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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

  1. Sonny Arcilla
    March 14, 2016 at 3:37 am

    So my dream is to have multiple stereo receivers and/or computer speakers hooked up to multiple devices (Apple TV, Airport Express, devices listed above, etc) and have the same music playing in multiple places in my home at the same time. It doesn't seem like you can do this with multiple laptops. I have this working with my two Apple TV's (one and two generations behind) as well as with the original Airport Express, but it stops for 1-3 seconds every minute or so so I'm looking for something stable. Has anyone worked with the 2nd or 3rd Airport Express? My wifi is solid but the original Airport Express's work with 802.11g. The problem happens with the Airport Express's just 10-15ft from the wifi router. Worse still, the Android apps have timing issues so it's not a good experience to use those as the sound is a few tenths of a second off whereas this is not an issue with the Apple TV's nor Airport Express's.

  2. Emily from TechHacks.com
    February 24, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    I forgot to mention that if one goes the route of using an old laptop or PC, there's an app called AirParrot that purportedly CAN act as a receiver for all aspects of AirPlay on Windows (including mirroring) - I have not personally tried it, though, so no promises but certainly worth a look... Hope that helps!

  3. Emily from TechHacks.com
    February 24, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    All of those options are great if all you care about is streaming audio. But the best use of AirPlay is the ability to stream video, mirror your iPad or iPhone or Mac, or even extend the desktop of your Mac. There are a slew of android apps that claim to handle this, but none of them work - the best I've found can only stream video from your camera roll. As a result, even though we recently got Amazon Fire TVs and loaded them up with Kodi, etc, we're still keeping our AppleTVs. Once you've had one, you can't go back. I've heard that earlier versions of XBMC used to handle AirPlay mirroring, video streaming, etc but that was also only with iOS 6 and lower. Something about iOS 7 and iOS 8 broke that functionality in XBMC/Kodi which I suspect is also why all those android apps don't really work (so don't waste your money on them if you have a droid box...)

  4. rrr
    March 31, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    buy an old iPod Touch on eBay (I bought one for $45) and turn it into a streaming target.

    Option 1: jailbreak it and install AirFloat.

    Option 2: If you use Rogue Amoeba's AirFoil to send, you can get their free app Airfoil Speakers Touch.

  5. jacki
    March 26, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    rplay is not really an option, since they only led 100 beta testers in - almost a year ago. Nothing heard form them since. No way to get a hold of it.

  6. dale3h
    March 16, 2014 at 8:27 am

    @Nigel: Sounds like we need an all-in-one solution for the Raspberry Pi. RPi currently has software that supports AirPlay (shairport4w, rPlay, XBMC), Miracast (Piracast), and DLNA. I am not so sure that it supports WiDi at this time.

    I rely on AirPlay daily in my office, in my garage, in my living room and even in my car. I also use AirPlay in my backyard (outdoor theater) and with my cooler radio on occasion. In my office, garage and living room I use AirServer for Windows. In my car I am running a Raspberry Pi with shairport4w installed. At this time I do not need anything but audio in my car, so this works perfectly. The cooler radio also houses a Raspberry Pi (its nickname is CoolerPi). For the backyard theater, I use an AV receiver that has AirPlay built in (and honestly is the worst AirPlay implementation I have come across...it just doesn't always work).

    • Simon S
      March 24, 2014 at 7:06 pm

      That's quite an extensive system you've built! Maybe one day we'll move towards a uniform wireless media and desktop streaming standard. (One can dream.)

  7. Luc
    February 8, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    @Nigel, we have a dream too in the education space... to do exactly what you just said in a classroom... sigh..

    • Simon S
      March 24, 2014 at 7:07 pm

      That sounds great! Are you in education, and have you experimented with any of these wireless media streaming solutions?

  8. Abhishek
    December 20, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Chromecast is way better at its price. I wonder if gaming is a factor to buy a streaming device but I think chromecast is the best hardware I have purchased for my needs. DLNA is slow and requires constant connectivity from the server and intel WIDI/Miracast etc have compatibility issues with various servers/receivers etc.

    • Nigel Pearson
      January 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      How is ChromeCast better?

      Can you stream audio to it from your iPad, iPhone, or Mac?
      Can you play local media, like home movies, to it without an internet connection?

    • Nigel Pearson
      January 25, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      P.S. I have a dream.

      You walk into an office meeting room, a conference, a job interview, or a home, can pull out your device, and share whatever you have on their big screen.

      Their screen has one gizmo that does WiDi, MiraCast, DLNA and all the AirPlay protocols.

  9. John Lordon
    December 11, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    You forgot the G-Box Mx2... better at everything than apple tv.

  10. David Horn
    October 21, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    I have bought older Airport Express's( the ones that can stream music from your ipod or iphone) and used those through out my house!

  11. Jim Gramze
    October 21, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    The Apple TV does work quite well for Airplay. The other day we had company over and I "acquired" a movie on my computer in a format that was not Apple friendly. MKV I think was the extension. Rather than have to wait for a Handbrake conversion and move the file to an iOS device, I fired up VLC and played it on my iMac and streamed it to another room on the Apple TV.

    Airplay mirroring is a wonderful thing with the Apple TV. Being able to see the entire screen of your device on a large-screen TV is a great way to share media with other people as opposed to everyone hunching over your shoulder.

  12. Peter
    October 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    i use it quite often, mostly when i charge my (jailbreak) iphone/ipad and hook it up to the my stereo so i can move with my laptop around the house

  13. Jim Gramze
    October 19, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    I have a 2nd edition Apple TV, used primarily for video podcasts and playing iTunes radio. These use cases do not at all rely on anything but a WiFi connection so for me the airplay feature is a rare convenience, not the reason for buying the device. I don't want a computer or mobile device to have to be on to enjoy the Apple TV and thankfully that is not the case although it is an additional option.

    • Aibek E
      October 21, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      Contrary to Jim, I primarily use AppleTV to stream media from iPhone to TV. Tried a couple of Android boxes before switching to Apple's device and they were pure crap.

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