AirPlay with Apple TV and Airport Express

— 7 minute read

I recently posted a picture to Instagram of my wife's iPad using the Apple Remote app for iOS and showing how you can control playback & audio levels on multiple devices - in my case an Apple TV, Airport Express and an iMac.

Update: As of 2012-07-25, Apple has released Mountain Lion (go get it!) so this guide is subject to changes depending on what version of OS X you have. I'll be writing a new version when iOS 6 is released in the fall to cover all the changes to AirPlay and both operating systems. CE

Remote App on iPad
Remote App on iPad

I got a few questions about the setup so I thought I'd do a quick writeup here to explain how it works.

Update Feb 13th, 2012 If you'd like to be able to select multiple speakers from your iOS device, which Apple currently doesn't allow, check out Rogue Amoeba's post using their tools Airfoil and Airfoil speakers.

AirPlay permalink

The software connecting everything together is called AirPlay1. It's Apple's software that's designed to allow you to stream from one device to another - computer to Airport Express or iPhone to Apple TV, etc.

Computer permalink

You'll need some sort of computer running iTunes. In our case, I typically use our iMac but you can also have multiple sources use the same config depending on where you are in the house - you just can't have them stream at the same time, obviously. It's first come, first serve with AirPlay.

iTunes 10.x should work fine.

iOS Device permalink

All current iPad, iPod touch, and iPhones are able to support AirPlay. What I was demoing in my original photo, however, wasn't streaming from a iOS device - it was just running the Apple Remote app for iOS which allows you to control iTunes on a computer on your local WiFi network. Choose songs, podcasts, songs, etc. to play as well as where you want the media to play/stream to.

Not required to use an Airport Express, Apple TV or AirPlay - just the coolest way to use it all.

Apple TV permalink

The Apple TV, selling for $119CDN, is yet another box to connect to your flat panel TV via a HDMI cable. 2 With recent additions to the Apple TV, including Netflix, NHL & MLB, Flickr, Vimeo & YouTube, it's a very compelling alternative to your standard cable box in terms of the entertainment value. No, you can't watch an episode of Community live when it airs3 - but there's plenty of other options for what you might want to watch.

iCloud allows your recent photos from iOS devices to be automatically shown on the Apple TV. AirPlay and AirPlay Mirroring4 allow you to mirror what's on your iOS device to your TV - play a game on your big screen TV, for example.

I've talked to many people about the Apple TV to people and people generally don't really get how magical it is until they see it in person - particularly when paired with an iPhone or iPad.5

Airport Express permalink

The Airport Express is a device that plugs into the wall for power and has an audio out jack to connect to a set of speakers or stereo. Audio then can be streamed via AirPlay to the Airport Express.

How It All Happens permalink

We use our iMac as the main library for music and videos. So we have your typical iTunes playlists full of various songs and a few videos and podcasts.

Home Sharing

The easiest way to set it up is to use Home Sharing. In iTunes go to the Advanced menu and click on Turn on Home Sharing.

I won't walk through the complete Home Sharing setup - you can visit Apple's support page for more details but suffice to say it makes setting up multiple iOS devices much easier to use Home Sharing.

After setting up your iTunes to be enabled for AirPlay/Home Sharing, you need to add that iTunes library to your iOS device (iPhone, etc.).

iOS iTunes Setup
iOS iTunes Setup

Again, refer back to the Apple support page for more instructions on setting up Home Sharing. But once it's all setup, you'll see the playlists of your iTunes library appear in the Apple Remote App on your iOS device.

Remote App showing Playlists
Remote App showing Playlists

Click the little TV icon in the top right corner and you'll see a list of all the devices (Airport Express, Apple TV) on your WiFi network that, in my case anyway, are setup with Home Sharing.6

AirPlay Setup Audio Levels on Apple Remote
AirPlay Setup Audio Levels on Apple Remote

Each device can have a volume level that's independent of the other devices, including the source computer. In our setup, we have the Airport Express upstairs hooked up to a couple of old speakers, the Apple TV is in the basement hooked up to our TV and then the iMac is in the office.

So if we wanted, we can have the same music playing throughout the house all playing from one central spot without running wires everywhere to speakers. What's really incredible is how it all plays in sync - the Airport Express plays at the same time as the Apple TV.

How Much? permalink

We didn't buy all these things at once and acquired them over time.7 Here's a rough guide to pricing/options.

You'll need some sort of TV if you pick up an Apple TV. A set of speakers if you want to use an Airport Express. Your mileage may vary.

Usage permalink

We use it nearly every day. It works really well - except when we microwave something with our Panasonic microwave. It always kills the audio and we have to restart playing music once the microwaving is done. Lately the iPad has, seemingly at random, stopped playing music as well. Overall though it's a great setup for listening to music or podcasts around your house.

Also great for playing the kids music downstairs on the iMac/Apple TV with something different on the Airport Express upstairs.

  1. Previously called AirTunes. But then they added the ability to stream video - hence AirPlay. 
  2. HDMI connection is required. Old non-HD TVs need not apply. 
  3. There are, so I hear, ways to download and play videos from your computer to an Apple TV over AirPlay. I don't know how nor do I understand such technologies. 
  4. AirPlay Mirroring is currently only supported on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. 
  5. Yes magical. If the fact that you can hit a button a device that can fit in your pocket and then somehow music or video from that device starts playing on your TV doesn't impress you - I don't know what to tell you. 
  6. You can have multiple Apple TV and Airport Express devices on your network. 
  7. The Apple TV was only purchased last month. 
  8. Pricing will vary depending on your cell phone provider of choice