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What Is AirPlay? Everything About Apple’s Streaming Technology

Unlock the power of Apple’s AirPlay for seamless streaming.

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Last updated: December 12, 2023

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AirPlay is a wireless streaming technology that allows audio and video transmission between Apple devices. You can stream content to AirPlay-enabled devices like Apple TV, AirPort Express, and compatible speakers.

To use AirPlay on Mac, follow these steps:

  1. Open the media app you want to use.
  2. Click the AirPlay icon next to the volume slider in the top right corner.
  3. Select the AirPlay-enabled device you want to stream to.
  4. Begin playback, and your media will start streaming to the selected device.

Before Apple’s AirPlay, I used to struggle with tangled wires and patchy streaming. But AirPlay completely transformed how I stream music and videos. It’s a simple and quick way to stream movies from my iPhone to my Apple TV or play podcasts in different rooms without hassle. In this guide, I’ll explain what is Apple AirPlay, how it works, and share its ease and benefits, showing how it’s a must-have for Apple users.

What Is AirPlay?

Apple Products AirPlay 2

AirPlay is a wireless streaming technology developed by Apple. It lets you transmit audio, video, and other multimedia content from one Apple device to another. AirPlay works seamlessly with iTunes and other iOS apps, making it easy to share and enjoy media content.

With AirPlay, you can stream music, photos, and videos from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to other AirPlay-enabled devices, like:

  • Apple TV
  • AirPort Express
  • Compatible speakers
  • Home theater systems


Besides streaming media, AirPlay also allows you to mirror the screen of your Apple device onto a TV or a compatible monitor. This is particularly useful for presentations, watching videos on a larger screen, or playing games.

Now that you know what is AirPlay, let’s see what AirPlay 2 is and how it works.

What Is AirPlay 2?

AirPlay 2 is an updated version of the original AirPlay technology. It was first introduced in 2017 with iOS 11.4 and macOS High Sierra 10.13.6. It uses a combination of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other network protocols to stream audio and video content.

If you have multiple AirPlay-compatible speakers in your home, AirPlay 2 allows you to play the same audio throughout your home or play different audio in different rooms. This is perfect for smart home setups.

Another key feature of AirPlay 2 is its ability to buffer content, which helps reduce interruptions and buffering times. AirPlay 2 uses buffer control to start buffering the content before it is played to prevent interruptions.

AirPlay vs. AirPlay 2: What’s the Difference?

AirPlay vs AirPlay 2

AirPlay 2 is the second generation of AirPlay that builds on the original AirPlay. However, it offers several new features and improvements.

Here are some key differences between AirPlay and AirPlay 2:

  1. 🎵 Multiroom Audio Streaming: AirPlay 2 lets you stream audio to multiple devices simultaneously. This is perfect for hosting parties when you want the same music playing across your house.
  2. 🔊 Stereo Pairing: With AirPlay 2, you can pair two compatible speakers to create a stereo pair. For instance, if you have two Apple HomePods or HomePod minis, you can set them up as a stereo pair using AirPlay 2 for a more immersive listening experience.
  3. 🌀 Improved Buffering: AirPlay has a 2-second buffer for smooth performance, and AirPlay 2 has an even better buffer. Its improved buffering and faster streaming speeds reduce latency and improve overall performance.
  4. 🗣️ Enhanced Siri Integration: With AirPlay 2, you can use Siri to control playback on AirPlay-enabled devices, even from a different room. This makes it easy to control playback, adjust volume, and search for new content without touching your device.
  5. 📱 Increased Device Support: AirPlay 2 is compatible with a wider range of devices than the original AirPlay. This includes third-party speakers and receivers, as well as devices running different versions of iOS and macOS.
  6. 🏡 HomeKit Integration: AirPlay 2 also integrates with Apple’s HomeKit platform to create custom scenes and automation. For example, I’ve created a “movie night” scene that turns on my smart TV, dims the lights, and starts playing a movie through my AirPlay 2-enabled soundbar.
  7. 🎧 Lossless Audio Support: AirPlay 2 also supports lossless audio, allowing for even higher-quality audio streaming. Lossless audio doesn’t compress or modify the original sound file, preserving the audio quality.
  8. 📺 Video Streaming to Smart TVs: AirPlay 2 also allows streaming video content to compatible smart TVs so you can stream your favorite movies from your Apple device to your TV. It also supports 4K HDR content, offering even higher-quality video with better color and contrast.

AirPlay vs. AirPlay 2: System Requirements

AirPlay and AirPlay 2 allow streaming audio and video from Apple devices to other compatible devices. However, there are differences in system requirements between the two technologies.

Here’s a comparison chart of the system requirements for AirPlay and AirPlay 2:

ActionAirPlayAirPlay 2
Stream from1. iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS version 4.2 or higher

2. Mac

3. iTunes on Mac or PC

4. Apple TV 4K or Apple TV HD (only audio)
1. iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with iOS 11.4 or later

2. Apple TV 4K or Apple TV HD with tvOS 11.4 or later

3. HomePod with iOS 11.4 or later

4. Mac with iTunes 12.8 or later or macOS Catalina

5. PC with iTunes 12.8 or later
Stream to1. HomePod

2. Apple TV 4K, Apple TV HD, and Apple TV (2nd/3rd gen)

3. Speakers connected to the Audio Out port on AirPort Express

4. Compatible third-party speakers
1. Apple TV 4K or Apple TV HD with tvOS 11.4 or later

2. HomePod with iOS 11.4 or later

3. Speakers connected to the Audio Out port on AirPort Express 802.11n (2nd gen)

4. AirPlay 2-compatible smart TVs

5. Compatible third-party speakers and receivers
Stream audio from1. iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with iOS 11.4 or later

2. Apple TV 4K or Apple TV HD with tvOS 11.4 or later

3. HomePod with iOS 11.4 or later

4. Mac with iTunes 12.8 or later or macOS Catalina

5. PC with iTunes 12.8 or later
Same as AirPlay
Stream video from1. iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with iOS 12.3 or later

2. Mac with macOS Mojave 10.14.5 or later
Same as AirPlay

AirPlay 2 offers more advanced features but to use it, your devices must meet the minimum system requirements listed in the chart above.

How Is AirPlay 2 Different Than Bluetooth?

AirPlay 2 vs Bluetooth

AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth are two popular wireless technologies used to stream audio between devices. Although both AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth serve the same purpose, they have different features that set them apart.

Below, I have explained the differences between AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth.

  1. 📡 Range: Bluetooth typically has a range of about 30 feet (10 meters), while AirPlay 2, which uses Wi-Fi, can work over much greater distances as long as the devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network. This means with AirPlay 2, you can move around your house without losing the connection.
  2. 🎶 Audio Quality: AirPlay 2 typically offers higher audio quality than Bluetooth. This is because Bluetooth compresses the audio data more, which can affect sound quality. AirPlay 2, with its Wi-Fi connection, supports higher bitrate streaming and can even handle lossless audio.
  3. 📺 Video Streaming: AirPlay 2 supports video streaming to compatible devices like Apple TV or certain smart TVs, something that standard Bluetooth cannot do.
  4. 🏠 Multiroom Streaming: AirPlay 2 allows you to stream audio to multiple speakers or devices simultaneously in different rooms. This is not possible with standard Bluetooth, which is typically limited to streaming to one device at a time.
  5. 🔗 Device Compatibility: AirPlay 2 is designed to work within the Apple ecosystem and is compatible with Apple devices and some third-party speakers and TVs. Bluetooth, on the other hand, has a broader compatibility range as it’s a universal standard used by devices across different brands.
  6. 🌐 Network Dependency: AirPlay 2 requires a Wi-Fi network to function, whereas Bluetooth creates a direct connection between devices. This means AirPlay 2 can be more susceptible to network issues but also allows for features like streaming over longer distances and through different rooms.
  7. 🎛️ Control and Integration: AirPlay 2 offers deeper integration with Apple’s ecosystem, including features like Siri voice commands and integration with HomeKit for smart home setups. Bluetooth lacks this level of integration with any specific ecosystem.
VariableAirPlay 2Bluetooth
Connection RangeAround 100 metersAround 10 meters
Audio QualitySupports lossless audioDoes not support lossless audio
Multi-Room AudioYesNo (with some exceptions)
CompatibilityLimited to Apple or Apple-enabled devicesWidely compatible with many devices
Setup and Ease of UseRelatively easy but more involvedRelatively easy
Network DependencyRequires Wi-FiDoesn’t require Wi-Fi
SecuritySupports end-to-end encryptionUses various security protocols but is considered less secure than AirPlay 2

Does AirPlay Work on All Apple Devices?

pexels florian doppler 6427919
Photo by Florian Doppler

Yes, AirPlay works on all Apple devices. It is fully integrated into iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. It means you have complete control over audio playback on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Apple TV and Apple TV 4K streaming devices also have AirPlay capabilities. With tvOS, your Apple TV can turn any AirPlay 2 speaker into a makeshift home theater sound system. This is useful if you don’t have a dedicated soundbar or 5.1 home theater setup.

The latest version of macOS has even more AirPlay functionality. You can now AirPlay content directly from an iPhone or iPad to your Mac, which is ideal if you want to show media to a group of people on a bigger screen. However, this feature is only available on newer Mac models, including MacBooks, iMacs, and the Mac Mini.

Here is a list of devices compatible with AirPlay 2:

Apple devices manufactured before 2011 are not compatible with AirPlay 2.

  1. 📺 Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD: These streaming boxes allow you to stream content from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac to your TV or home theater system. With AirPlay 2, you can also control your TV’s power and volume using your iPhone or Siri.
  2. 🎵 HomePod and HomePod mini: These smart speakers from Apple have built-in AirPlay 2 support, allowing you to stream audio content from your Apple device to the speaker. You can also use Siri to control playback and volume.
  3. 📱 iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch: Apple’s mobile devices running iOS 11.4 or later can stream audio and video content to AirPlay 2-compatible devices, including Apple TV, HomePod, and smart TVs.
  4. 💻 Mac Computers: Mac computers running macOS Mojave 10.14.5 or later can also stream audio and video content to AirPlay 2-compatible devices, including Apple TV, HomePod, and smart TVs.
  5. 🖥️ Smart TVs: Many modern smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony, and Vizio support AirPlay 2, allowing you to stream audio and video content directly from your Apple device to your TV.
  6. 🔊 Speakers and Receivers: AirPlay 2-compatible speakers and receivers from brands like Sonos, Bose, Denon, Marantz, and others can also receive audio content from your Apple device.

What Non-Apple Devices Work With AirPlay 2?

As I mentioned, the number of AirPlay 2 sender devices is limited. It mainly consists of iOS devices (iOS 11 or later) and Mac computers (requiring macOS 10.13 or later). But the list of AirPlay 2 receiver devices is constantly expanding. Currently, it includes several brands of wireless speakers, AV receivers, and a growing range of TV brands.

You can find the list of all AirPlay-compatible devices on Apple’s website, but some common AirPlay receivers include the following:

  • 📺 Select smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Vizio, and Sony
  • 🖥️ Select Roku TVs and streaming devices
  • 🔥 Some Fire TV devices
  • 📽️ Select AV receivers from Arcam, Bluesound, B&O, B&W, Bose, Denon, JBL, Integra, Onkyo, Marantz, Pioneer, Yamaha, etc.
  • 🔊 Select speakers from Bose, B&O, Bluesound, Denon, Sonos, JBL, Harman Kardon, Philips, Yamaha, etc.

How to Use AirPlay 2

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The process of using AirPlay 2 varies depending on the device you’re using. Below, I have shared the steps for using AirPlay 2 on different types of devices:

1. Using AirPlay 2 on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch

If you want to stream audio from your iOS device, follow these steps:

I used an iPhone as an example here, but the steps are the same for iPad and iPod Touch.

  1. Choose the audio file you want to listen to on your iPhone.
  2. Open Control Center by swiping down from the top right corner of the screen (for iPhone X or later/iPad with iOS 12 or later) or swiping up from the bottom of the screen (for iPhone 8 or earlier/iOS 11 or earlier).
open control center on iphone
  1. Tap the AirPlay icon on the audio card to open it.
tap the airplay icon on the audio card
  1. Select the device you want to stream to, such as an Apple TV, HomePod, or audio system with AirPlay support.
select a device for streaming audio
  1. This will AirPlay your audio content to your selected device.

Now, if you want to stream video from your iOS device, follow these steps:

  1. Open the media app you want to use, such as the Apple TV app.
  2. Tap the AirPlay icon, which looks like a rectangle with a triangle at the bottom.
click the airplay icon at the bottom
  1. Select the AirPlay-enabled device you want to stream to.
select a device to stream the video
  1. Begin playback, and your media will start streaming to the selected device.
airplay video started

Mirror Your iPhone to TV Using AirPlay

You can mirror the entire screen of your iOS device, including iPhone, iPad, or iPod, on your smart TV or Apple TV using AirPlay. Follow the steps below to mirror your iPhone to TV:

  1. Open Control Center by swiping down from the top right corner of the screen (for iPhone X or later/iPad with iOS 12 or later) or swiping up from the bottom of the screen (for iPhone 8 or earlier/iOS 11 or earlier).
open control center on iphone
  1. Tap the Screen Mirroring icon (AirPlay Mirroring on older iOS versions).
select screen mirroring in control center
  1. Choose the appropriate smart TV or Apple TV for mirroring.
choose your smart tv for screen mirroring
  1. If prompted, enter the AirPlay passcode on your iPhone.
  2. Now, your iPhone will be mirrored to your smart TV.

2. Using AirPlay 2 on a Mac

If you want to stream audio from your Mac using AirPlay, follow these steps:

  1. Open the media app you want to use, such as Apple Music.
  2. Click the AirPlay icon next to the volume slider in the top right corner.
  3. Select the AirPlay-enabled device you want to stream to.
click airplay icon and select a device to stream audio
  1. Begin playback, and your media will start streaming to the selected device.

To stream video from your Mac using AirPlay, follow these steps:

  1. Connect your Mac and AirPlay-enabled device to the same Wi-Fi network.
  2. Open the video you want to stream on your Mac using a media player like QuickTime or VLC.
  3. Click the AirPlay icon in the video player.
click the airplay icon in the video player 2
  1. From the AirPlay menu, select your AirPlay-enabled device.
select your device to airplay the video 1
  1. If it prompts you for a code, enter the code displayed on your device.
  2. The video should now be playing on your AirPlay-enabled device.

3. Using AirPlay 2 on a Smart Speaker and Smart TV

To stream audio or video on a smart speaker or smart TV using AirPlay, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure that your AirPlay-enabled device is connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your Apple device.
  2. Open the media app you want to use, such as Apple Music or the TV app.
  3. Tap the AirPlay icon.
  4. Select the AirPlay-enabled device you want to stream from the available devices list.
  5. Begin playback, and your media will stream to the selected device.

Limitations of AirPlay 2

While AirPlay 2 offers many benefits, it has some potential drawbacks or limitations. Some limitations of AirPlay 2 are as follows:

  • 📡 Range Limitations: AirPlay 2’s range is limited to your Wi-Fi network’s coverage. If you’re outside this range, AirPlay 2 won’t work, which can be an issue in large homes or places with thick walls.
  • Compatibility Issues: Not all devices support AirPlay 2, limiting its use with older devices and certain streaming services.
  • 🌐 Dependence on Internet Connectivity: AirPlay 2 requires an internet connection. Poor or no connectivity can lead to playback issues like buffering.
  • 📉 Inconsistent Performance: Performance can vary, especially with high-quality streams, and can be affected by factors like network congestion and distance from the Wi-Fi source.
  • 🎛️ Limited Control on Non-Apple Devices: AirPlay 2 is optimized for Apple devices, which might limit control options on non-Apple platforms. It also offers fewer features compared to other technologies like Bluetooth.

Troubleshooting AirPlay 2 Issues

AirPlay 2 is fantastic for wirelessly streaming content from my Apple devices to various speakers and TVs. But, it’s not without its occasional hiccups. When I run into problems with AirPlay 2, here are the steps I usually take to troubleshoot:

  • Compatibility Check: Before I dive into troubleshooting, I always confirm that both my Apple device and the AirPlay 2 receiver are compatible. A quick check on Apple’s website or the device’s manual can save a lot of time.
  • 📶 Wi-Fi Network Stability: I make sure both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network with a strong signal. AirPlay 2 depends heavily on a stable Wi-Fi connection, so this is a crucial step.
  • 🔃 Device Restart: If there’s a glitch, sometimes all it takes is a restart. I reboot both my Apple device and the AirPlay 2 receiver (like my Apple TV or a smart speaker) to refresh their connections.
  • 🆕 Software Updates: I check for the latest software updates on my devices. Running outdated software can often lead to compatibility issues with AirPlay 2, so I keep everything up-to-date.
  • ⚙️ Review AirPlay Settings: It’s easy to overlook settings. I ensure AirPlay is enabled on the receiver device and that it’s not accidentally set to Off or Private.
  • 🌐 Network Settings Reset: If all else fails, I reset my network settings. This means going to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings on my Apple device. Remember, this erases all saved Wi-Fi networks and passwords, so make sure to have those details handy.
  • 📞 Contact support: If you’ve tried all the above steps and still can’t get AirPlay 2 to work, contact Apple support or the device manufacturer you’re streaming to for further assistance.

AirPlay Your Content to Apple Devices

While there are some potential limitations, AirPlay and AirPlay 2 are powerful tools that can simplify the way we share content. Here are some more tips to improve your content streaming experience:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Are all devices compatible with AirPlay 2?

    No, all devices are not compatible with AirPlay 2 by default. It primarily supports newer Apple devices and select third-party products. Plus, not all AirPlay-enabled devices are compatible with AirPlay 2, so check with the manufacturer to ensure compatibility.

  2. What types of media can I stream with AirPlay 2?

    You can stream a wide range of media with AirPlay 2. This includes music, videos, photos, and podcasts from Apple devices to compatible speakers, smart TVs, and other AirPlay 2-enabled devices.

  3. Can I use AirPlay 2 with non-Apple devices?

    Yes, you can use AirPlay 2 with non-Apple devices if they support the technology. Some smart TVs and speakers from third-party manufacturers, such as Samsung, LG, Sony, and Sonos, support AirPlay 2. Plus, you may need a third-party app to stream from a non-Apple device to an AirPlay 2-enabled device.

Hashir Ibrahim

Author

I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.

Ojash

Reviewer

Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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