Apple’s iOS 4.2 release brought iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches into parity in terms of support for folders, multitasking and other key features. But one feature that is new across all platforms is AirPlay. AirPlay, in a nutshell, allows you to play media from your iOS device—such as an iPod, iPhone or iPAad—and stream it to another device without wires. This includes speakers, TVs and audio/video receivers. But before you rush out to pick up an iOS device, you should know that there are some other hardware requirements to get up and running with AirPlay on your home theater system.
Things You’ll Need
First and foremost, you’ll need an iOS device that runs iOS 4.2. This includes all iPads, the iPhone 3Gs and iPhone 4 (or later) and third generation iPod Touches and later. You can also use AirPlay from a computer running iTunes or a third-party client that streams to AirPlay speakers.
Next, you’ll need one of the following: an AirPort Express (Apple’s wireless router), an Apple TV (version 2 or later), a third-party AirPlay-ready speaker, or a third-party AirPlay-reader audio/video receiver or a Bluetooth audio device.
There are a few AirPlay-ready speakers and home theaters available currently, but your best bet is to go with an Apple TV v2—otherwise, you won’t be able to stream video to your TV as well as audio. If you’re only interested in streaming audio, you can buy AirPlay-ready speakers such as the AirPlay speaker from iHome or an AirPlay Receiver, such as the Denon AVR-4311Cl.
How It Works
Once you’ve installed iOS 4.2 (you can do so by connecting your iPhone or iPad to your computer and opening iTunes, where you’ll be prompted to update your software), you’ll have access to the AirPlay menu. This appears on any app that uses the standard media controls, such as the iPod app, YouTube video, Spotify and the built-in iOS 4 video player. You’ll see an icon that looks like an icon entering a rectangle. Tap it and you’ll see a list of available AirPlay devices. Tap the device to begin streaming audio to the AirPlay device.
For now, AirPlay works fairly well. You can control audioplayback, volume and switch tracks or media from your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch using the Remote app. You’ll notice that there is about a 2 second delay, however. This is done purposefully, so that the audio and video can be kept in sync. Currently, iOS 4.2 devices can only send audio and/or video to one device at a time. Computers connected to AirPort Extreme routers, on the other hand, can stream video to multiple devices at once. However, computers using AirPlay only send video—the audio continues to source from the computer itself. If you have speakers connected to your computer, this isn’t an issue—however, if you have invested in a high end home theater system, this could be an annoyance.
Overall, AirPlay is very promising. If you’re interested and have most of the prerequisite hardware, you can give it a try now. But know that it’ll likely improve in the near future, with more devices supporting AirPlay at a lower cost. Soon, you should be able to stream audio to virtually any speaker without wires, making whole house audio a reality.