What is Apple AirPlay, anyway?
Airplay® is a proprietary wireless media streaming system developed by Apple for use with devices that use iTunes® 10 (such as a computer, or iPhone), and a variety of compatible audio and video components, such as receivers, and powered speaker systems. This system can operate either through Wi-Fi® or Bluetooth® wireless protocols. AirPlay lets you stream audio. photos, and video from your iPhone®, iPod touch®, iPad®, or networked computer with iTunes®10 to a second generation Apple TV. It also lets you stream audio only to AirPlay-enabled speakers and receivers.
If you use iTunes to organize your media library, AirPlay can be an extremely simple and convenient way to play music or video from iTunes wirelessly through your audio/video system. You can connect all compatible systems in your home through AirPlay and have separate volume control for each linked speaker system, and choose which speakers to send audio to. Basically, AirPlay lets you put together a whole-house media system without running wires. And because AirPlay is part of iTunes 10, you can play audio, select which speakers to use and control their volume from any compatible device, such as your laptop, iPhone, or iPad.
What does AirPlay work with?
The family of products with AirPlay continues to grow.
Through AirPlay you can stream audio, photos, and video content from:
- An iPad
- An iPhone (must be 3GS or later)
- An iPod touch (must be 2nd generation or later)
- Your WiFi-enabled computer (either Mac or PC), if it’s running iTunes® 10.1 or later. The computer can either have Wi-Fi built in, or be connected to a wireless router.
You can only stream from a hand-held device to one AirPlay receiving device at a time. But with your computer, you can stream to multiple AirPlay receivers.
Through AirPlay you can stream audio, photos and video to:
- A second-generation Apple TV (must use software version 4.1 or later)
Through AirPlay you can stream audio only to:
- Routers, such as the AirPort Express
- Audio/video components, such as select receivers from Denon or Marantz
- Powered speaker systems, such as the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air and the Klipsch® Gallery™ G-17 Air
How do you control AirPlay?
All of the controls for AirPlay are integrated into iTunes 10.1 (or later), as well as the operating systems of the compatible devices. Let’s walk through some examples:
Setting up and using an AirPlay system from your computer
Click on the AirPlay icon at the bottom right of the iTunes window.
iTunes finds all the AirPlay components in your home and lists them in a drop-down menu. Just select the device you would like to stream your content to.
If you want to stream to multiple speakers simultaneously, select multiple speakers and adjust the volumes accordingly. In the example below, we’ve selected “this computer” so we can continue to listen on our PC even as the audio is streamed to other devices.
The Master Volume control adjusts the volume of all linked components the same. It’s best to make sure you have the volume of iTunes lowered before enabling AirPlay connections. If not, you could possibly overdrive some of your connected speakers, resulting distorted sound, or possibly damage to the drivers.
If for some reason, you don’t see any AirPlay devices on your network (even though you own some), be sure to check “Settings” under iTunes Preferences to make sure you have AirPlay enabled.
If you’re streaming audio files — like those in your music library — iTunes will stream it to a compatible device. At the time of this writing, photos and video can only be streamed to an Apple TV. But you can watch video on your device (computer, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch) and stream its audio through AirPlay to a speaker system or receiver.
Streaming audio and video from an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch
Look for the AirPlay icon in the lower right of the app. In the example below, we’re streaming a song from an iPod.
Here’s an example of a YouTube video being streamed from an iPod touch to an Apple TV. Note the appearance of the AirPlay icon at the right letting you know you have that streaming option.
Photos also can be streamed to an Apple TV.
In this case, the icon is in the upper right of the app, but the results are the same. Select it, and your photos will be streamed to an Apple TV. In addition to still photos, you can also stream slideshows from your device.
Things to remember:
You can control the volume of the audio streaming.
You can run other apps on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch while its streaming content through AirPlay. But the audio for whatever apps you’re running will also be streamed. So, for example, if you’re playing a game while listening to a song, the sound effects and music of the game will also come through your speakers along with your tune.
If you have an iPad or iPhone 4S you can also do AirPlay Mirroring. Using AirPlay, your device streams what’s on its screen to your TV screen through an Apple TV. You can zoom in on images, and change from landscape to portrait and your TV will “mirror” the changes.
Wi-Fi vs. Bluetooth
AirPlay prefers Wi-Fi, but can use Bluetooth when Wi-Fi isn’t available. The receiving device must support Bluetooth audio streaming protocol A2DP. When you stream content using Wi-Fi , sometimes there can be an initial delay of approximately two seconds while the content buffers. There is no buffer delay with Bluetooth.
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