AirPlay Mirroring was one useful new feature Mountain Lion added to Mac OS. AirPlay Mirroring allows sending the screen of your Mac to display on a TV connected through an Apple TV. The usefulness for presentations is obvious, but I’ve found it most useful as a way to share a video to the room. While iTunes allows sending to an Apple TV, its limited in usefulness. AirPlay Mirroring let’s anything that can be displayed on your Mac to appear on an Apple TV. Instead of huddling around your MacBook display or the monitor on your iMac, everyone can watch it on the larger television screen your Apple TV connects to.
It’s not a perfect solution as the quality isn’t always great with stutters and pauses in the video a common problem. It also ties up your Mac when the display is mirrored. This works fine when watching short videos off YouTube or other online sites, but sometimes you don’t want to give up your computer for an hour or more to watch a longer video or move. Perhaps your roommate or significant other wants to watch a movie, but you’d just as soon catch up on email or finish a presentation.
Beamer offers a solution. It promises to send a video file to your Apple TV without having to completely give your Mac over to showing video. You can play any video from your Mac on your Apple TV. Since it’s an application the video can play while you continue doing other things. Let’s see how well it meets the promise.
The Beamer App
You download a demo of Beamer at the Beamer web site. This application is *not* available through the Mac App Store. The demo is fully functional, but will only play fifteen minutes of a video. If you decide to purchase the app it will cost $15 payable by a credit card, Paypal, or wire transfer. It requires a 2007 or later Mac running Snow Leopard or later. It also requires the second or third generation Apple TV.
Once you start the app you see it’s simple interface prompting you to drop a move onto the window to begin. You can also open a video file through the File menu where it also keeps a list of recently played videos. Beamer also adds itself to the Open With menu in Finder for supported video files. Once you select a movie the controls are simple. You can either start playing a movie or stop a playing movie in the app. All other actions on the video (fast forward, rewind, pause, etc.) are controlled through the Apple TV remote.
If you have multiple Apple TVs on your network, you can choose which to play the video on, but you cannot send a video to more than one Apple TV simultaneously. There is also support for subtitles in SSA/ASS, SubRip (SRT), SubViewer and MicroDVD formats for video files.
The list of supported video formats is impressive. Almost any common video file is supported and the app claims support for AVI, MOV, MKV, MP4, WMV and FLV formats.. In my testing I threw dozens of different videos ranging from ones I or friends created with various programs, purchased video files, and anything else i could find and the results were impressive. Only one video wouldn’t play, a time-lapse created on a forgotten PC software program several years ago.
Why Use Beamer?
The question of why you’d use this program comes to find. I’ve never liked playing videos through iTunes as it supports limited formats. It also seems to bog down my Mac when playing. The option of playing a full screen video on the computer and using AirPlay to display on the screen works, but means dedicating the computer to the task of playing videos since anything onscreen appears on the TV.
Beamer addresses these concerns. If you have a version of Mac OS before Mountain Lion where AirPlay Mirroring isn’t an option, then you now have a nice way to play any video from your Mac to your Apple TV. When playing videos through Beamer I also found the quality was usually better than when mirroring my MacBook to the Apple TV over my home wireless network using AirPlay Mirroring. It also seemed to have less negative effect on the other devices sharing the wireless network.
I was able to take advantage of videos with surround sound as opposed to the stereo sound which AirPlay seems to limit playback. It was also quite nice to be able to fully manage the video using only the Apple remote and not through the app. The wide support for videos was also a nice advantage. No need to convert videos to an Apple approved format for iTunes. As noted I only found one video that would not play through Beamer so its support seems pretty widespread.
The real use I found for this was allowing me to play a video without dedicating my computer to the task. While playing a video did take a noticeable amount of CPU power I still was able to use my computer for other tasks while it ran. I’m not sure I’d want to try building a panorama in Photoshop while it ran, but for routine tasks it worked fine including light programming.
There are a few features I’d like to see added. I’d like support for playing URLs and not just videos on your Mac. I’d also like to have the ability to build a playlist of videos for continuous play. Both of these appear to be on the company’s roadmap for the program.
If you want to play a lot of longer videos from your Mac on your Apple TV, Beamer makes a good option. It plays a lot of videos, the quality is good, and it integrates well with the Apple TV. I’m also surprised how much I like being able to play a video without dedicating my computer to the task.