AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

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.

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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, Apps, iOS, iPhone, Mobile OS, Operating Systems

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33 comments
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  • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

    The one I think is missing is streaming over the air to a Mac or PC running iTunes. I can hook up a cable and play the file, why can't iTunes be an Airplay receiver too?
    chromeronin
    • maybe because you can already play all that stuff on your mac anyway?

      @chromeronin - you sync your iOS device with iTunes so everything that you're going to stream back to the computer already contains that stuff.. there will be some limited utility but streaming back to a computer is probably the least useful of the directions to stream...
      doctorSpoc
      • Unless you have more than one computer ...

        @doctorSpoc
        My iTunes Library exists in its entirety only on my MacPro. Rather than having a TV in my bedroom, if I want to watch video in there I use Windows7 on my CyberPower 17in laptop. If I want to stream from my MacPro to the laptop through iTunes I can do that easily.
        OTOH if my MacPro is turned off, there is a power outage for example, <i>or if I just don't want it on and sucking up electrons 24x7,</i> it would be <i>very convenient</i> to be able to stream a movie on my iPhone to the larger laptop screen.

        Unfortunately, Apple hasn't enabled that feature AFAIK. Maybe in iOS 4.3?
        use_what_works_4_U
      • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

        @doctorSpoc Actually it is useful. I have a mini in the living room, Airport Express upstairs and back room, now let's say I'm listening to something on the iPhone when I come home, I can then stream everywhere _but_ the living room, that's where the best sound system is! :) And no I don't have enough ports (amp or TV) to put an Apple TV in the living room, so iTunes as a reciever would be awesome!
        brunerd
  • Why did Apple go proprietary?

    Why couldn't they use DLNA?

    Streaming from iPhone to PS3 or Xbox360 would be far more compelling to most people than being stuck with Apple TV. Although Apple TV is cheap, it's a pretty weak product. (No 1080p? No storage?)

    We often hear Steve Jobs harp on about standards (HTML5 over Flash etc.) but there is an established standard that Apple completely ignored.
    Stark_Industries
    • You need to ask?

      @Stark_Industries
      [i]Streaming from iPhone to PS3 or Xbox360 would be far more compelling to most people than being stuck with Apple TV.[/i]

      Apple makes no money from you streaming to PS3s or XBoxes. Apple only makes money if you buy Apple products. Hence, leverage one product to force your victi... um... consumers to buy yet another! Come on Stark, it's only $99!!! Had Apple gone with well established standards, they couldn't force people to buy what is probably Apple's worst product: AppleTV.

      The good thing is that AirPlay, as it turns out, is useless anyway. For the billions of people out there who are not going to buy an AppleTV, have no fear. You aren't missing anything important.
      NonZealot
      • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

        @NonZealot
        That's exactly my point. I would be more inclined to buy/rent stuff from iTunes if I could stream to my existing useful hardware such as my PS3 and Xbox 360. (Current iTunes spend = $0.)

        Heck, if Apple TV supported DLNA, I might even buy a couple to connect to the kid's TVs so I could stream their TV shows to them.

        I guess it's Xbox 360 arcades all round then. At least Xbox works with Windows Media Center, run 1080p and have built in DVD players.
        Stark_Industries
      • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

        @NonZealot
        How about you comment on the fact that you declared iOS4.2 was vapourware.
        DeusXMachina
      • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

        @NonZealot

        Nobody is "forced" to buy anything. Go back to your Windows Media Player and leave us alone.
        jorjitop
    • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

      @Stark_Industries
      AppleTV can do this if you also invest in ATVFlash, which comes with Boxee and xbmc, which both to DLNA. Of course ATVFlash only currently works on the old Apple TV, which IMHO is a better value than the new one (unless you require NetFlix)
      SomeGuyNamedJay
  • This is painfully obvious

    [i]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.[/i]

    Yes, this update is totally unfinished. AirPrint was supposed to allow you to print to any printer. Now it turns out that 99.999% of the people out there will need to buy a new printer to get it to work. AirPlay was supposed to be a magical and revolutionary feature yet no one can tell me what it allows you to do that you couldn't do [b]easier[/b] before. This update deletes iTunes libraries, bricks iOS devices, slows down Safari and all of this after multiple delays and multiple "GOLD" masters.
    NonZealot
    • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

      @NonZealot: Can you point me to a source for "bricks iOS devices"? Have not gotten any reports of such.

      "what you couldn't do easier before" You mean, like go over to a friend's house and play a movie on their Apple TV from your iPad or iPhone? You couldn't do that at all, full stop. Now you can.

      "Now it turns out that 99.999% of the people out there will need to buy a new printer to get it to work."

      Or a $9 third party application (Printopia or FingerPrint). Or wait a few weeks for the 10.6.6 update. Or use the free Airprint Hacktivator. It's annoying, yes, but not a showstopper.
      MikeTRose
      • Great apology reply!

        @MikeTRose
        [i]Can you point me to a source for "bricks iOS devices"? Have not gotten any reports of such.[/i]

        http://discussions.apple.com/category.jspa?categoryID=201

        Several in there. Probably a lot more that have been deleted by Apple. They've been caught deleting forum posts before.

        [i]You mean, like go over to a friend's house and play a movie on their Apple TV from your iPad or iPhone? You couldn't do that at all, full stop. Now you can.[/i]

        LOL!!! So all your friends need to buy AppleTVs to support your iDevice!!! Hilarious!!! Maybe you and your friends all circle jerk to Apple but I don't know a single person here who has an AppleTV. Which means that if you want to watch content from your iDevice on your friend's TV, you need to do it the old fashioned way: bring an AV cable. So yes, you [b]could[/b] do that before, full stop.

        [i]Or a $9 third party application (Printopia or FingerPrint). Or wait a few weeks for the 10.6.6 update.[/i]

        Got it. So I need to either employ one of several hacks to get this working as was promised to us a while ago, or I need to wait until the feature is actually complete. Both prove that this release was rushed. I still laugh at this thought that Apple has just eliminated the need for printer drivers... as long as you are using 1 of 5 HP printers!!!!!!!
        NonZealot
      • Maybe not on their Apple TV

        @MikeTRose Since they don't own them, but I can plug my iPod into the dock they have hooked up and play whatever I want from it on their TV....without an Apple TV. Just like I plug the iPod Touch into mine in the bedroom to watch movies. Easy as you please actually.
        condelirios
      • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

        @NonZealot: Sorry you're working through your personal issues here on the board -- didn't realize I was jumping into a therapy session, I thought this was about technology. My bad, clearly.

        "you need to do it the old fashioned way: bring an AV cable." That won't work with iTunes-purchased content on the iPad, as the VGA output isn't HDCP clean. Before you raise the "Apple Evil LOL DRM haxxors rule" flag, keep in mind that Apple's not driving the bus on HDCP, the content providers are.

        It's really fascinating how "this product isn't right for me" translates to "this product isn't for ANYONE" and then to "Apple sucks, this should have made my toast and brought me my slippers, you all are mindless sheep." Just because you can't see any utility in 4.2 doesn't mean it's not there.
        MikeTRose
    • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

      @NonZealot I can print to both my HP printers just fine using AirPrint....

      Maybe the problem is you, you have griped from day one about iOS 4.2 and declared it vaporware, now that it's out to the masses you are still griping.

      How about you just get a Windows tablet PC and shut up and go away.
      cyberslammer2
    • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

      @NonZealot

      Just ignore nonZealot. He was either abused as a child or is a paid troll. (I think both)
      thofts
      • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

        @thofts It's okay, I showed up and he ran away....
        cyberslammer2
    • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

      @NonZealot

      Airprint works with every shared printer with a simple app. My guess is that it might have some bugs with some printers or some particular configs that is why they don?t implement it yet for all printers. As for airplay it is very useful if you own an Airport express too. DLNA, I have it on my Samsung 7500 LED, never got it to work with a mac or a PC win7 at least a few months ago I tried. So much for an open product...
      ∞Dilemma
    • RE: AirPlay video: what works and what doesn't

      @NonZealot
      I bought an Apple TV to put at my parents house where non of my media is at. Now when I travel there, I can play all kinds of stuff directly on the TV from my IOS and Mac hardware without connecting any wires.

      On top of that, I regularly publish family activity videos to my mobile me account, and now I can call my parents and tell them to look for something and they can just switch to the AppleTV and watch it without having to huddle over the computer.

      That's a big win for me. It greatly simplifies what's possible given what I already have.
      greggwon@...