi to increase the available bandwidth). But, at the same time, the iPad's WiFi connection to the network and out to the Internet remains active!

On the TV, with "mirror" selected in the AirPlay settings, the iPad screen is replicated in a 4:3 window (pillar box). Playing video fills the screen (16:9, if the video source is 16:9 - which video recorded on the iPad is). This is better than my old cable connection from the iPad3, which used to be not full-screen (although maybe I could have fixed that by changing the TV settings to 720). Turning off "mirror" stops the iPad desktop activity being displayed to TV and just shows the photos, video etc when played (if that's what you want).

All in all, very pleased. Less pleased with an extra £59 in addition to the eye-watering cost of my new iPad!