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I frequently give academic conference presentations, using PDF-based slides. Typically, a projector with HDMI input is available. Currently, I usually connect it to my MacBook as mirrored display, and advance the slides from the MacBook keyboard.

It would be nice to be able to run the presentation wirelessly from my iPad/iPhone, so I can walk around freely while still being able to (a) advance the slides, and (b) glance at the slides without turning away from the audience. Is there any way to achieve this? Detailed requirements/desirables are spelled out below, but I guess they’re pretty common for conference presenters with Apple devices.

I’ve found several similar existing questions, such as How to display iPhone/iOS device on Projector? and How to show iOS screen on a projector like Steve Jobs did on his keynotes?, but they are all rather old and their answers don’t fit this use-case, as far as I can see.

Requirements/desirables:

  • Projector hardware is totally out of my control; all I can rely on is a projector with HDMI input (sometimes VGA on older projectors).

  • Usually there’s a local Wi-Fi network, often eduroam-based, but the details and quality vary. So a solution using Wi-Fi is OK if it works reliably on most Wi-Fi setups (at least including eduroam) without specific configuration, but not if it needs detailed re-configuration depending on the network.

  • Usually there are just a few minutes available to connect and test the setup at the venue before the talk.

  • I don’t want a wired connection from the iPad to any larger-than-pocket-sized device (since the point is to allow free movement).

  • I’d like the iPad to show the current state of the projection (not necessarily exact mirroring, it’s fine if there’s e.g. a keyboard overlay), and to control the projection, i.e. advance/backtrack through slides.

  • The solution must work for PDF-based slides, or at least something that PDFs can easily be converted to. (Working for other formats, e.g. Keynote, would be great but isn’t essential.)

  • Ideally, a solution should allow full use of the projector display whatever its aspect ratio (i.e. if projector is widescreen, widescreen slides shouldn’t get vertically letterboxed down to the iPad screen which in turn gets horizontally letterboxed to the projector).

Flexibility:

  • I’m quite happy to buy an adaptor or similar small peripheral, or a paid app, if these provide a good solution.

  • I’m happy to use my MacBook as a go-between.

  • I don’t mind whether the slideshow is run from the iPad (and mirrored to the projector, possibly via MacBook), or run from the MacBook (and mirrored + controlled from the iPad).

  • A solution that works with either an iPhone or an iPad would be ideal; but if it works with just one of these, that’s fine.

  • Frame challenges are welcome!

What I’ve tried so far:

  • AirPlay from iPad to Reflector on the MacBook. Pretty good, with one serious caveat: connection seems to break easily if the Wi-Fi is at all spotty. (Less significantly, since it goes via mirroring the iPad screen, one can’t use full width of widescreen projector.) Good enough to use at venues with very reliable Wi-Fi.

  • Screen sharing from MacBook to iPad, using Mocha VNC. Seems to require specific per-network configuration for connecting to the MacBook, and on the one eduroam network I tried, I couldn’t get it to work. There are multiple ways to set up the VNC connection, though, so perhaps there’s a more robust approach I haven’t found.

  • Bluetooth remote, controlling MacBook directly, not using iPad: mentioning this as an example “frame challenge” solution. Excellent in most ways, but doesn’t display the slides on the portable device.

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