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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.