A few months ago Jake Pinholster wrote in his article, “Wireless Video Solutions,” that, once we all get Apple iPads, we would be able to eliminate the expensive and usually bulky computer at either end of the wireless video signal chain. Unfortunately, his prediction is only partially correct, at least as of this writing.
I tried a few methods of turning the iPad into a scenic element. My thinking was that it could either be used as a part of a video wall, like a smaller version of Sondheim on Sondheim, or simply scattered screens across the stage, like a smaller version of the televisions in American Idiot. When I thought about it more, it occurred to me that people might also like to use an iPad or an iPhone as a prop on stage or on camera, and that it would be necessary to be able to control the stream of video appearing on the device.
My first thought, and the solution that looks the best, is using the new iPad version of Keynote. Despite the problems that many people are reporting using Keynote for iPad, I believe that Apple has turned its exceptionally good presentation software into an only slightly impaired iPad version. The major flaws are awkward conversions from desktop to iPad presentationsand the lack of custom font support. While these are extremely frustrating, they do not in any way, prevent you from designing a presentation exactly the way you want. After all, you can always simply turn your fonts and layouts into JPGs and your custom transitions into movie files. Of course, this creates extra work, and it would be nice if you didn’t have to, but sometimes in this business, you have to take extra steps in order to make it look just perfect.
I, too, had problems initially getting the iPad to look the way I wanted it to, but eventually, I created a mock presentation for Keynote I was happy with, and something that would work on stage. I discovered that the deal-breaker for using this method is the fact that the only way to cue the next slide on the iPad is to manually touch the touchscreen. At first, I was sure I was mistaken. I paired my Bluetooth keyboard, positive I would be able to just hit the spacebar, and the iPad would remotely take the cue, but no dice. I then tried connecting it to the iPad keyboard dock, but again, it wouldn’t take the cue. I even tried my headphone remote that came with my iPhone, thinking maybe I could click the button to make the iPad go, but still, nothing. I searched a little on the Internet and confirmed that other people were having the same trouble, and that there really is no way to take the next cue without touching the screen, which might work to fake content when using it as a prop, but if I wanted to use it as a scenic element, I couldn’t have people touching it in order to get it to work. That simply will not work! Maybe in the future, Apple will add support for remote triggering, but until then, this is untenable.
The solution I came up with to stream video in a cueable fashion involves an iPhone app, which can be scaled up on the iPad, and two pieces of software on my Macbook. The App is called AirCam (from Senstic), and for $8, you can stream your webcam from any PC or Mac over Wi-Fi to your iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad. The company also makes a companion application that you run on your computer that connects the two devices. That on its own is pretty cool, but it is very limited in what it can do. The magic occurs when you also include an application that can intercept the webcam feed and pose as another webcam installed on your computer. For this, I used CamTwist, which allows all kinds of special effects, including any movie file, piped into your webcam feed, allowing you to set up a cue list and control what is seen and when on the receiving device.
Daniel Brodie is a freelance New York-based projection designer and multimedia artist. Recently, he was the assistant projection designer on Rock of Ages and Sondheim on Sondheim. Check out brodiegraphics.com, inc.