AirPlay is by far one of the most popular features of the Apple TV. On iOS devices, it allows the easy streaming of audio and video to an Apple TV so that you can enjoy watching a movie on your television with friends and family. On the Mac, however, it's not as simple. In this tutorial, we'll show you how to AirPlay almost any audio and video content from your Mac to your Apple TV.
If you're wanting to watch any movies or TV shows that you have in your iTunes library, streaming them via AirPlay is incredibly easy to do.
Step 1: Start Playing Your Video
Open iTunes and select the movie or TV show that you'd like to watch and then hit Play.
Step 2: Set AirPlay Destination
Once the movie has started, select the AirPlay menu from the toolbar at the top and select your Apple TV. After a few moments, you should see the video appear on your TV and iTunes will display the device you're currently connected to.
Alternatively, you can also select the AirPlay menu from the playback toolbar that displays when you hover your mouse over the video playback.
As you can see, playback of video from iTunes is incredibly easy. Whilst iTunes only supports a certain number of video formats, you may find it the best option if you're happy to convert any incompatible video files using an app such as Handbrake and then importing it into your iTunes library.
2. AirPlay Mirroring
Introduced in Mountain Lion and supported on Macs that were introduced in mid-2011 onwards, OS X is now able to mirror what we see on our Mac's display to our Apple TV, including audio. If nothing else, we can use it to watch any type of video content we want via our Apple TV.
Step 1: Activate AirPlay Mirroring
AirPlay Mirroring can be turned on using either the menu bar icon or via the Display preferences in System Preferences.
When activated, you can select if you want to match the Apple TV's display resolution to what your Mac currently has or if you'd prefer to match your Mac's display to your Apple TV.
If you select the first option, your Apple TV won't actually match the resolution, instead it will simply emulate it as your Mac is capable of much higher resolutions than most televisions.
Selecting the second option will reduce your Mac's display to the same resolution as your Apple TV currently outputs, making everything seem bigger.
Step 2: Play Your Video
Now that we're mirroring our Mac's display, anything you do on your Mac is also shown on your Apple TV, including video playback. Audio is also sent to your Apple TV so if you start watching a video, you'll hear the audio through your TV and not your Mac, which may be in another room.
AirPlay Mirroring is the best all-round solution as any video your Mac can play will be seen directly on your Apple TV, too. The downside is that your Mac can't be used so if you're someone who likes to browse the web whilst watching a video, this may not be the ideal solution.
For those without a Mac that supports AirPlay mirroring, don't fret. There's a far more versatile app that provides the same experience available which works on most Core 2 Duo Macs running Snow Leopard and above called AirParrot.
Unlike AirPlay Mirroring, AirParrot can not only mirror your display but it can extend it as well as selectively mirroring single apps.
AirParrot costs $9.99 and a trial version is available.
Step 1: Download and Install AirParrot
Visit the AirParrot site and download the free trial which is limited to 20 minutes of usage at a time.
Installation is simply dragging the app to the Applications folder.
Step 2: Configure for Playback
Once you launch the app, you'll have a menu displayed in your menu bar where you can configure AirParrot's settings. This includes the Apple TV you wish to use (if you have more than one), the display options you'd like to use (whether you'd like to simply mirror or extend your Mac display) and if you'd like to include audio.
Select your Apple TV from the menu and your display will begin mirroring to it. If you'd like to stream audio as well, make sure to select the option from the menu.
Step 3: App Mirroring
What sets AirParrot apart from Airplay Mirroring is its ability to mirror individual apps rather than your whole display. As I mentioned previously, AirPlay Mirroring means that you can't really use your Mac if you're trying to watch a movie since everything you're doing on the Mac is mirrored to the Apple TV. With AirParrot, you can select just a single app, such as QuickTime Player, to stream to your Apple TV, leaving you able to continue working on your Mac.
To mirror an individual app, select the app you'd like to mirror from the Specific Apps menu of AirParrot.
One thing to remember is that it mirrors it exactly, including window size. If you've playing a video in a small window, that's what you'll see on your Apple TV, albeit with a black background. For best results, take your window full screen and leave it running in another space.
For video that isn't in your iTunes Library, your Mac doesn't have any ability to stream it via AirPlay. Thankfully, there's a great 3rd party app called Beamer that can add this functionality to our Mac.
Beamer is £12 and provides a simple solution to streaming almost any video format from your Mac to your Apple TV, not just content that is officially supported.
Step 1: Download and Install Beamer
You can download Beamer by visiting the Beamer site and downloading the trial. Without a license, Beamer is limited to 15 minutes of playback so you are free to try it out and if it's something you want to continue using, simple head back to the site and purchase a license.
Installing Beamer is as simple as dragging it to the Applications folder.
Step 2: Stream Your Video Content
Once you launch Beamer, you'll be presented with a simple window that will prompt you to drag a movie file onto it.
If you have one Apple TV on the same network, Beamer will automatically connect to it without any interaction. Should you have more than one Apple TV, you can select which one you'd like to stream to by using the Control > Send To menu.
Find a video file you'd like to play and simply drag it on to the window. Playback will begin as soon as it's ready.
The Apple TV only supports a small number of video files and codecs, mainly Apple's preferred choice of H.264 and MPEG-4. Beamer works by transcoding any incompatible video file to one that the Apple TV supports. If Beamer does need to transcode a video, this requires a huge amount of processor power since your Mac is basically converting a video from one format to another and streaming it all at the same time. If you're on a portable Mac, make sure it's plugged in to the mains as it will drain your battery pretty quickly.
So far, we've been able to stream pretty much any video format that we might have stored on our Mac to our Apple TV. One feature that iOS devices have is being able to play any compatible video file from sites such as Vimeo and YouTube directly via AirPlay.
HUDTube is £2.99 in the Mac App Store and provides a way of streaming Vimeo and YouTube clips to your Apple TV.
Although the Apple TV has built-in apps that can do this, it relies upon searching and I find that the search functionality has a lot to be desired. Additionally, we tend to find the clips we want to watch using our Mac, anyway.
The app is also able to stream any QuickTime-compatible files that are stored on your Mac but may not be in iTunes. If you're wanting to AirPlay alternative video formats such as MKV or AVI files, you're best off using Beamer.
Step 1: Download and Install HUDTube
HUDTube is only available to purchase the Mac App Store so you won't be able to use any free trial before using it.
Step 2: Find a YouTube Clip
Launch HUDTube and you'll see an app reminiscent of QuickTime Player. Find a YouTube clip you want to play on your Apple TV and either drag the address from Safari to the player or, alternatively, copy the address and then paste it into the app by using the Edit > Paste and Play option.
The YouTube clip will start playing within the app after a few moments. Once it has started playing, right-click and select the option to stream it to your Apple TV.
Unlike our previous experience with AirPlay, HUDTube doesn't stop the video playing on the Mac and we have no control over the video playback on the Apple TV via the Mac. You can even close the video window and it will resume playing on your Apple TV until you quit the app.
Step 3: Browser Extensions
HUDTube includes some handy browser extensions for both Safari and Google Chrome, providing a one-click solution for opening Vimeo and YouTube clips directly within HUDTube, ready for us to stream to our Apple TV.
To install the extensions, simply use the HUDTube > Install Browser Extension menu and select the required browser extension.
Once installed, you can press the toolbar button that appears whenever you're on a YouTube clip and it will automatically open in HUDTube for you to then stream to your Apple TV.
There isn't any single solution to AirPlay on the Mac as it really depends on what you're wanting to watch on your television. For most users, I would recommend keeping all your video content within iTunes as it provides the simplest solution to AirPlaying video content, though you will need to make sure that you convert any incompatible video formats first.
For anyone not wanting to use iTunes for video playback or has the majority of videos in alternative formats, then Beamer would be your best choice.
Whilst HUDTube provides a great way of sharing Vimeo and YouTube files on your Mac, if you have an iOS device then you may as well take advantage of iCloud Tabs in Safari and simply use your iOS device to stream the video instead. If you're interested in using iCloud Tabs, check out our tutorial on how to use them.
Overall, AirParrot provides the most versatility but it may not be for everyone. I encourage anyone wanting to explore each of these apps further to use their free trials and see which provides the best option, as everyone will have slightly different usage requirements.
Whatever your requirements are, you'll likely find one of these apps will certainly fit the bill and provide you with a great AirPlay experience from your Mac.