Use Chromecast Or Apple TV to Setup A Live Photo Feed That Can Be Updated During An Event

For the first time ever, I decided to throw a New Years Eve party at my house. My girlfriend and I invited a bunch of our friends and family and everyone had a great time. But, if  you know me, you know I wasn’t content with just any old house party. I rigged up a setup so that I could display photos taken from my phone during the party on the big screen TV in the living room, and any of our guests could, too. They’d display for 5 seconds each, then change, in an ongoing slideshow that grew ever-longer throughout the night.

To do this, you need the following things:

- Desktop or Laptop computer (Windows or Mac OS X)
- iPhone or Android smartphone
- Dropbox
- Wireless Network
- Apple TV or Google Chromecast

Regardless of whether you’re a Mac or Windows user, or an iPhone or Android user (or a combination of both, like me), this setup will work for you. You might need to do a little tweaking from my instructions, but that’ll all be on the software side of things.

Whether you’re tech savvy or not, here’s a rough schematic of what you’ll ultimately be creating.

dropbox-photo-slideshow

First, get your Apple TV or Google Chromecast connected to your TV and ensure that it’s configured on your WiFi network. If you’re reading this, you probably already have this step done.

Second, download Dropbox on your smartphone (Android download link // iPhone download link) and your computer (Windows download link // Mac OS X download link) and sign in so you’re at the root directory of your Dropbox account.

Third, create a new folder on Dropbox just for your event. This ensures none of your private files (or photos you don’t want shown to everyone) get seen. Call it whatever you want, the name doesn’t matter.

Fourth, go to your computer and modify your desktop background properties.

  • If you’re using Windows 7, go to Control Panel > Personalization > Desktop Background. From there, set the “Picture Location” to “Pictures Library” and click ‘Browse’. Then navigate to your Dropbox folder and set the sub-folder you created in the last step as your location. This is telling Windows to use photos JUST from this folder to display as your desktop background. Lastly, set the duration length for how long each photo should display in the drop down menu at the bottom of the window. 10 seconds is what I’d recommend. (Need help? Here’s a screenshot of what this step looks like in Windows 7.)
  • If you’re using Mac OS X, go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver and click the ‘Desktop’ tab. From there, click the ‘+’ sign in the lower left-hand corner to add a new location. Browse to your Dropbox folder and set the sub-folder you created in the last step as your location. This is telling OS X to use photos JUST from this folder to display as your desktop background. Lastly, check the box next to ‘Change Picture’ and set the duration length for how long each photo should display in the drop down menu. I prefer 5 or 10 seconds. So your slideshow doesn’t get dull, I’d also recommend checking the box next to ‘Random Order’. This will shuffle your photos. (Need help? Here’s a screenshot of what this step looks like in OS X.)

Fifth, mirror your computer desktop to your TV using Chromecast or Apple TV.

  • If you’re using Chromecast, you’ll need to have the Google Chrome browser (download link) installed on your computer, as well as the Chromecast extension (download link). Once you have these installed, click the Chromecast extension in Chrome (next to the URL address bar) and select the drop down arrow so you can cast the entire screen, not just one browser tab. If you’ve done this step correctly, you should now see a mirrored image of your computer screen on the TV.
  • If you’re using Apple TV, you’ll need to mirror your computer screen to the Apple TV. You enable mirroring with the Display menu on the taskbar. If you need additional help with this step, see the Apple Support documentation, here. If you’ve done this step correctly, you should now see a mirrored image of your computer screen on the TV.

Sixth, let’s run a quick test — Start adding photos to the Dropbox directory you created in Step 3. Within a few seconds, they should start rotating on the desktop background. I’d recommend clearing all the icons and clutter so you get the full effect of the photo on the TV. If this is successful, move to the next step to configure your phone.

Seventh, take a few photos from your phone and upload them to the Dropbox sub-folder we created in Step 3 above. Your phone doesn’t need to be connected to your home WiFi network for this to work, but in the interest of speed (and your data plan), I’d recommend it.

  • For iPhone, you’ll need to go into the Dropbox app, navigate to the sub-folder, then upload your photos from your Camera Roll. Going forward, you won’t have to navigate to that sub-folder every time you upload.
  • For Android, you can click the ‘Share’ button inside your Gallery app and then choose Dropbox. Navigate to your sub-folder and click ‘Add’. Going forward, you won’t have to navigate to that folder each time you upload.

android-ios-dropbox-upload

Remember: every photo in the Dropbox sub-folder will display on your TV. Be careful what you upload!

Eighth, set your screensaver and sleep timer to ‘Never’. If your screensaver kicks on or your computer goes to sleep, it’ll kill the mirroring on the TV and your slideshow will die.

Optional: If you want your friends to be able to upload photos that they’ve taken on their own phones, setup your Dropbox account to allow public uploads and use this site, DBinbox.com. It will create a new sub-folder in your Dropbox directory called “dbinbox.” From there, you’ll need to move the photos your friends upload to the sub-folder you created for your party, but you won’t need to download / re-upload anything. Moving them to the sub-folder for the party will make them appear on your TV.

That’s it! If you’ve followed these steps correctly, you should be able to snap photos from your phone, upload them to your Dropbox account and have them display on your TV in real-time as your party rolls on. If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter: @mbchp. If you want to see my setup in action, complete with Spotify streaming music wirelessly to my home theater via AirPlay, check out the video below.

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You should follow Mike on Twitter for more great tech insights and good conversation. Be sure to say hello! You can also keep up with Mike on his personal blog: MikeBeauchamp.me, on Facebook, or on Google+.

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  • bubs0102

    I don’t see why you even need the drop box step. if you want to rotate the images onto your windows desktop, you can do it from any folder on your PC.

  • Edy

    Seems like real time photos will not synch in the folder created for this

  • hopeful

    Seems to only upload photos once.