AirPlay, in my humble opinion, is one of the biggest advantages added to Mac OS X in recent times. In case you haven’t heard, AirPlay is a system that allows you to stream video and audio between AirPlay-enabled Apple devices. Like streaming video from the iPad YouTube app to the Apple TV.
More generally, AirPlay means streaming audio and video to an Apple TV, or only audio to an Apple Airport. For more information on AirPlay, read my previous post - What’s AirPlay, And How To Use It In Mac OS X Mountain Lion.
Although AirPlay works great in a lot of situations, it isn’t a perfect system. Perhaps most importantly, Apple’s AirPlay system is proprietary, meaning it’s only officially implemented by Apple and thus only available on Mac OS X and iOS devices, leaving a lot of Windows-Apple crossover users out in the cold.
Secondly, AirPlay mirroring – which is the act of streaming the content’s of your computer display to an Apple TV – is only available on recent Apple hardware. For older Mac’s, the AirPlay mirroring icon simply doesn’t show up in the Mac OS X menu bar. For a complete list of supported computers, take a look at this Apple support article.
Luckily, both of these problems are solved by AirParrot.
AirParrot (USD 9.99)
AirParrot is a third-party application (that is, not affiliated with Apple) that unofficially implements the AirPlay protocol. To put it simply, AirParrot provides an alternative implementation of AirPlay mirroring. Thanks to AirParrot, you can mirror your computer’s display to an Apple TV, whether you’re using Mac OS X or Windows. Alas, if you’re on Linux, you’re limited to streaming your audio using AirTunes.
Even Mac computers with unsupported hardware sets can use AirPlay mirroring this way. All of this for the reasonable price of $10.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect the same performance from AirParrot. If you have a Mac OS X computer with supported hardware, you should just use the built-in AirPlay mirroring functionality. However, for those two groups for which AirPlay mirroring was previously out of reach, AirParrot is a godsend.
Installation & Display Configuration
AirParrot is available for both Mac OS X and Windows computers, and can be bought for $10 from the AirParrot website. AirParrot seems slightly more focused on their Mac OS X version, which might receive a new feature slightly faster than the Windows version. That being said, the Mac OS X and Windows clients both work largely the same.
On your Mac, installing AirParrot adds a presence to your Mac OS X menu bar. On Windows, the AirParrot icon is added to your task bar instead. Similar to the official AirPlay mirroring menu, pressing the icon let’s you select a compatible Apple TV device. Contrary, to the official menu, this drop-down menu offers more display options.
Aside from mirroring your display – which is the default option – you can also have your computer consider the Apple TV-connected display as an additional screen, and extend your display. Selecting this option adds a display to your computer’s display management preferences, where you can further customize how your computer should handle the extra screen.
AirParrot’s third display option is even more interesting, although this feature is only available using AirParrot’s Mac OS X client. Instead of mirroring or extending your computer’s display, you can ask AirParrot to display only one specific app through your Apple TV. Again using AirParrot’s drop-down menu, simply select a windowed application that’s currently open to stream it to your Apple TV.
The Contrast With AirPlay Mirroring
For most people desperately wanting to use AirPlay mirroring with unsupported hardware, AirParrot is a knight in shining armour. Alas, even AirParrot is not perfect, and there are some stark differences between using AirParrot on unsupported hardware and using the official AirPlay technology on supported hardware.
Apple declared the older hardware incompatible for a reason. More recent computers include a chip on the GPU that’s able to transcode the display output to H.264 in real-time. If you mirror a display using AirPlay mirroring, you’ll still face a buffering delay. However, there’s hardly any added delay for transcoding the video. On other computers, there is. Video needs to be transcoded on the user level, meaning it’s subjected to the intricacies of processor and memory scheduling. Here, the transcoding delay is not constant.
This may sound complicated, but the consequences are rather simple – the video transcoding delay and thus the frame rate are unreliable. Most of the time, this isn’t much of a bother. The AirParrot preferences give you tighter control over video quality and frame rate. AirParrot is great if you want to surf on the web, or show a picture slideshow. However, you won’t be able to comfortably stream long videos to your Apple TV.
How do you use AirPlay in your home? Tell us about your set-up in the comments section below the article!