Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Older TVs & Apple TV: How to Make Them Work

I have been on a quest to find the optimal older television iPad streaming solution. In previous posts I reviewed my tests with the Apple VGA Cable and the Apple Composite AV Connector. Both solutions work, but each has its own pros and cons, with a significant disadvantage that your iPad has to be cabled to the TV while watching.

Apple TV would have been ideal: wireless video mirroring and streaming. But every review and spec sheet I came across said the same thing: Apple TV requires an HDMI connection. Obviously my old Sony Trinitron with its RCA Composite AV connections did not talk HDMI - it seems I was stuck with my cobbled together solutions.

But recently I stumbled across a comment in one of the Apple forums that changed everything:  HDMI to AV converters exist! True, Apple TV outputs HDMI, but if I could turn around and convert that signal back to RCA AV and feed it into my TV, I might be able to get Apple TV to work with my ancient Sony. It was worth a try.

Here's what I needed:
The setup is as follows:

Apple TV 
HDMI Cable 
HDMI to AV Converter
RCA Composite AV Cables (L/R Audio, Video)
Sony TV (RCA AV connections - white, red, yellow)==>

Apple TV works with my ancient Sony Trinitron given this setup! I've been using it for a couple months and am totally spoiled with Apple TV and wireless streaming from my iPad. Owners of older TVs take heart - you need not wait for a new HDTV to enjoy the benefits of Apple TV!

Help for Apple TV Not Showing Full-Screen Image

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Help for Apple TV Not Showing Full Screen Image

I was disappointed in my first tests with Apple TV.  Yeah, wireless streaming was cool, but the image was not.  The iPad's mirrored image was small on the screen, with black border "pillar boxing" covering a good part of the screen. Frankly, I was ready to return the device.  But after more testing, I found relief - the black borders may not be entirely removable, but a simple setting change can minimize the pain.

Part of the problem comes with different aspect ratios between your iPad and TV.  Typically, your iPad will have a 4:3 aspect ratio and your TV will be 16:9.  Making sure your iPad or iPhone is in landscape mode when you mirror can help with this issue, but may not totally eliminate it.

What helped most for me was turning off the Apple TV Overscan setting.  Many network signals deliberately "overscan", sending a slightly bigger image than will fit on your TV, ensuring your whole screen is filled, but also perhaps truncating a small portion of the image.  To counter this effect, Apple TV does the opposite, shrinking the image to avoid the top or bottom being cut off when you mirror to your TV.  The result: a small picture and lots of pillar boxing.

An Apple TV setting change lets you turn off this Overscan effect, as shown here.

1. In Apple TV, click on Settings, then Audio & Video

2. Find the Adjust for AirPlay Overscan setting (default is ON)

3. Turn OFF Adjust for AirPlay

A couple before/after picture comparisons of this setting change follow.  (TV: Sony Trinitron 27")

Before: Adjust for AirPlay Overscan setting ON (default setting). CBS App shown streaming with AirPlay; Mirroring ON. Note the heightened black border "pillar boxing". 

After: Adjust for AirPlay Overscan setting OFF. Black border "pillar boxing" reduced (but not eliminated).

Note the pillar boxing is app dependent.  For example, here is the streaming PBS app: a full screen image is displayed.  The Netflix app also shows a full screen image.

In summary, the Apple TV streaming image, when too small for taste, can be made somewhat larger with an adjustment to the AirPlay Overscan setting.  As annoying as this smaller image is, it is not across-the-board, but app-dependent.  Still, it is something to consider when evaluating Apple TV for your home.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Restoring a New iPad

Ironically, one of the most well-designed features of the iPad is one that you can only fully appreciate when you upgrade to a new iPad. Apple's iCloud Restoral process has made moving to a new iPad (or iPhone) easy as pie - as a veteran of numerous Painful PC Upgrades I was truly appreciative of their efforts. Moving to the new iPad Air required nothing more difficult than plugging in my new iPad and typing in a few passwords!

Of course, you must have an iCloud backup from your prior iPad to be able to do the restore! So the key to a simple set up occurs on the old device, not the new one - see the prior post on backing up to iCloud as you prepare your iPad for a transfer of ownership.

With a good iCloud backup your apps, data and settings all get restored to your new iPad.  Even your wallpaper and the positioning of your icons on your home screens are replicated to your new device!

The most important part comes right at the beginning after turning on your new iPad.  You will see this screen:

You must select the "Restore from iCloud Backup" option. If you're not alert, it's easy to choose the "Set up As New IPad", which sounds intuitive, but will result in a fresh start and won't restore your apps, data and settings from your old iPad. Just think: "Restore, Restore, Restore" amidst all the excitement of turning on your new device!

A quick first part of the restore process restores your settings and icons.  Next, you'll be prompted to plug-in your iPad as it moves to the heavy lifting of the restore process: your apps and data. This can take 30 minutes or more so it's a good idea.

The restore will then commence, and it's fun to watch as it proceeds. Apps/folders that haven't been restored yet will be a darkened color, and will return to their normal bright look once restored. As the restoral is in progress for a given app/folder, you'll see a circle icon and can watch the progress as it proceeds (note the Entertainment and Finance folders in progress on the screenshot).

You will in some cases be prompted for password, for example when restoring secured iTunes songs. This was the only part of the restoral process that was a bit confusing. At some point I was prompted to put in passwords for my sons' Apple IDs (which I couldn't do since I didn't know the passwords). In these cases I clicked Cancel and the restoral preceded.

Later however, when I would turn on my iPad, again it would still prompt for these passwords. Going into Settings, my iPad had "not completed" the restoral (in its mind) with this "to do" still open. The problem: the new iPad would not do further iCloud backups until the restoral was "done". So at that point my new iPad was vulnerable if something happened. After I was able to track my sons down and get them to enter their passwords I was good, and  backups began to commence as normal.

Selling /Gifting Your iPad?  How to Prepare

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Selling / Gifting iPad? - What to Do

If you are among the many buying a new iPad these days, you may have plans to sell or gift your current Apple tablet. However, before you do, there are a couple important preparation steps to carry out on your current iPad. This post will cover the step-by-step to prepare your iPad for a transfer of ownership.
To sell or get your iPad, you need to first:
  1. Backup your current settings and data
  2. Erase your iPad

1. Backup your current settings and data 
This is the most critical step, as it would be most unfortunate to perform the next step, erasing your iPad, and losing all your data and settings! Having a current backup will make moving to a new iPad quite easy, as you can restore all of your apps, data and settings onto your new device.

1a. To begin your iPad Backup process, tap on Settings=>iCloud=>Storage & Backup.  

Ensure the iCloud Backup setting is ON (green).  This will allow your iPad to be backed up to iCloud.

1b. Resist the urge to do an immediate backup. Instead, staying in iCloud / Storage & Backup, tap on Manage Storage.  Here you'll see each of your IOS devices listed if you have more than one (e.g. an iPhone and an iPad). Select the device you plan to do a backup for, which we will assume is your iPad. You then should see something like the screen above. 

From here you can see when your latest backup was, and the size of the backup. Scroll down to the Backup Options section, and turn to green all apps that you will want to migrate to your new iPad.  Setting the app to green will include it in your iCloud backup.  Don't stop with this initial screen, also tap Show All Apps, to see and turn on your complete list of apps.

Once you have selected all the apps for your backup, a final check would be to see how big this next backup will be by checking the Backup Size (at the top of the Manage Storage screen). Hopefully it's nicely under the 5 GB maximum iCloud free space.  (If not, learn more about reducing your Backup size.)

1c. You should now be ready for your iPad Backup. To do your Backup, go to Settings=>iCloud=> Storage & Backup. At the bottom you'll see the Back Up Now option.  
Tap Back Up Now and your backup will start. You may be prompted to first plug in your iPad while the Backup commences, as it may take a little while.

2. Erase your iPad
Once your iPad's data, apps and settings have been safely backed up (and ideally restored and working on your new iPad) it's time to wipe this iPad clean and prepare it for its new owner.  The only reason not to do this is if you are giving the iPad to someone in your family that will have permission to use your same Apple account (e.g. your spouse).  

2a. Go to Settings=>General.  Scroll to the bottom of the screen and find the Reset option.  Tap Reset to begin the erase process.  (Note: for iOS 7 or later you will have to turn off Find My iPad/iPhone.)

2b. Here is the Reset screen. A number of options are here. Choose the Erase All Content and Settings option if you are selling or giving away your iPad.  (More information on Reset screen options.)

2c. These next two warnings when you do make sure sure sure this is what you want to do!  Tap Erase to proceed.

The erasure usually goes fairly quickly. Finally, you'll see the Apple logo and the iPad will be ready for its new owner!

You can learn more about the erase process and what to do before selling with these Apple articles.


Friday, November 1, 2013

iPad Air: "Best Tablet I've Ever Reviewed"

Walt Mossberg, the Technology Columnist of the Wall Street Journal, has high praise for the new iPad Air in his recent review.  The improvements are significant, and make a fine product even better in his opinion.

He cites these upgrades to the iPad:
  • Thinner: Apple has reduced the thickness of the iPad by 20%
  • Smaller: the new iPad is 9% narrower, while maintaining the 9.7" screen size
  • Lighter: now weighing 1 lb., 28% lighter
  • Faster: a new 64 bit A7 Chip, up to 100% faster than some earlier models
  • Battery: all while maintaining the 10 hour battery life
In his words: "the battery performance of the iPad Air simply blew me away...clocking a battery life of 12 hours and 13 minutes, which exceeded Apple's claims by more than 20%."

He concludes: "If you can afford it, the new iPad Air is the tablet I recommend, hands down."

Read the full review. Also, learn more about the new iPad Air.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

App Auto Update Not Working in iOS7

Auto update for apps was an iOS 7 feature I was much anticipating. The novelty of seeing those numbers in red circles above the App Store icon wore off really fast. Diligence in running updates hardly mattered, as the updates came so frequently that the dreaded red numbers were quickly back. It became like painting the Golden Gate Bridge - the job was never done.

Imagine my disappointment then when, the day after installing iOS 7, I was greeted with the familiar Red Circle Number above the App Store! Sure enough, updates were waiting to be installed. How could this be?

Turns out there is a simple explanation. The App Store auto update feature is definitely part of iOS7, as advertised. What isn't advertised is, by default, auto-updating is turned OFF. Until you turn it on, you remain in manual update mode.

Once you know this turning on app auto updates is easy.

1. Go into the Settings app. Tap on iTunes & App Store. Look for the Automatic Downloads section, where you can find the Updates setting. As in the screen shot, note it is set to OFF (white).

2. Tap the Update setting so it goes to ON (green). Auto-updating is now on and begins immediately.
When I exited Settings and looked again at the App Store icon the dreaded Red Numbers were no more - yay!

Although my iPad was good for auto-updating now, I question Apple's decision on this one. How many thousands of users will remain in manual update mode by default?

I like the idea of choice, letting you turn off auto updates if desired, but auto updates should be turned on by default as the setting that would best serve the vast majority of users.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting iOS 7: Step-by-Step

Apple's new iOS 7 was released today, bringing with it a slick, new interface for your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.  Like to update?  Curious if your device is eligible?  Here's the step-by-step procedure with screen images.

1. In the Settings app, tap on General and then Software Update

2. If your iOS device is eligible for iOS 7 you'll see the above screen.  Tap Download and Install.

3. Legalese for you

4. You'll need to Agree to continue

5. It's a big update (900MB) so you might want to plug in

6. Downloading...takes a while.

7. Done!  Now some initial configuration screens (all in white -- you feel like you're in the clouds!)

8. Tap Continue to keep going
9. Tap Enable Location Services so some apps can detect your location

10. Enter your Apple ID password to complete setting up iCloud

11. Notifying you of your iMessage and FaceTime current settings

12. FYI about the new Find My iPad capabilities

13. You are done - welcome to iOS 7!

Finally...back Home at last!  With a new look!!!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Apple VGA Cable & Video Mirroring on an Older TV

If you have an older, legacy television, can you still stream your iPad or iPhone to your TV, watching movies on a larger screen? An earlier post showed streaming is possible using the Apple Composite AV Cable; however, my testing also showed this experience was a far cry from video mirroring (where your TV display mirrors what's on your iPad).

So is iOS video mirroring on your old TV doable at all?

I'm pleased to say video mirroring is possible on that old TV in many cases. Using a different combination of cables you can mirror your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch on your legacy TV, as this post will show.

What will video mirroring buy you? After all, the Composite AV Cable solution is simpler, requiring only one cable. However, the streaming only displays on your TV if it is supported by the video app you are using, and support is sporadic.  And anything that is not "streamed" definitely cannot show on the TV using the Composite Cable: games, the Internet, regular apps, etc. Video mirroring should allow everything to display on the TV, just as you see it on your iPad or iPhone.

However, this video mirroring solution requires a combination of cables, and so may test the patience of some. It's not difficult, but it's also not an easy, simple solution.

Older TV Video Mirroring - What You Need
TV with RCA connections
Here's the environment I tested with: I have an iPad 3 with a 30-pin connector. My television is a Sony Trinitron with RCA composite connections.  The two most important variables here are your iOS connection (30- pin or Lightning) and your video-in TV connection, which can vary the cables you need.

Video mirroring components:
Apple Dock Connector to VGA
Apple Lightning to VGA
1. Apple Dock Connector to VGA or Apple Lightning to VGA
This cable will convert your iPad's video signal into VGA, which is a more common industry video standard, supported by a variety of cables.  Use the cable that matches your iOS device.

Sample VGA to RCA converter
2a. Video: VGA to RCA converter (varies based on your TV video-in connection)
This device takes your newly-converted VGA video signal, converting it to a format compatible with your TV. If your TV has a RCA video-in connection (see picture above) this is what you will use. If your television is a little newer, and has the Red Green Blue (RGB) video-in connection, you may just need #2b.

RCA video cable

2b. Video cable to your TV
Connect a yellow RCA video cable to #2a, and the other end to your TV's yellow video-in connection. Relatively newer televisions, with RGB video connections may be able to use a VGA to Component RGB cable only, but you would have to test this.

RCA audio cable

3. Audio cable
#2 above handles video; you also need to account for your sound. A simple choice is to listen from your iPad. But a better option is to use a RCA audio cable (red/white cables) that connects to your iOS device. You'll want a Stereo 3.5mm to stereo RCA Y cable connector cable.  If you connect this cable from your iPad to your TV audio-in this will play your sound through the TV speakers. If you have a receiver, connect the cable to the audio-in of your receiver and your iPad's audio will sound great through your big speakers!

Testing Results
All in all, video mirroring worked quite well! I connected everything, powered on my iPad, and my start screen displayed immediately on the TV. The Internet with Safari, Games, and virtually all apps, including those streaming apps that did not work with the Composite AV Cable, display on the legacy TV. From this standpoint, it's a very satisfying solution.

What doesn't work? Amazon Instant Video, just as it does with the Component AV cable, does not display on the TV - the Amazon app blocks the signal. Also (and ironically), movies purchased through iTunes will not display on your TV either; the Apple app apparently does this to prevent piracy. iTunes movies are the one item that works okay using the Composite AV Cable, but not with the video mirroring setup.  Finally, the Netflix app streams fine to the TV, but doesn't video mirror on your iOS device.

It's important to note that video output through an RCA connection is limited to 800x600 resolution.  I have watched hours and hours of video streaming in this manner, and for most uses this resolution is acceptable; still,you may be dissatisfied with the video quality. Certainly it's no match for the iPad's retina display.

I find the trade-off of a larger screen, big speaker sound, and an environment where the whole family can easily watch a video worth the sacrifice of the reduced resolution. Of course, a new HDTV would nicely solve the resolution problem! But if you have an older TV for now, this solution will let you video mirror with your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.

Finally, for those willing to invest a little more, it is possible to use Apple TV with older, non-HDMI TVs.

Note: product links are examples only and not recommendations.