Apple's media-streaming technology, AirPlay, is a great way to stream devices across your home, but it only works on Apple-approved destinations out of the box. Here's how to make your entire home AirPlay-compatible, so that whether you're using Windows or Mac, Android or iOS, XBMC or another media centre, you can stream media seamlessly between each.
On its own, AirPlay only streams media from iTunes or iOS to the Apple TV, or AirPort Express. You could make up for this disadvantage by using other, non-AirPlay technologies instead, but AirPlay is so simple to use that there's no reason not to use it. With just a few third-party programs and tweaks, you can stream music, photos and video over AirPlay to nearly any device in your house—even the non-Apple ones.
What You'll Need
When you stream via AirPlay, you have two devices to worry about: the source (that is, the device doing the streaming), and the destination (the device receiving the media). So at minimum, you'll need one device you can set up as a source, and one device you can set up as a destination. Below, we'll explain how to set up the following AirPlay destinations:
- A Windows PC
- A Mac
- An iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch
- An Android Phone
- A Media Centre Running XBMC, Boxee or Plex
Then we'll walk through how to set up the following sources:
- iOS Apps Not Designed To Work With AirPlay
- Desktop Apps Not Designed To Work With AirPlay
- An Android Phone
Turning Unsupported Devices Into AirPlay Destinations
In this section, we'll detail how to set up Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and XBMC to work as AirPlay destinations. Remember that you'll need an AirPlay source, too, like iTunes, iOS or one of the sources we talk about in the second section. Once you have them set up as destinations, all you need to do to play media on them is choose them from the AirPlay list on your source device, as seen at the left.
If you have an iPhone but you use Windows on the desktop (or you just have a diverse house of Windows PCs and Macs), you can stream AirPlay music to Windows using free utility Shairport4w. It's a completely portable application that sits in your system tray, broadcasting your PC as an AirPlay destination. Sadly, it doesn't stream video, and there isn't currently a working AirPlay video player for Windows, so this is all we have.
Streaming to Your Mac
To stream media to your Mac,all you need is the simple, open source AirMac. It sits in your menu bar and broadcasts your Mac as an AirPlay-compatible device, so once you've started it up, it should show up in all the AirPlay menus around your house. Once you start streaming media to it, it will play in a new QuickTime X window.
Streaming to iOS
Streaming audio and video from iTunes to iOS is actually built-in to iTunes, but it isn't under the banner of AirPlay, which might cause a lot of people to miss it. All you need to do is log into Home Sharing in iTunes on the computer holding all the media, then log into Home Sharing in Settings > iPod on your iPhone or iPad (on iPod touches, it's in Settings > Music). Once you do, you should see a new "Shared" tab pop up in your iPod app (you might need to hit "More" to see it). From there, you can navigate to your iTunes library and play any music or video from that library, including videos that weren't purchased on iTunes.
Now, if you want to stream from non-iTunes sources to iOS, you'll need an extra app. Previously mentioned AirView will let you stream AirPlay video from any other source to an iOS device—just open it up, and it will broadcast itself as an AirPlay destination.
Streaming to Android
If you'd like to stream music to music on your Android phone, a simple app called AirBubble will set it up as an AirPlay destination. Just install the app (you'll need to make sure "Unknown Sources" is checked under Android's Settings > Applications), start it up, and you'll see "AirBubble" show up as an AirPlay destination in iTunes, iOS, and other streaming devices. You can then stream that music right to your phone as you would to anything else. Sadly, it does not stream video at this time.
Streaming to XBMC, Boxee and Plex
If you have a home theatre PC running XBMC, Boxee, or Plex, you can use the AirPlayer Python script to use it as an AirPlay destination.. Installation is different on every system, so we won't go too deeply into it here. Check out this page for more detailed installation instructions for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. If you're running a Live XBMC installation like on our standalone XBMC media center, you'll want to follow these instructions to get AirPlay up and running. Note that AirPlayer only streams video; it won't work with music.
Turning Unsupported Devices Into AirPlay Sources
iTunes and iOS will stream music (and sometimes video) just fine, but if you listen to music and watch videos using other apps or platforms, here's how to turn them into AirPlay sources.
Streaming from Other Apps in iOS
While the Music and Video apps in iOS will stream over AirPlay out of the box, apps like Safari or VLC won't. If you've jailbroken your iPhone or iPad, however, you can use previously mentioned AirVideoEnabler to enable AirPlay in other iOS apps. Just install the app from Cydia, restart your device, and you should see the AirPlay icon pop up in most other media playing apps.
Streaming from Android
One of our favourite Android media players, DoubleTwist, can actually stream music and video via AirPlay with its AirSync add-on. Once you've installed doubleTwist and AirSync, open up doubleTwist's Settings and go to "AirTwist & AirPlay". Check the "AirTwist & AirPlay" box to enable it.
Now, whenever you play a song or video in doubleTwist, you'll see a small Wi-Fi icon next to the player controls. Tap this to pick from a list of AirPlay-compatible devices and stream the video to them.
Streaming from Other Apps on Your PC or Mac
If you want to stream audio from, say, a non-iTunes music player or your browser to an AirPort Express (or other AirPlay-enabled device), you have a few options. The best option is Airfoil, which is a $US30 app for both Windows and Mac that will sync and stream audio from any source to AirPlay-compatible hardware. If you want to do that for free, previously mentioned RaopX will do the trick nicely on OS X, albeit with a bit of extra work and a significant audio delay. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a good free option for Windows.
There are still a few holes in this strategy (like streaming video to Windows or streaming audio to XBMC), but overall it makes AirPlay much, much more versatile with just a few simple tools. Now, you can stream audio and video nearly anywhere in your house, all with just the click of a button. Got any of your own preferred methods for streaming media via AirPlay? Share them with us in the comments.