Five Cool Uses for AirPlay

I’ve got a bit of an OCD issue: I hate cords and cables of any kind. So naturally, when Apple announced AirPlay I was ecstatic, and ever since I’ve been an avid user of this awesome wireless streaming tool. Unlike many of Apple’s other products, AirPlay is both relatively open and extremely easy to hack.

That openness in the AirPlay platform has led to a whole host of cool and unconventional uses for the technology.  In this article I’ll show you five different things you probably didn’t know you could do with AirPlay; and you’ll see that AirPlay is no longer just for iTunes videos.

AirPlay can be a killer tool for your Mac.

AirPlay can be a killer tool for your Mac.

AirPlay Android

Use AirPlay with Android

Believe it or not, AirPlay and Android work together like two peas in a pod. While your Android device might not be officially sanctioned by Apple, it can act as both an AirPlay server and receiver, which is unfortunately more than any iOS device can say.

If you want to stream your media from your Android device to an AirPlay compatible receiver, then I’d recommend shelling out $5 for DoubleTwist’s AirSync app, which works great and includes far more functionality than acting as an AirPlay server. If you’ve got an old Android device lying around that’s looking for a place in the world, you can hook it up to your speaker system and use the inexpensive AirBubble application to turn your device into a full featured AirPlay receiver. The killer combination of AirSync with AirBubble can turn your Android device into an AirPlay powerhouse.

Go Audio Only

While AirPlay is a stellar tool for streaming video, it can also be a great way to simplify your home audio system. With the help of the new AirPort Express for only $99, you can make any speakers in your home AirPlay ready; not to mention its functionality as an 802.11n router.

Your iOS devices can stream any audio over AirPlay just fine, but Mac users aren’t so lucky. While you can stream your iTunes audio over AirPlay – that’s it. Pandora, Rdio, Spotify, or users of any other audio app are out of luck. That’s where Porthole comes in, it’s a nifty little utility that lets you stream all of your Mac’s audio over AirPlay. At only €11 (~$14) it’s well worth it for anyone who wants to simplify their home audio setup.

Use your Mac on the Big Screen

With the popularity of iOS, it can seem like us Mac users get left out of the fun all too often. Case-in-point: AirPlay Mirroring, a feature iOS users have had since mid-2011 is finally making its way to the Mac in July with the release of OS X Mountain Lion. While it is integrated directly into the OS and works seamlessly out of the box, many users want more powerful functionality right now.

AirParrot, a nifty little $10 tool, allows you to mirror or extend your Mac’s display to your AppleTV in full 1080p. It works great and is available now. While its mirroring functionality will no doubt be made obsolete by Mountain Lion, the display extending functionality is well worth the $10 asking price.

Play any Video File

If there’s one thing Apple isn’t known for, it would be support of a variety of file formats. While that’s an easy problem to solve on your Mac with a quick install of VLC, working with the Apple TV historically meant opening up a whole new can of worms. Luckily, the developers at Tupil have solved that age-old problem with the help of Beamer, a $7 app that allows you to stream just about any video file to your Apple TV.

That’s right, your Apple TV can now support AVI, MOV, MKV, MP4, WMV and FLV files. Beamer is a must-have tool for anyone with a “questionably obtained” media library or a PC-convert with files that have yet to be converted.

Use iOS on your Mac (sort of)

This is perhaps my favorite little AirPlay trick of the whole bunch. Thanks to a few enterprising developers, you can now turn your Mac into the equivalent of an AppleTV; that is, the AirPlay receiving part. While you can use this functionality for just about anything from app demos to presentations – let’s be honest, you’re probably just going to use it to play iOS games on the big screen, and hey, that’s just fine.

A variety of iOS titles such as Real Racing and Modern Combat 3 already feature full AirPlay support, so this makes for a really great way to turn your Mac into a quasi-game-console. If this sounds like something right up your alley, either Reflections or AirServer should work just fine. Each will run you $15 and supports either the Mac or PC. If you’re planning making App Demos, Reflections will probably work best, as it simulates the borders of the iPad and iPhone whereas AirServer stresses its gaming functionality. Either way, you really can’t go wrong.

Conclusion

Apple is serious about AirPlay, it might very well be the key to the future of the Apple TV. With that in mind, it’s great to see that developers have already started creating great tools to get the most out of your AirPlay experience. While this article was really just an introduction to the wide world of AirPlay tools, hopefully it will help you get that extra bang for you buck out of your devices. As always, if there’s anything I missed, feel free to add it in the comments below.

While this article is a great place to start exploring AirPlay’s functionality, Wikipedia keeps a great list of 3rd party AirPlay solutions right here.


  • Benjamin

    I’m using AirPlay since two years and can’t live without. Daily, I stream music from iTunes to my Apple TV which is connected to my teufel surround system. Also, I’m using AirVideo on my iPad to stream ANY movie/tv show from my macbookpro to my Apple TV. I’m so happy with this configuration, because it just works.

    • Benjamin

      live = life ^^

      • Benjamin

        -.- okay I guess “live” was correct…

  • Eduardo

    I’m a ATV2 user for a while now and indeed its a great thing! I use PLEX to play movies from my PC (wife) or my Macbook. I’ll try AirParrot instead and see if thats a good replacement.

    Thanks for the tips!!

  • http://www.metzener.com/ Dave M.

    I can vouch for AirParrot! I’ve been using it to play Hulu “Web Only” content on my 42″ HD screen with my Apple TV connected. You can create a 720p “virtual screen” on your main computer, then drag the browser window to that screen (usually off to the left), make it full size and presto, fair HD quality video from a source that normally won’t let you do so. Audio is also sent through this app.

    You can control which screen you want to send to your AppleTV or even a specific app. The mode to create a virtual screen is called: Extend Desktop (1280×720).

    The only drawback is there is no “remote”, so you have to use VNC or have your computer in the same room as your big screen in order to pause or rewind while playing. A minor drawback really, but still worth mentioning.

    There might be a remote app that lets you do something that will let you control the video source on your computer from an app on your iPhone/iPad.

    Since I bought it, I have been using it like crazy to watch Hulu content that is exclusively Web Only. :) It just shows that no matter what restriction you set on consuming content, there is someone out there that can figure out a way around it. :)

  • sheala

    Was at a party at someone’s house, they used airplay to play video from their iPhone to their Boxee box, hooked up to the big screen tv.

  • andy

    Interested, but as is usually the case, $4.99 turns into £4.99 this side of atlantic. Might be the best app in the world, but why should I pay 150% of the cost of an american buyer.

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