AirPlay is a fantastic feature if you want to listen to a podcast wirelessly on your home speakers or watch a film that’s available only on Amazon Prime Video (which is not included with the Apple TV). However, it is missing one feature: the ability to stream from your iPhone to your Mac, rather than a TV. This could be handy if you use your iMac as a TV and want to play your movies and games on the big screen, or don’t want to take your iPhone out of your pocket to listen to a podcast while in the coffee shop (because you didn’t buy Instacast on both platforms).
There has long been a solution available, properly titled AirServer. The thing is, we never got around to reviewing it here at Mac.AppStorm, so today I’m going to do just that. Is the little utility worth the price and does it do everything that’s promised?
Setup is Quick and Easy
You’d usually expect a utility like this to have a short setup process, but all you really have to do is drag and drop the .app file into your Applications folder. It doesn’t even present a setup screen when you first launch it. Instead, it’s a menu bar app with a few options here and there. The app employs its own pane in System Preferences for changing things like the computer name, sound and display devices to be used, and optimization.
Protection for Public Networks
If you choose to keep your AirServer open all the time, which is the best idea since it’ll always be ready for you, it’s best to set a password so people can’t just start sending content to your screen in a coffee shop or library. This can be done easily by going to the app’s preferences pane and selecting a password option in the General tab.
If you don’t have a router near you, use your own private network for AirServer by creating one on your Mac and connecting to it with your iPhone.
I really like how there are “Onscreen Password” and “Onscreen Passcode” options to make the process more like pairing a Bluetooth device than connecting to a wireless network. You can set a fixed password, but it’s a lot easier to have the app display a special code each time you connect a device. One problem with this feature is it doesn’t save each device, so you have to re-enter the password if you disconnect from the network. Still, it’s worth turning on when you’re on a public network. You can always have the app ask you each time a device requests connection to your AirServer, which is a good alternative.
Audio Streaming is Top-Notch
This app has fantastic audio streaming capabilities. In addition to the usual music streaming, it allows for a separate AirPlay receiver just for lossless audio. This means that you can get the full FLAC or ALAC experience on your Mac, not just a bunch of compressed files. It does take a powerful router, though, and I’d highly recommend using something more qualified than a typical wireless-G device.
Overall, the audio quality was far superior to anything one would find in iTunes Match.
I did find that the app requires me to manually quit it after I stopped playing music. Apple TVs, on the other hand, always go back to the main screen once the streaming process has wrapped up. AirServer should do the same thing, but it doesn’t.
Video Streaming and Mirroring is On Par with Apple TV
Just like with an Apple TV, you can stream videos from your iOS device to your Mac with the help of AirServer. It worked well in my testing. The more notable feature is mirroring, which allows you to use your Mac as a larger version of your iOS device’s display for games and even Web browsing, if you wish. This feature has a bunch of adjustments, from post-processing stuff like sharpening to scaling preferences that let you stretch the image, fit it to the screen, or display the original size.
Mirroring did have a bit of a lag, but when I compared it to the latest Apple TV, there wasn’t a noticeable difference. There are optimization options for slow networks or FaceTime, too. Strangely, I was not able to connect my iPhone 5 to AirServer. I tried a friend’s phone, a different network, and even my Windows machine, but nothing worked. Our editor, though, has been able to use his iPhone 5 with AirServer without any trouble at all, so your mileage may vary.
There’s another tool out there called Reflector, which we looked at when it was titled Reflection. The thing is, its only benefit is the ability to record the screen you’re mirroring, which can be good if you often take videos of your iOS device or make tutorials for the platform. Otherwise, AirServer has proved to be a better all-around utility.
A Fantastic Budget Solution to Apple TV
With AirServer, you can simply connect your TV to your Mac as an external display and AirPlay content to it. If you already have a Mac mini as your media center device, add this utility to it and you’ll be set to watch films and listen to music. The developers like to think that it’s a good alternative to game consoles like the PS3 since there are hundreds of thousands of games available on the App Store, but that’s not really a fair comparison. Rather, this app is a good budget solution to the Apple TV, should you already own a Mac. It’ll be nice for mirroring games, sure, but we’re not at the point yet to compare iOS games over AirPlay to console games.
The app doesn’t make much sense if you have a MacBook because you’ll still be missing AirPlay mirroring functionality, but it’s really handy for streaming podcasts to the computer that’s on your lap. Just beware of the little issues plaguing it, like the issues I encountered mirroring my iPhone (which may just be a bug). Everyone will have their own use for it — what’s yours?