AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

Summary:However, AirPlay's new video streaming capability is a powerful and disruptive technology that has the potential to shake up the broadcasting model as it presently exists.

Now that iOS 4.2 is out there's a lot of talk about its most important new feature: AirPlay.

The new second-generation Apple TV (September 2010) can receive audio and video streams from iOS devices and Macs and display them on a display connected via HDMI.

The audio part isn't groundbreaking (AirPlay audio streaming has been in the Apple TV since 2007 and in the AirPort Express since 2004) however, AirPlay's new video streaming capability is a powerful and disruptive technology that has the potential to shake up the broadcasting model as it presently exists.

To see what works and what doesn't with AirPlay video streaming I tested an iPhone (iOS 4.2.1), a MacBook Pro (Mac OS 10.6.5) and a second-generation Apple TV (4.1) connected to an HDTV via HDMI. This is what the iPhone UI looks like:

What works:

I was able to stream several types of video wirelessly from the iPod app on iOS to the Apple TV, including:

  • Movies – Toy Story 3, digital copy that came with the Blu-Ray
  • TV Shows – Transworld Snowboarding episode
  • Video podcasts – MacBreak video podcast
  • Some TV episodes that I converted with Handbrake
  • YouTube app – Much easier to navigate than Apple TV's native YouTube app

Movies, TV shows, video podcasts and Handbrake converted files also streamed from iTunes 10.1 for Mac OS to the Apple TV without any issues. SD and HD movies rented and purchased from iTunes stream wirelessly according to Macworld, although I haven't tried any yet.

What doesn't work:

  • iPhone-shot videos – This is a major oversight, I suspect that this will be fixed soonish
  • VLC videos – While you'll see the temping button for sharing, don't get your hopes up. VLC only streams audio to the Apple TV with the files that I tested
  • Most video apps – Hulu Plus, MLB.TV and Netflix don't work, although Apple TV has a native Netflix app
  • Videos embedded in Safari running on iOS

While it's definitely cool to be able to stream video to an Apple TV, the amount of video protocols and apps that are supported is far too limited in its current form. AirPlay needs to support for many more video codecs and accept streaming from third party video apps on iOS (i.e. Hulu) and Mac OS X (i.e. VLC) if it's going to live up to its potential.

AirPlay feels a little rushed and (obviously) isn't fully implemented. Apple probably had to defer on a few features in order to meet to promised November deadline. Let's hope that Apple continues to pursue this promising new technology. Someone will unleash more video streaming options for AirPlay, it's just a question of if it will be Apple or the Jailbreak community.

For a deeper dive on AirPlay check out Macworld's AirPlay hands-on and John Gruber's thoughts on AirPlay limits.

What are your thoughts on AirPlay? Could it help you "cut the cord" with your cable company?

Topics: Apple, Enterprise Software, iOS, iPhone, Mobile OS, Developer


Jason D. O'Grady developed an affinity for Apple computers after using the original Lisa, and this affinity turned into a bona-fide obsession when he got the original 128 KB Macintosh in 1984. He started writing one of the first Web sites about Apple (O'Grady's PowerPage) in 1995 and is considered to be one of the fathers of blogging.... Full Bio

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