What Apple AirPlay Is and What You Need to Use It

Apple AirPlay Streams Music, Video and Slideshows to Apple TVs and Other Devices

Apple AirPlay
Apple AirPlay. Image from Macworld, IDG U.K.

In late 2010, Apple launched "AirPlay" on updates to Apple TV, iTunes, iPhones, iPods and iPad. AirPlay allows you to stream music, video and slideshows to AppleTVs and other devices that have the AirPlay feature.  

In previous versions of iTunes, it was possible to send music to your Apple TV -- both the first and second generation players -- and to speakers or stereos connected to an Apple AirExpress device.

AirPlay adds the ability to send video and slideshows. 

What You Need to Use AirPlay

From your computer:

  • iTunes version 10.1 or above with "Home Sharing" turned on
  • a second generation Apple TV with the version 4.1 update or above, OR
  • an AV receiver or device with the AirPlay feature

From your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad:

AirPlay and Your IPhone, IPod or IPad 

AirPlay can send movies, videos, photos, or music that are saved in your iTunes library or loaded on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. You can stream movies that you have bought and saved to your iTunes library and synced to your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad and watch them on a TV that is connected to an Apple TV.

Also, AirPlay allows you to send video that you have shot on your iPhone. For example, you can come home from your son's soccer game and play the video on your TV using AirPlay via an Apple TV device.

However, you might not be able to stream videos from other apps. There are a number of apps -- VLC, iMediaSuite, Plex, PlugPlayer and others -- for the iPhone and iPad apps that will stream video from the media servers, NAS drives or computers connected to your home network.

This may change in the future, this limitation ensures that you will get your content from the Apple Store, or at least use iTunes to save it. 

Playing From Your Computer

When you click on a video in iTunes, the iTunes player opens full screen. You can click on the arrows to bring it down to a window size. The AirPlay icon is at the bottom of the window. Clicking on the apple icon brings up a drop-down where you can select your Apple TV to play the video. Once you select "Apple TV" from the AirPlay icon, you will see a black screen with a large icon for "Apple TV." This tells you that the video is being sent to the Apple TV and isn't playing on your computer. 

When you have Apple TV selected in iTunes on your computer, any song, TV show, movie or Podcast that you choose and press play will continue to be played on the Apple TV until you reselect "computer" from the AirPlay drop-down menu. The switch is immediate, so you can start watching on your computer and move to your TV or vice versa.

Playing Photos From Your IPhone or IPad

To view the photos that are saved on your iPhone or iPad, tap the AirPlay arrow icon in the top corner of your touchscreen and choose "Apple TV." The photo on your phone will also appear on the Apple TV.

As you swipe through your photos, they will change on the Apple TV.

If you choose to play a slideshow, tap the arrow button below the photo. This will start the slideshow on the Apple TV. The iPhone or iPad screen will display an icon and message "This slideshow is now playing on Apple TV."

To return to viewing the photos on your iPhone or iPad, simple tap the screen and the photos will reappear on your phone. 

Apple TV Can Stream From Any Connected iTunes Library

While it is convenient to use AirPlay in iTunes when you are at your computer, remember that the Apple TV can connect to your iTunes library.

If you are watching your Apple TV, you don't need to use AirPlay to stream your media. You can play music or movies from any iTunes library on your network that has ​"home sharing" enabled. The libraries will be listed under "Computer" where you will see the media in each library and select and play the songs or movies right from the Apple TV.

Stay tuned for future updates to AirPlay. We can only hope that in the future we will be able to stream the videos we shot on our iPhones. 

    **Note: So there is no confusion, when I write that media appears or plays "on the Apple TV," it is actually playing through the Apple TV to be watched on the TV to which it is connected.**