AirParrot: Mac OS X hits the Big Screen

With the recent announcement of OS X Mountain Lion, Apple decided to bring AirPlay Mirroring functionality to the Mac. While that’s exciting to look forward to down the road, an alternative app, AirParrot, has come out of the woodwork promising to be even better than Apple’s own solution.

Does AirParrot stand a chance against Mountain Lion or should you just wait until that latter’s summer release? Read on!

Overview

You can customize many of the features within AirParrot

You can customize many of the features within AirParrot

The promise of AirParrot is very simple – as the developer puts it, “your Mac’s screen, on your AppleTV”. To accomplish that goal, AirParrot uses some AirPlay hackery, which generally works pretty well.

Since AirPlay works over wifi, a strong, preferably 802.11 N connection is a prerequisite. Within the settings of that app you’ll find some reasonably robust controls, including options to control underscan, video quality, frame rate, and resolution. In addition, AirParrot gives you three ways to output content to your AppleTV, which really make it stand out from the crowd. Here’s a quick overview of each:

  1. Mirroring – this is your standard fare, and comparable to what Apple is releasing with Mountain Lion. It displays whatever is on your Mac’s screen in an exact copy (hence, mirroring). Unless your Mac’s screen is running at 720p or 1080p, the image won’t fill the full screen. This is a good choice for giving presentations or demos where you need to broadcast your screen.
  2. Extended Desktop – this basically turns your AppleTV into a second monitor for your Mac. Your AppleTV will even show up as a second display in System Preferences allowing you to adjust position, resolution, etc. Moreover, if you set the resolution correctly, the image will fill the entire screen. This is a great solution if you want to do work on your Mac and watch a video on your TV.
  3. Specific App – this is a bit of a beta-esque feature. It allows you to send an individual app to your AppleTV in fullscreen. You can’t minimize the app of your choice, and while it will still work if you pull the focus away from the app, your mouse will still be overlaid on the screen, so you should remember to disable the mouse cursor in AirParrot’s settings. This also works well for watching video or just putting an auxiliary app on the big screen.

You also have the ability to stream audio to your AppleTV, which is a nice value-add for anyone with a good home theater setup, although there’s no audio only option, which would be nice. All things considered, AirParrot is pretty well feature-packed for only $10.

Limitations and Performance

AirParrot works in the Menu Bar

AirParrot works in the Menu Bar

Despite it’s lengthy feature-set, AirParrot is still limited in a few areas. First of all, performance leaves something to be desired. My Core i5 Macbook Pro with an SSD and 8GB of RAM even had trouble powering AirParrot alongside basic apps like a web browser or video player.

While running AirParrot, my system became laggy with tasks as simple as text entry. Unfortunately, using AirParrot to watch a Hulu video on my AppleTV while browsing the web on my Macbook only was an acceptable experience at medium-to-low performance settings. Luckily, audio was pretty well in sync throughout the video.

In short – if don’t mind just hard-wiring your Mac to the TV, you’ll get a far better experience. That being said, if you value the cordless experience as I do, you should be ready and willing to overlook the decreased performance and video quality. As I mentioned before, there’s no way to stream audio only, which would have made the app pretty killer.

AirParrot is also a bit quirky, in my time with the app I was consistently annoyed by the fact that you can’t connect-on-startup, meaning that you’ll have to do some configuration, however minimal, before you’ve got video on your AppleTV. All-in-all, though AirParrot’s features outweigh it’s limitations.

Comparison to Mountain Lion

Whenever an operating system update comes along, a developer’s worst fear is that the functionality of their app will become integrated into the system. Unfortunately for the developers of AirParrot, it would seem that Apple has done just that with their announcement of AirPlay mirroring in OS X Mountain Lion.

In my time with Mountain Lion I found that Apple’s own AirPlay Mirroring functionality surpassed that of AirParrot in both quality and performance. Moreover, setup is drastically more user friendly in comparison to AirParrot.

Nonetheless, you shouldn’t be prepared to relegate AirParrot to the garbage-bin. In the short term, AirParrot is available right now versus a summer release of OS X Mountain Lion. In addition, at only $10 it’s still cheaper and easier than performing an OS upgrade. Looking forward, though, there’s still a place for AirParrot in the market. Since the app offers the ability to extend your display as well as mirror a specific app, many people will still find it infinitely more useful than Apple’s own solution. So while many people won’t need the extended functionality of AirParrot, there’s no reason to believe that it’ll be going away any time soon.

Wrap-Up

When I bought my AppleTV a few months ago, AirParrot was the app I was most looking forward to using. The dream of watching Hulu on the big screen so seamlessly seemed almost to good to be true, and while AirParrot’s performance does leave something to be desired, I’m still largely in love with the app.

Of course, if you don’t mind only being able to mirror your display, waiting for Mountain Lion isn’t a bad idea, but for those of us who want to take full advantage of the awesome trio that is Mac OS X, AirPlay, and the AppleTV – AirParrot is well worth the nominal $10 price of admission.


Summary

AirParrot displays your Mac's screen on your AppleTV via AirPlay. While the next version of OS X includes much of the app's functionality, power users will appreciate the extra capabilities.

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  • http://bit.ly/libbster Joe

    I think that Apple finally deciding to bring this technology to the mac natively was a great decision, although I would also like to see this coming for mac to mac screen mirroring. Great article!

  • http://www.metzener.com/ Dave M.

    Thanks for bringing this info to light! I have been looking for a better way to watch WebOnly Hulu shows on my 42″ big screen TV. This application lets me do this without any real issues. Sure, it chews up CPU power like crazy, but I’m still able to watch a show without any real issues on my 2006 Mac Pro.

  • Remon Pel

    I purchased AirParrot a few weeks ago along with AirServer. This way I can push my screen to another mac, for example, one connected to our projection setup. No more switching of cables. I love it.

    Your article states “The mountain Lion setup is much more user friendly.” I don’t understand how that is possible; AirParrot is: start it, select your output device from the menu and done. Sure, for display mirroring and audio output, a one time install and reboot is needed. Big deal :) I would love to hear how the setup under ML is much easier.

    • http://bit.ly/libbster Joe

      It’s Apple. I’m sure it is sleek and sexy.

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      It just hangs out in your menubar like another display at it’s one click to start mirroring. Both are easy, but Apple’s integration from startup is pretty killer!

  • Remon Pel

    Oh, and btw. To just push audio to your airplay receiver (Be it speakers, Apple TV or AirServer (and I believe the creators of AirParrot now also have software to make an AirPlay receiver of your mac), you can use AirFoil.
    Links:
    AirFoil: http://rogueamoeba.com/airfoil/ (Sends audio to airplay)
    AirServer: http://www.airserverapp.com/ (Receive audio/video as airplay device)
    AirParrot: http://www.airparrot.com/ (Mirror display to Airplay device, audio optional)
    Reflection: http://www.reflectionapp.com/ (Receive audio/video as airplay device)
    And to top it off:
    Printopia: http://www.ecamm.com/mac/printopia/ AirPrint software – allows iOS devices to print to your printers or to a pdf on your computer

  • http://www.mactexan.com Joe Kelley

    AirParrot works as advertised, but some NVidia-equipped MacBook pros (like my mid 2009 5,2) develop some buggy behavior in 10.7. After installing AirParrot I lost the ability to drag-n-drop. The “drag” part worked just fine, but the mouse wouldn’t let go of the file or folder when I tried to drop it. I would have to press to cancel the operation. There’s a pretty long discussion in the Apple support forums concerning AirParrot and other apps like it (i.e. AirDisplay) that hook into the video driver at such a low level. I’m sad about having to get rid of AirParrot (and a few .kext files that come with it) because there’s tons of reasons to send a Mac’s screen to an AppleTV. I’ll just wait for 10.8.

  • http://www.macbookairreview.net Eric G

    I’m really looking forward to trying out AirParrot. Despite some of the minor problems I’ve heard of (like Joe’s above), I’ll be getting this soon.

  • Max

    @Joe Kelley: Airplay don’t work with your MacBook Pro -> http://www.apple.com/osx/specs/

    AirPlay Mirroring

    Requires a second-generation Apple TV or later. Supports the following Mac models:

    iMac (Mid 2011 or newer)
    Mac mini (Mid 2011 or newer)
    MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or newer)
    MacBook Pro (Early 2011 or newer)

    • Vince

      i couldn’t believe it and i think it’s all about marketing and selling strategy

  • Vince

    IMPORTANT:
    I’m a little bit disapointed of AirParrot because i can’t have a fullscreen mirroring on my tv and the quality isn’t hd. So i was pretty eccited as i read about Mountain Lion. I thought, this would be the solution for my macbookpro (early 2010) BUT and this is what will let AirParrot for a few more years on the market, Airplay-Mirror will only work on newer Apple Products (look at the tech. specs. on the apple website). In my case, i’ll have to buy a macbookpro from early 2011 or newer if i will use this function. So it’s a very disapointing situation.

  • Darren

    I have a Macbook Pro from Mid 2010 running ML. Only Macs from 2011 can Airplay so Airparrot works just great for me.

    Great article thanks!

  • Jannik

    The best thing about Airparrot is that it works with older Mac’s as well. I have a medio 2010 iMac and even though I don’t find it that old the Airplay mirroring that comes with ML does not support this model. So Airparrot is my only option if I want to display my desktop on my TV.

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