The new AirPlay feature in iOS 4.2 lets you stream audio, video and images to a new Apple TV, from iTunes 10 running on a computer or from an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch running iOS4.2. Unfortunately iPhone 2G and 3G owners have been left out in the cold, as have owners of the old hard drive-equipped Apple TVs. You need to spend $AU129 on the new tiny hard drive-less Apple TV to use AirPlay with an iOS device.
As is often the case with Apple, using AirPlay is incredibly easy but there are a few annoying catches. Airplay is enabled by default on the new Apple TV, once you’ve installed the Apple TV 4.1 software update, but you can dip into the menus to disable it or just add password protection.
To play a video to the Apple TV you just open the iPod app on your iPhone/iPod, or the Videos app on the iPad. Choose your video, press play and then tap the screen to call up the options. Next to the fast forward button you’ll see the new AirPlay icon - a rectangle with a triangle inside. Tap it and you’re presented with a drop-down list of local Airport Expresses (marked with a speaker icon) and new Apple TVs (marked with a television icon). You can either play the audio to speakers attached to an AirPort Express while you watch the video on your device, or you can play the audio and video to a television attached to the new Apple TV. Remember that Apple stripped out the component video and analogue audio outputs on the new Apple TV, so you’re restricted to HDMI and digital optical audio.
Music and Photos
Streaming music and photos to the new Apple TV works the same way, choose your content and then tap the AirPlay icon to choose your output device. You can flick through your photos or run a slideshow with music playing in the background, but iPad owners will find transitions restricted to dissolve only. Thanks to multi-tasking, you can start a video playing on the television and then check your email or browse the web. Once a movie is playing you can control it from your iGadget or from the Apple TV’s remote. Streaming video also works from the YouTube app while the streaming audio works with apps such as Orb and Air Video, but you can’t simultaneously stream to two devices using different apps. Once you’ve engaged streaming using the iPod app it’s often possible to pause the music, switch to another app and stream its audio.
One disappointment is that you can’t stream audio to multiple speakers (a pain if you want to run multi-room audio for a party). You’re also not presented with the old Apple TV as a speaker option, which seems stingy considered it still works from iTunes. If you’re streaming video from iTunes you’re not offered the option of just streaming the audio to a speaker while watching on your computer - it’s audio and video to new Apple TV or nothing.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that you can’t stream videos you’ve captured using your iPhone to the new Apple TV, only videos you’ve copied to the device using iTunes. The limitation is probably due to the fact videos are captured as .mov files. To stream your own video clips you’ll need to copy them to your computer, import them into iTunes as .m4v or .mp4 files and then copy them back to the phone.
When it comes to picture quality, streaming from an iPad or iPhone 4 isn’t quite on par with streaming from a Mac via Home Sharing - but it’s pretty close. Even on a 46-inch Bravia you have to look pretty closely to see the difference. Once you become engrossed in the content you’ll soon forget that it’s streaming from a gadget.
Despite its few shortcomings, AirPlay is a very handy addition to the Apple home ecosystem. It’s just a shame that Apple TV early adopters have been left in the cold.