The complete guide to AirPlay

1st May 2011 | 07:00

The complete guide to AirPlay

How to stream movies and music all around your house

The complete guide to AirPlay

AirPlay was originally demoed by Steve Jobs during the announcement of the new Apple TV, but then its memory slipped away. Maybe it was the long wait for iOS 4.2 that dulled its impact, or perhaps it was the lack of AirPlay-compatible devices on the market. Either way, this is a technology to shout about.

While streaming a video from your iPhone to your Apple TV (as shown by Steve) is great, there are many more uses for AirPlay, as you will find out here. This includes the ability to stream music to every room in your home without wires.

Of course, as we mentioned before, there are few AirPlay devices on the market at the moment and they're likely to be fairly expensive when they do arrive, so we've looked at a number of AirPlay alternatives you might want to try out using some kit you may already own.

What is AirPlay?

Apple's first real foray into streaming digital media wirelessly was with the AirTunes technology found within its AirPort Express Base Station. The technology wasn't widely promoted and required a headphone jack running to the line-in port on a compatible speaker system in order to stream music from your Mac.

Then, with the launch of the new Apple TV and iOS 4.2, AirTunes became AirPlay, a more advanced adaptation of the technology that enables the streaming of audio, video and images between computers, iPhones, iPads and TVs without the need for cables.

Previously, companies such as Sonos ruled the home-streaming market but now Apple has made multi-room audio a more affordable option than buying a complete system.

As this feature will explain, you will likely have a number of machines that can help you create a network of AirPlay speakers and devices and, with a little work, you can even bring non-AirPlay devices into the mix.

In layman's terms, AirPlay is a way for you to control the media you play and the devices you play it on from one central location and, most importantly, without wires. For example, let's say you start watching the latest episode of 30 Rock on your iPhone while on the bus. The episode hasn't quite finished by the time you get home so, using AirPlay, you can drop onto the couch and stream the remainder of the episode from your iPhone to your Apple TV.

iPhone

The same applies to music: using AirPlay compatible devices, your Apple TV and available Macs, you can send music to speakers located anywhere in your home or office, even multiple speakers in multiple rooms.

What you'll need

You probably have AirPlay ready to go without knowing it. You'll need the latest iTunes and the most recent iOS software for your devices.

To make sure you're up to date, run Software Update. Next, connect your iPhone, iPod or iPad to your Mac and click on the Check For Update button in the Summary window in iTunes. If there's a new version of the iOS software, download and install it.

Apple tv 2

Finally, if you're using an Apple TV, turn it on and head to the Settings screen. Click on the Update Software option to ensure you're up to date. You should now be AirPlay compatible in the software stakes - now for the hardware side.

The centrepiece of your AirPlay experience will likely be your Mac. From iTunes 10 you can push media to any connected devices such as Apple TV, or compatible third-party speakers. However, there are ways to include non-AirPlay devices.

AirPlay works best using Wi-Fi, so ideally you'll have an existing network set up. However, you can go via Ethernet, but it won't be as impressive as the ability to stream from iPhones, iPods and the iPad.

Assuming you have a Wi-Fi network up and running, the more AirPlay compatible devices you own the better your experience will be.

The simplest setup will be a Mac, Apple TV and iPhone connected to the same network. Using this setup, you'll not only be able to watch movies from your Mac on your Apple TV but you'll also be able to control them with Apple's Remote app for iPhone, as well as stream video to your TV from your iPhone.

And why not add an iPad plus multiple speakers that are AirPlay-compatible or connected via an AirPort Express Base Station? AirPort Express Base Stations appear as AirPlay devices in iTunes, as do compatible hardware devices.

Streaming audio

Once you're connected to various rooms in the house, you can stream to all or some of your speakers. Let's say you're listening to a podcast in front of your Mac and decide to make a cup of tea. Rather than pause the podcast until you return, you can send it via AirPlay to the speakers in your kitchen and continue listening while the kettle boils.

AirPlay is also great for parties, allowing you to stream music to rooms containing compatible speakers. If you're using AirPlay with an AirPort Express Base Station you can even send audio to multiple speakers using an adapter to split the signal into two and run an audio jack to each set of speakers.

As well as accessing your iTunes content and music stored on your iPhone or iPad, you can use music apps such as Pandora to stream music to your AirPlay speakers or Apple TV. And as more and more applications catch on, it won't be long before most radio and music apps can push their media to different rooms in your home.

Streaming video and slideshows

As well as music, you can also stream movies and slideshows from your iPhone or iPad to the Apple TV and, with any luck, we'll soon be seeing AirPlay-compatible digital picture frames as well.

At present there are no AirPlay-enabled video devices on the market, so you're limited to streaming video to your Apple TV-connected HDTV, but there are a number of sources to stream from.

Airplay 2

Firstly, you can send video from iTunes on your Mac straight to your Apple TV without having to search for files via the Apple TV interface. Simply select your Apple TV from the AirPlay menu in iTunes and you're good to go.

Then there's streaming of videos on your iPhone and iPad via AirPlay, as we've discussed already. You can also stream video and audio from YouTube via an iOS device by tapping on the AirPlay icon that appears on the video window. Certain compatible apps can also stream video to Apple TV, including the new iPad newspaper The Daily.

Using an app called AirVideo from InMethod (£1.79), users can even stream video from their Mac to their iPad or iPhone using AirPlay. An app called SlideShow Remote by LogicInMind (£2.99) allows for streaming of Microsoft PowerPoint presentations from iPhone and iPad to Apple TV via AirPlay; another app called Twonky Mobile by PacketVideo (£1.79) offers AirPlay streaming from iPhone, iPad, Mac and even Android devices.

Basically, wherever you see the AirPlay icon you can select a device to stream media to, and thanks to iOS 4.3 there are more apps with this functionality appearing every day.

Controlling AirPlay

To control your AirPlay experience the best method is to use Apple's free Remote app for iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. When connected to the same network as your AirPlay devices, Remote can send music from your iTunes library to speakers, as well as control playback. You can also choose which speakers and devices to send media to and from your iPad.

Airplay 1

Once you've selected the iTunes library you're playing the media from, you can control the volume of each device. Media stored in iTunes can be played from Remote and sent to your Apple TV or speakers. This includes movies, TV shows, podcasts and audiobooks that can be streamed across your home and, if you're in front of your Apple TV, you can choose to control it from your iPhone or iPad using Remote.

The interface makes it easier to browse and search the Apple TV, and you can use touch gestures to move between menus and select media.

Compatible devices and alternate options

Any wireless Apple product will work with AirPlay, but there are some third-party speakers that will also do the job. Because Apple has partnered with a company called BridgeCo, hardware manufacturers are able to license the AirPlay technology from Apple for inclusion in their devices.

Companies such as Denon, who already make use of BridgeCo hardware in their speakers, can update firmware in order to make a device AirPlay compatible and has done so with a number of its products.

Other big players including iHome, Bowers and Wilkins, Klipsch, Marantz and JBL all have AirPlay-enabled speakers in the pipeline that should be available this year. If you're waiting for the launch of compatible AirPlay devices or you don't want to shell out for a new set of speakers in every room, there's a more cost-effective option.

Rogue Amoeba software makes two apps that can harness the features of AirPlay and turn existing speakers into remote devices.

AirFoil provides a similar interface to the AirPlay menu in iTunes and allows you to select speakers and devices including your Mac, Apple TV, speakers connected to AirPort Express Base Stations as well as laptops and other Macs. To turn another Mac into an available speaker you need to run the AirFoil Speakers app so that it can be discovered. Using the line-out socket on this Mac you can then connect to non-AirPlay speakers and stream music to them in the same way you would an AirPlay device.

AirFoil doesn't just handle iTunes music, you can send audio from any app running on your Mac or all system audio to your remote speakers. This is ideal for playing web videos or other streaming content from the web, or using other music apps such as Spotify that don't support AirPlay.

There's also an app for iPhone and iPad called Reemote for Airfoil by Kai Aras (£2.99) that lets you control AirFoil and select which speakers to use as well as control volume and playback. The benefit of using AirFoil with AirPlay and your existing devices is that, with devices you already own, you can create remote speakers without having to buy anything new.

If you're already using wireless speakers that are not AirPlay compatible you can still keep them on your network and use them as normal for streaming web radio and iTunes music, but also use the line-in port to send audio from a computer or Airport Express.

During the writing of this feature our AirPlay only setup included an iMac in the study streamed to a speaker in the kitchen connected via AirPort Express. It also streamed to an Apple TV in the living room, connected to an HDTV and surround sound system, with everything controlled via the Remote app for both iPhone and iPad.

By using AirFoil and AirFoil Speakers, however, we added a speaker in the bathroom and bedroom using a MacBook and a Mac mini. While this isn't an ideal solution, it's possible to connect speakers across your home without having to use AirPlay-enabled devices.

Ideally, a wireless AirPlay speaker in every room should be your first choice as the ease of setup and control is second to none.

Next steps

There's no doubt that AirPlay will continue to develop as Apple adds new software, hardware and features, so now is certainly the time to invest in the technology around your home. Even if you start with a two room setup, you can add more speakers later.

As we mentioned before, an Apple TV or AirPort Express in each room could be a simple way to use existing non-AirPlay speakers in your setup and the dream setup would be an HDTV and Apple TV in each location. With HD displays offered at an affordable price these days, you could kit out a room for less than £200.

The beauty of AirPlay is its flexibility, as you upgrade your iOS devices, television and speakers it will continue to work, even if your home or technology collection grows. The technology is, to quote an Apple term, almost 'magical' in the way it works and, if you hadn't considered it before, take a look at the kit you already own and have a crack at your own multiroom streaming solution.

For tips on sorting out problems with AirPlay, check out the Fix AirPlay tutorial by our colleagues at Tap! magazine.

Live TV on your Mac

With the right kit, you'll be watching and recording TV in no time

We all like to sit back and relax with a good TV show. And thanks to your Mac and some special kit, you can take the experience to another level.

Playlists

If watching, pausing and rewinding live TV on your Mac sounds good, you ain't heard nothing yet. You can get an electronic programme guide (EPG), record programmes, export them to iTunes to play on an iPhone, iPad or Apple TV, and control the setup from your portable Apple device.

Elgato networked tuners

An alternative to the USB tuners is one of Elgato's networked TV tuners, such as the Netstream DTT (£180). Connect it to your aerial, plug an Ethernet lead between it and your Wi-Fi router, and you've got TV anywhere on your home network.

A benefit over USB, is you're not limited to where you watch TV in your house, as your Mac doesn't have to be tied to an aerial all the time. Another great thing about the Netstream DTT is that it's got a twin tuner, meaning two people can watch different channels simultaneously, or you can record one show while you enjoy another.

You need to think about where you're going to put the Netstream DTT, because it needs a direct connection to an aerial and your router. You'll also need an aerial splitter to enable you to leave your existing TV plugged in, since the Netstream DTT doesn't have a coax-out socket.

And with Elgato's £2.99 iOS app, you can connect to and control their TV tuners from anywhere using an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, provided your Mac's running.

Elgato USB tuners

One of the big players in the Mac TV market is Elgato, which makes a range of tuners that plug into a free-to-air TV aerial and connect to one of your Mac's USB ports. There are also products for free-to-air satellite connections, but not for Sky or Virgin Media TV - to watch these services on your Mac, have a look at the Slingbox Pro HD.

Elgato doesn't support UK Freeview HD either. To see a full list of the tuners Elgato offers, have a look at the Elgato site, but the one we particularly like is the EyeTV DTT Deluxe (£70), because it's so small.

As well as a remote control, it comes with two small aerials, and depending on how strong the signal is in your area, these may be enough. If not, you'll need to connect a larger antenna, such as your rooftop one to it, so bear in mind you'll need to be sitting somewhere near an aerial socket.

Getting started with the EyeTV DTT Deluxe is straightforward - you install the gorgeous EyeTV software that comes with the tuner, update to the latest version if necessary, and then work through a step-by-step setup guide. This will help you install the tuner, search for channels and register for your free one-year subscription to the tvtv EPG service, which will give you full programme listings, provided your Mac's connected to the internet.

With everything installed, EyeTV will open automatically when it detects a tuner. You can then watch, pause, rewind and record live TV. Scheduling recordings is a breeze - have a look.

How to record with EyeTV

01. Find your show

step 1

Click the red button to record instantly; it can even go back to the start of the current show. To schedule a recording, press Ctrl+p and select Program Guide. Browse to your show and click the little dot. If you try to record two shows at once, EyeTV will warn you.

02. Schedule it

step 2

Click Schedules in the left column to see what shows you've set up to record. To the right of each programme, you can set to export the video for iPod or iPad, or add it to an EyeTV playlist, which work just like your music lists in iTunes, appearing in the left-hand column.

03. Record entire series

step 3

So that you never miss an episode, you can schedule a whole series to record. In the Programs window, click the + and create a new Smart Guide. Set the search options to find your series and click Options. Tick the Record All Matches box.

equinux

A cheaper alternative to the Elgato USB tuners is the Equinux TubeStick (£40). This plugs into your Mac and aerial to provide live TV on your computer.

TubeStick

Once its software - The Tube - is installed, it detects the USB tuner and searches for channels. It requires activation, and to use it on a different Mac, you need to deactivate the first before it'll work on the second.

Unlike Elgato's EyeTV, it uses the Freeview EPG, so you'll see the same details as on your television. We're less keen on the EPG interface though, where you're initially shown a list of all the shows on now. To browse an individual station, you find one of its programmes in the list and click the channel name.

The Tube adds a social element to TV viewing, too, by incorporating a chat window, where you can message other equinux users who are watching the same programme. Again, you can pause and rewind live TV, while recording is as simple as clicking the dot next to a programme name. You can search for upcoming shows and select which you'd like to record, or schedule a timed recording.

Your saved programmes appear in a simple Library view, from where you can view them or export for iPod, iPhone, AppleTV or iMovie. The LiveTV iOS app (£2.99) enables you to watch TV on your iPhone, provided The Tube is running on your Mac and both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network - though we found it slightly temperamental when it came to connecting the two. There's also TubeToGo (59p), which enables you to schedule recordings on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

The programmes are saved online, but you'll need to set up some kind of storage first - either FTP, MobileMe or local web sharing. Again, your Mac needs to be on and The Tube must be running.

Slingbox

The Slingbox is a versatile bit of kit that harnesses your existing TV setup and makes it available over the internet, so you can connect to it from just about anywhere you can get online.

Rather than offering the recording and EPG services you get with Elgato, it harnesses what you've got and enables you to control it remotely. So if there's a PVR under your TV, set it from your Mac.

Similarly, if you link a Freeview box to it, you'll be able to use its EPG. It'll even mean you can access your Sky or Virgin Media box from your Mac. The top-end Slingboxes have built-in Freeview tuners, so when you watch TV remotely, you won't affect what someone in the living room is watching.

However, if you watch something from your Sky or Virgin box on your Mac, anyone in the living room will see the same channel as you. The whole thing works in a web browser and there are three Slingboxes to choose from - the SOLO (£120), Pro (£160) and Pro HD (£240), and only the top two have the built-in tuner. For more about the differences, see the Slingbox site.

Sling also sells the SlingLink TURBO (£60), which enables you to locate your Slingbox away from your router.

10 Top Apple TV tips

1. Set up Home Sharing

Although the Apple TV is mainly aimed at letting you rent and play movies that you've bought from the iTunes Store, you can also play any iTunes content that is stored on computers on your home network. This includes TV programmes and movies you've bought.

All you have to do is go to the Advanced menu in iTunes and enter your iTunes account details to set up Home Sharing on that computer. Then you can go to your Apple TV and select Settings > Computers and enter the same details.

2. Watch non-iTunes movies and videos

Convert videos

You might have videos in formats other than the ones the Apple TV can play. If you have them stored in iTunes, you can select them then choose Advanced > Create iPad or Apple TV version to convert them to a playable format.

Alternatively, you can use a program such as Handbrake to convert more or less any video format to Apple TV format much more quickly than you can using iTunes.

3. Add metadata quickly and easily

metadata

Your Apple TV will display information about your video content, such as cast and synopsis. You can enter this manually in iTunes, but it's easier to use a program such as MetaX or VideoDrive, which will look up details and enter them into iTunes.

Select batches of videos stored in iTunes and it'll add the info for the files.

4. Watch TV programmes on your Apple TV

The Apple TV doesn't record or receive television signals or catch-up services such as the iPlayer.

However, you can buy episodes of TV shows from the iTunes Store on your Mac, as well as buy one of the many TV tuners from Elgato and Miglia that let you record TV on your Mac, even in HD where available. You can then export your recordings into iTunes in an Apple TV-friendly format.

5. Stream content from your iOS device to an Apple TV using AirPlay

When you're on the same wireless network as an Apple TV, in any AirPlay-compatible app on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch such as the iPod or YouTube apps, a new icon will appear right next to the fast-forward button. It looks like a square with a triangle at the bottom. Press this and it will enable you to play your music or videos on the Apple TV. You can also use AirPlay from within iTunes on any Mac.

6. Display video playlists

By default, the Apple TV won't display your computers' playlists anywhere except in Music. However, if you go into Settings > Audio and Video, selecting All in Show Playlists will let you change this so that your movie and TV show playlists - both regular and smart - will show up as well.

You won't be able to change them on the Apple TV, but any changes in iTunes will be reflected on the Apple TV.

7. Display your photos on the Apple TV

Photo playlist

Once you've enabled Home Sharing, you can also display all your photos on the Apple TV. Go into iTunes and choose Choose Photos to Share… from the Advanced menu. You'll then be able to choose whether you want to share your iPhoto photos or photos stored in a folder on your hard drive.

It's worth creating albums specifically for the Apple TV to use, so that only the best (or least embarrassing) show up.

8. Use your photos as a screensaver

Once you've chosen which photos you want to share, you can replace the built-in screensaver with one made from your photos. Go to Settings > Screen Saver then click Photos. As well as Flickr and MobileMe galleries, you'll be able to select a computer and pick which photos you want to use for the screensaver. There are also different styles of screensaver to pick from.

9. Easier searching with your YouTube account

Accessing YouTube from the Apple TV is easy. However, the Apple TV remote and onscreen keyboard isn't the best way of searching for videos. You can save yourself a lot of time by using your Mac to find videos then saving them as favourites in your Google or YouTube account.

You'll then be able to access them immediately by logging in using the same account on your Apple TV. You'll also have access to your YouTube subscriptions as well.

10. Fixing problems

Restart

Although the Apple TV is very reliable, sometimes problems can occur. Running Software Update from the Settings menu may reveal a fix if the software is out of date and even give you new features.

However, if something more serious is happening, you can bring up a menu that will let you run diagnostics and restore it to its factory settings - hold down the Menu and down buttons on your remote control for a few seconds until it restarts.

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First published in MacFormat Issue 233

Liked this? Then check out How to find missing iTunes album artwork

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