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Apple users looking at an integrated media solution simply can’t look past AirPlay What's AirPlay, And How To Use It In Mac OS X Mountain Lion What's AirPlay, And How To Use It In Mac OS X Mountain Lion Imagine you want to play your favorite album in Spotify. Naturally, you'll be hooking your computer up to a better sound station. But what if you're lying in bed, or sitting on the couch? Ideally,... Read More . By incorporating AirPlay, you build a bridge between your media rig and any of your Apple devices. Show off holiday pictures from your iPhone on your TV, play Spotify audio from your computer on your surround system, or perhaps even mirror your desktop on the television screen. All of it wireless. With AirPlay, your media rig is extended with all of the juicy features and applications of iOS and Mac OS X

To enjoy the benefits of AirPlay, you’ll need an AirPlay receiver, and the Apple TV is by and far the most popular one. Built as a veritable entertainment box, the Apple TV isn’t cheap (it’s a bit under the 100 mark). It’s tempting to look for alternatives; AirPlay receivers that are cheaper than the Apple TV. We’ve laid out four options.

1. The Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is, in essence, a small and lightweight computer. Designed with hobbyists in mind, you can set the Raspberry Pi to virtually any task. Christian Cawley rounded up five amazing uses The Top 5 Amazing Uses For Your Raspberry Pi Computer The Top 5 Amazing Uses For Your Raspberry Pi Computer I’ve recently received my Raspberry Pi after a long wait – and I’ve got quite a few plans for it. The problem is, I’m not totally sure which project I want to attempt first. While... Read More for the Raspberry Pi and built a motion capture security system Build a Motion Capture Security System Using a Raspberry Pi Build a Motion Capture Security System Using a Raspberry Pi Of the many projects that you can build with the Raspberry Pi, one of the most interesting and permanently useful is the motion capture security system. Read More  with it, too. Perhaps more in our area of interest, a Raspberry Pi makes for an excellent lightweight media center How To Make Your Raspberry Pi Into a Home Theater System How To Make Your Raspberry Pi Into a Home Theater System Four weeks on and I’ve been playing with my Raspberry Pi in various ways, from using it to browse the web and standard day-to-day computing tasks to playing around with the various configurations that are... Read More . It shouldn’t be surprising that it can also be used as an AirPlay receiver.

raspberry-pi

There are a number of ways to get AirPlay working on your Raspberry Pi. The easiest way is to use Raspbmc, a port of the popular XBMC media center. Follow Christian’s instructions for installing Raspbmc How To Make Your Raspberry Pi Into a Home Theater System How To Make Your Raspberry Pi Into a Home Theater System Four weeks on and I’ve been playing with my Raspberry Pi in various ways, from using it to browse the web and standard day-to-day computing tasks to playing around with the various configurations that are... Read More to get you 99% through the process. When you’re done, just make sure System > Network > Allow XBMC to receive AirPlay content is enabled.

Raspbmc is able to handle both video and audio content. At the time of writing, AirPlay Mirroring your computer screen is not yet possible. However, rPlay (currently in beta) will bring support for AirPlay mirroring to the Raspberry Pi as well. With the base hardware priced at $35, that’s a pretty good deal. In fact, that’s almost a third of the cost of an Apple TV.

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2. An Old Laptop

Although a computer is usually priced higher than an Apple TV, a lot of people have old laptops or desktop computers lying around that are gathering dust. Repurposing this hardware 5 Ways To Give An Old Laptop A New Life 5 Ways To Give An Old Laptop A New Life Computers seem to become slower as they age. Operating systems tend to become more resource-hungry over time, hardware ages, and the exuberance felt during the first months of laptop ownership fades. This is why some... Read More is definitely cheaper than purchasing an Apple TV.

XBMC

Raspbmc, which we mentioned above, is a port of XMBC. It stands to reason that AirPlay mirroring will also work on a regular XBMC installation. Check out our extensive XBMC guidebook to get to grips with the media center software. After downloading and installing, you’ll be able to stream audio and video (exempting AirPlay mirroring) to that old laptop.

xbmc

Airfoil Speakers

If you’re only going to stream audio over AirPlay, XBMC might be overkill. Instead, you should take a look at Airfoil Speakers. Usually bundled with Airfoil Airfoil Adds Extended AirPlay Functionality To Mac and PC Airfoil Adds Extended AirPlay Functionality To Mac and PC AirPlay is Apple's way of wirelessly streaming audio and video to supported devices on your local network. If you have one of Apple's more recent Airport base stations, an Apple TV or a Boxee box... Read More , an alternative AirPlay streaming client, Airfoil Speakers is a free multi-platform app that adds a simple AirPlay audio receiver to your computer.

airfoil-speakers

3. Android Stick

An Android TV stick, in case you don’t know, is a device that’s often only marginally smaller than a thumb drive. It runs Android and sports an HDMI instead of a USB connector. By plugging one of these Android sticks into your TV, any TV with an HDMI port is instantly transformed to a smart TV. James reviewed two Android TV sticks Rikomagic MK802 IV and MK812A RK3188 Android Smart Mini PC Review and Giveaway Rikomagic MK802 IV and MK812A RK3188 Android Smart Mini PC Review and Giveaway A complete Android system for your TV - not a Chromecast, not an adapter for your phone – no additional hardware required. Android "TV sticks" are mini computers running Android. They have no screen, instead... Read More earlier this year. Both were priced at the $80 mark, but you can easily find alternative devices for half that price.

android-stick

Because you’re essentially running Android, any AirPlay-compatible Android apps will suffice. Similar to the above, you can use XBMC to stream audio and video to the Android TV Stick, or AirFoil Speakers if you only need to handle audio.

4. Built-in Airplay Receivers

You might have noticed that all of the above options are workarounds or repurposed devices. What about a standalone, third-party Airplay receiver? There are those as well, but they’re not as great as you might initially expect. AirPlay is a proprietary format, meaning that the hardware manufacturers need to get a license from Apple to use it.

denon-airplay

As a result, ‘cheap’ alternative receivers are hard to find. Your best bet is usually a set of AirPlay-enabled speakers, that’ll run you about $70 on Amazon. Faced with this choice, one of the above alternatives is often preferable. There’s one main exception to this rule: when you’re already buying high-end hardware. For example, if you’re purchasing a home theatre surround system, like the Denon pictured above, adding AirPlay functionality to the list of features doesn’t add much to the price.

How often do you rely on AirPlay? Have you ever build or configured your own receiver? Let us know in the comments below!

Image credit: carloszk

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