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If you are a poly-device wielding enthusiast, at some point you may have wanted to cast your device to a monitor, TV, or projector. The problem with this is that there isn’t a universal casting standard that has been adopted by all manufacturers. AirServer aims to address this problem and allows you to cast all the devices!
Let’s take a look at how it works.
What Is AirServer?
AirServer can transform a simple display or a projector into a universal screen-mirroring receiver. It does this by implementing all the major screen mirroring technologies such as AirPlay, Google Cast, and Miracast. With AirServer you can cast using devices such as an iPhones, iPads, Macs, Android devices, Chromebooks, and PCs.
You can install AirServer on the following platforms:
- Xbox One
- Surface Hub
- Philips TV
If you haven’t got one of these devices connected to your TV, a Mac mini makes an excellent choice. It is unfortunate that the macOS version of AirServer does not support Miracast, however. If Miracast is something you need, consider using either the PC or Xbox versions.
Use Cases for AirServer
Casting your screen is useful on many occasions. Obviously, screen mirroring comes in handy if you’d like to view your smart device on a larger display. AirServer allows you to play movies and music on a bigger screen, and share photos and videos with friends and family.
AirServer is compatible with a variety of AirPlay-enabled third-party applications, such as Hulu Plus, Vevo, and Air Media Center. It also works seamlessly with other HTPC apps such as FrontRow, XBMC, Plex, and Windows Media Center.
AirServer can also record streamed content in high quality without the need for additional software. If you’re an avid mobile gamer, you can stream your games from a smart device directly to a larger display.
How to Shop for AirServer Components
There are certainly reasons why you wouldn’t want to buy a Mac mini (mainly monetary ones), but the device does offer a lot for the price. The form factor, stability, and overall aesthetic are big pluses. Additionally, they’re always available used on eBay. If you’re patient, you could procure one for a bargain price.
If you plan to use a 4K display, the minimum requirement is the Mac mini late 2014 model. The base model, which sports the Intel i5 1.4GHz processor, should be more than enough to handle not just casting, but make for a grand couch computer.
However, you have to consider that these typically contain mechanical hard drives. This wouldn’t be a problem if upgrading to an SSD didn’t involve taking the Mac mini apart completely.
My final shopping list looked like this:
- Used 2014 Mac Mini with original packaging: $350
- DREVO X1 Series 60GB SSD (optional): $39
- AirServer License: $16
This totaled $405. In contrast, buying both a Chromecast Ultra and 4K Apple TV would set you back $270. But the dual approach will also have some inconveniences. For example, needing to switch between devices depending on what you’re casting from is a pain. Two devices may not be better than one in this case.
The last components you need are a mouse and keyboard, of which the Logitech K400 is a great option. This is optional, but if you’d like to use your Mac mini from the couch, these combined wireless units really make it easy.
Armed with my iFixit toolkit, the iFixit website, and some determination, I got to work upgrading the drive to an SSD. I found that you needed to use a special tool (available on iFixit) to remove the motherboard from the chassis. I instead fashioned one using pliers and a large foldback clip.
Installation is pretty straightforward. Download the DMG from AirServer’s website, and double-click it to mount. Then copy AirServer to the Applications folder and double-click it to start.
AirServer offers a 14-day trial if you’d like to try it before you buy. If you’ve purchased it, you can enter your license code when prompted. Note that AirServer licenses are platform-specific. There’s no way to change to another platform, so ensure you purchase the correct one.
You can find the AirServer settings in the menu bar. The icon looks nearly identical to the AirPlay one. It’s worth browsing through the Preferences menu, as there are some settings you can adjust to suit your audio and visual setup. Finally, ensure that your AirServer machine and devices you’d like to cast are on the same network, and you should be good to go.
If you’ve got iOS or Mac devices that you’d like to cast, just treat AirServer like any other AirPlay-enabled device. In iOS, you can access screen mirroring from your control center.
Your Mac mini will show up with an AppleTV logo in iOS. Simply click on it to connect, authorize if you see a security prompts, and your iOS device will have its screen mirrored. In macOS, you would select your Mac mini from the AirPlay icon in the menu bar.
In Google Chrome, clicking on the settings menu reveals an option to cast. This sends the current tab that you’re on to AirServer. Your AirServer basically functions like a Chromecast!
Android users can download an app from the Play Store called AirServer Connect. This allows you to cast your Android device to an AppleTV, and therefore works with AirServer. The only caveat is that audio streaming isn’t supported due to Android’s implementation of audio capture.
You can also simultaneously cast devices to your AirServer and see them side by side. This may be helpful if two presenters need to present at the same time.
Is AirServer Right for You?
Casting can be useful in lots of cases. AirServer brings the casting methods into one application so you avoid having to purchase multiple devices.
The Miracast limitation in macOS (due to Mac computers not supporting Intel’s Wi-Fi Direct technology) is unfortunate, though. If you need to screen mirror a Windows PC, this could be a deal-breaker for you.
If, however, you have both iOS and Android devices and perhaps a MacBook that you need to cast, AirServer could be the casting software you’re looking for. While it is a paid-for application, there is a free trial, and the license fee isn’t too pricey.
Having that flexibility combined with the solid Mac mini performance makes media consumption, viewing family photos and videos, and general browsing simple and enjoyable.