Wednesday, 11 March 2015

iPad as a 2nd monitor

I recently got myself a Macbook Air and was blown away by it. This is my first Mac bought to replace my 7 year old workhorse laptop which has now been converted into my home media streaming server (courtesy Serviio).

In just a few days, I noticed how I've moved to using the Mac Air instead of my iPad as my goto computing device. That's when I realised that the killer feature of the Mac Air is its zero startup time - it was like having the convenience of the iPad and the functionality of a full fledged laptop.

That got me thinking that I need to repurpose the iPad and put it to some use, so I thought of making it a 2nd screen for the Mac Air. A little bit of searching the web led me to a number of solutions, some working over Wifi, some using the USB cable. However, all of them were paid solutions, and I wasn't in the mood for spending money on them, just after cleaning out my wallet on the Mac Air.

So a little more effort, and I got a perfectly workable solution, all for free.


Installation

  1. Download and install the following software on the Mac Air
    1. Syphon Virtual Screen - Creates a virtual display. Get it here.
    2. RealVNC Server - Creates a VNC server that allows remote viewing and control of the virtual display. Get it here.
  2. Install the following software on the iPad
    1. RealVNC Viewer - Allows viewing and control of the virtual display from the iPad. Get it here.

Using the virtual screen

  1. Start Syphon Virtual Screen from your applications. Enable it from the menu and set a screen resolution. Since I have an iPad 2, I've set mine to 1024x768
  2. Start VNC Server and select Options->Expert. Change the "Monitor" parameter to "1". This selects the virtual display instead of the default display

  3. Start VNC Viewer on the iPad and connect to the VNC server you just set up. You must be on the same network for this to work.
Voila! Your iPad is now a 2nd monitor for your Mac. The default configuration for this virtual monitor is to the right of the Mac screen and you can drag and drop your windows to it.

The same trick can work for any tablet or even an old laptop. All you need is a VNC client on the tablet or old laptop.

Pro tip: Download and install Spectacle on your Mac for easy keyboard shortcuts to move Windows between the monitors. Get it here.

Notes

  1. In the Syphon Virtual Screen preferences, all you need enabled is "Enable virtual device at startup"
  2. If you would like to change the location of the virtual monitor, you can do that from "System Preferences->Displays->Arrangement". Just drag and drop it wherever it's more convenient
  3. Syphon Virtual Screen does seem to make the Mac laggy, so I only recommend turning it on when you actually are using the virtual monitor
  4. If you want to have a similar setup for Windows, use Zonescreen to create a virtual monitor instead of Syphon Virtual Screen. Get it here


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