One of my most anticipated features in OS X 10.8 "Mountain Lion" ($19.99, Mac App Store) is AirPlay mirroring. Introduced in iOS 5, AirPlay mirroring allows you to mirror your iPad 2 or 3's screen wirelessly to any display with an HDMI input -- flat panel monitors, televisions and projectors -- via a $99 Apple TV. And it's brilliant.
Monday night is "tech night" at my friend's house and we used to take turns plugging our iPads into his flat-panel television (to demo apps and play funny YouTube videos, etc.) with the Apple Digital AV Adapter -- a klunky $40 dongle that connects to the dock connector port on the bottom of the iPad.
AirPlay mirroring does away with the dongle and cable and replaces it with an Apple TV. Instead of "cabling up" to the TV, simply select the Apple TV from the source list and stream video to your TV over Wi-Fi. It's even more useful for giving presentations using a projector.
More: How to use AirPlay Mirroring in Mountain Lion (CNET)
Ever since AirPlay mirroring came out for iPad I've wanted it on my Mac and that's what 10.8 delivers. But with a catch.
With 10.8 Mountain Lion installed you can mirror your Mac display (not just your iPad) to an Apple TV -- great for watching movies from Hulu and network TV websites. It's especially useful for cable cutters without traditional cable service.
The problem is that AirPlay Mirroring will only work with Macs shipped 2011 or later. Here's the requirements from the footnote on Apple's 10.8 features page:
AirPlay Mirroring requires a second-generation Apple TV or later, and is supported on the following Mac models: iMac (Mid 2011 or newer), Mac mini (Mid 2011 or newer), MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or newer), and MacBook Pro (Early 2011 or newer).
(Note that the Mac Pro is noticeably absent despite being revised on June 11, 2012.)
Since the listed Macs are only a year old, a lot of users with older Macs will be excluded from this new feature. Apple's discussion forums are lit up with users howling mad about the snub and "planned obsolescence." (This thread alone has 1,600+ views).
Did Apple put in an artificial restriction to sell more Macs? Or does AirPlay mirroring need the faster CPU/GPU/networking found in newer Macs?
Software like AirParrot ($10) points to a genuine plot by Apple to separate you from your hard-earned money. It works with Snow Leopard (10.6) and Lion (10.7) and with Macs as far back as mid-2009. (You can get a free 10 minute trial from their Website.) The problem is that although it works, performance on older Macs isn't optimal.
Although I love a conspiracy as much as anyone, it looks like Apple's decision might be attributable to a legitimate hardware requirement, or at minimum, a subject judgement call on quality.
The best theory is that Apple uses Intel's Quick Sync Video architecture for AirPlay encoding in Mountain Lion which is why it requires 2011 or newer hardware. Apple doesn't make a habit of releasing features that it knows will result in sub-par performance. As one TidBITS commentor notes "This is the same reason they don't show the water-drop animation if you don't have a graphics card that can reasonably support it."
According to some accounts Intel Quick Sync Video is 5x faster than GPU encoding, and 10x faster than software encoding. So it looks like Apple's restricting AirPlay mirroring in 10.8 to modern Macs to provide the best user possible possible. Imagine that.
It looks like everyone else will have to use AirParrot.