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.
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.
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.