Apple AirPlay & AirPlay Mirroring Explained

AirPlay and AirPlay Mirroring
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Thanks to their huge storage capacities and their ability to store music, movies, TV, photos, and more, every iOS device is a portable entertainment library. Normally, they're libraries designed for use by just one person. But what if you want to share that entertainment — perhaps to play music from your phone over a stereo at a party or show a movie stored on your phone on an HDTV?

You need to use AirPlay.

Apple prefers to do things wirelessly, and one area where it's got some great wireless features is media. AirPlay is a technology invented by and used by Apple to let users broadcast audio, video, and photos — and even the contents of their devices' screens — to compatible, Wi-Fi-connected devices.

AirPlay replaced a previous Apple technology called AirTunes, which only allowed the streaming of music, not the other kinds of data that AirPlay supports.

AirPlay Requirements

AirPlay is available on every device sold by Apple today. It was introduced in iTunes 10 for the Mac and was added to the iOS with version 4 on the iPhone and 4.2 on the iPad.

AirPlay requires:

It doesn't work on the iPhone 3Goriginal iPhone, or original iPod touch.

AirPlay for Music, Video, and Photos

AirPlay allows users to stream music, video, and photos from their iTunes library or iOS device to compatible, Wi-Fi-connected computers, speakers, and stereo components. Not all components are compatible, but many manufacturers now include AirPlay support as a feature for their products.

If you have speakers that don't support AirPlay, you can connect them to an AirPort Express, a mini-Wi-Fi base station designed for use with AirPlay. Plug in the AirPort Express, connect it to your Wi-Fi network and then connect the speaker to it using cables, and you can stream to the speaker like it natively supports AirPlay. The second-generation Apple TV works the same way with your TV or home theater systems.

All devices must be on the same Wi-Fi network to use AirPlay. You can't, for example, stream music to your house from your iPhone at work.

AirPlay Mirroring

AirPlay Mirroring lets certain AirPlay-compatible devices display whatever is on the device's screen on AirPlay-compatible Apple TV set-top boxes. This feature helps you show the website, game, video, or other content on your device's screen, on the big-screen HDTV that the Apple TV is attached to. This capability requires Wi-Fi. Devices that support AirPlay Mirroring are:

  • iPhone 4S and newer
  • iPad 2 and newer
  • Mac
  • 2nd generation Apple TV and newer

While mirroring is most often used to display the screens of devices on TVs, it can also be used with Macs. For instance, a Mac can mirror its display to an Apple TV that is connected to an HDTV or projector. This is often used for presentations or large, public displays.

AirPlay on Windows

While there used to be no official AirPlay feature for Windows, things have changed. AirPlay is now built into Windows versions of iTunes. This version of AirPlay isn't quite as full-featured as on the Mac: it lacks mirroring and only some kinds of media can be streamed. For full details about using AirPlay on Windows, check out Where to Get AirPlay for Windows.

AirPrint: AirPlay for Printing

AirPlay also supports wireless printing from iOS devices to Wi-Fi-connected printers that support the technology. The name for this feature is AirPrint. Even if your printer doesn't support AirPrint out of the box, connecting it to an AirPort Express makes it compatible, just as with speakers.