Wednesday, August 15, 2012

AirPlay Mirroring Looks Great if Your Network Is Pretty Enough

OS X Mountain Lion is crawling with tweaks, new functions and improvements, but for the most part, they're minor adjustments that smooth out the general user experience.

One new feature that does stand out, though, is AirPlay mirroring. It can be used to wirelessly connect your Mac with a television. Set it up correctly, and that TV is showing whatever is on your Mac's screen. It's like a wire-free version of an HDMI adapter, and its range is limited only by your wireless network.

The process takes plenty of gear, though. You'll need a decent WiFi router as well as an Apple TV. And the actual TV, of course. Also, your Mac has to be a 2011 model or newer due to requirements placed on the device's graphics chipset.

If you happen to have all of that, you're ready to go. What to use it for? Presentations, entertainment, possibly gaming, or any instance in which having a bunch of people crowd around the Mac's screen would be uncomfortable.
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That's Entertainment

Mirroring adds a new degree of versatility to an Apple TV. By itself, Apple TV is not a universal media monster. It does iTunes, of course, along with Netflix, if you're a subscriber. It just snapped up Hulu. It might even buddy up with Amazon Prime, considering that service just hit iPad. There's YouTube, there are some sports-related channels, etc.

It doesn't do everything, though. For example, HBOGo is a brilliant service, but you can't get it directly through Apple TV. Also, Hulu Plus users sometimes get hit with a most unwelcome message when they bring up a show they want to watch -- something like "Sorry, you can't do that on television. You're going to have to watch this on your computer instead." Normally my reaction to that is to schlep the laptop into the living room, hook it up to the TV with an HDMI adaptor, play the show, and send a photo of myself doing it to Jason Kilar while making my best I-am-utterly-ashamed-of-what-I'm-doing face.

But that schlepping, it's so ... untidy. And my MacBook's battery won't last forever. Soon enough I'll have to dig the power cord out from under the desk and fight through that rat nest that's somehow developed behind the TV to find an outlet.

This is one shortcoming that Airplay mirroring will theoretically eliminate. If you can get content on your Mac, you can see it on your TV, and almost all online video is available via a browser or a player on a personal computer. Set-top boxes, tablets and smart TVs have restrictions here and there, but a basic computer is the common denominator with which just about all online video will play nicely. Make that computer's screen project to your TV, and your online viewing options are free from cumbersome this-screen-not-that-screen complications.


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