A year after its announcement, AirPlay 2 finally went live with iOS 11.4, HomePod 11.4 and tvOS 11.4. The new standard brings a number of big updates to Apple's AirPlay platform, like multi-room audio. Sure, you may know the basics of AirPlay β you can ping music from your iPhone to your Apple TV β but have you ever gone beyond that?
AirPlay is evolving quickly, rivaling the likes of Chromecast for casting videos, and Sonos for multi-room music.
Don't believe us? Read on to find out everything you need to know about Apple AirPlay 2 and how you could be getting more from your media setup.
What is Apple AirPlay 2?
First launched waaaaay back in 2004 β but called AirTunes at the time and pretty limited by today's standards β AirPlay as we know it now was announced by the Cupertino giant in 2010. Essentially it's a two-way protocol, made up of a sender and receiver, that works over Wi-Fi. And you don't need to be on a common Wi-Fi network to get it working, Apple devices are clever enough to find each other without sharing an SSID.
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A sender is an Apple device that's capable of playing media back and sending it to another device β think iPhones, iPads and Macs. The receiver is the device that relays what's being sent, for example video on an Apple TV or music on an AirPlay enabled speaker. Apple TV is actually capable of being both a sender and a receiver β it can act as a speaker for music sent over from an iPhone, for example, but it can also ping its audio to a HomePod speaker.
AirPlay 2 is Apple's recent update to the platform, announced alongside iOS 11 back in June 2017. Multi-room audio is the big feature that everyone has been waiting for, but there are several small quality-of-life improvements that make things much easier as well.
Apple AirPlay 2 β what you can do
Using iOS β iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad
Now that the technical bit is out of the way we can concentrate on the fun part of what exactly you can beam around your house.
Let's start with the simplest AirPlay operation. When listening to music on your iPhone or iPad β either from Apple Music or third-party apps with AirPlay built in β you can push the little AirPlay button to send that audio to a receiver. If you've got a bunch of AirPlay speakers, Apple TVs and the like you'll see a menu pop up where you select the receiver you want to hear your music on.
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In that AirPlay menu, you'll see a little check box next to speakers that are AirPlay 2 compatible. You can click these boxes to play your music on multiple speakers at the same time. This is unlike the original AirPlay, where you could only play music to one speaker at a time.
When you choose your speaker you'll hear your music played back from it, and you can use that device's control method to skip songs, change the volume and the like. You can still use your iOS device for controls too β so you can still scroll through Spotify, for example, on your phone, to choose the tunes you want.
AirPlay 2 also makes it easier to party with friends. Anyone with an iOS device with the 11.4 update can add music to a queue on your AirPlay 2-compatible speaker. Say you were playing a lot of Dua Lipa, but your friend wanted to get their Ariana Grande on, they can just start queuing up their own songs.
From an iOS device you can also fire over visuals β think photos and videos from your stream, and movies from iTunes and third-party apps β to an Apple TV. It's the same little button that appears and, from Control Center, you can also mirror your iPhone or iPad's display. Mirroring on AirPlay was a little bit choppy. Apple says AirPlay 2 fixes this, but we've yet to test it.
Confusingly, you'll sometimes see an AirPlay icon appear when you're watching a video and you'll click it to find that only the audio is sent over. Thems the breaks we're afraid β the world of third-party AirPlay can be an annoying place.
This isn't exactly something you can do with AirPlay, but it is a nice bit of convenience. If you're streaming something onto a speaker and someone calls you, that call won't interrupt your stream at all. The music will keep playing on the speaker and you can still accept and take the call on your phone. You can do both things at the same time. You can even play a game on your phone and nothing will happen.
Using macOS β iMac, Mac Pro and MacBook
On your Mac, you can do all the iOS bits and bobs β i.e. sending over audio and video to recipient AirPlay devices β but it's limited to native Apple apps like iTunes, QuickTime and Safari.
For example, fire up a YouTube video on Safari and you'll see the AirPlay logo and you can relay the video over to your Apple TV. However, load the same YouTube URL on Chrome and the option is gone (replaced by a Chromecast logo, the sneaky so and sos).
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You can, however, mirror your entire Mac display using the AirPlay logo in the top bar. You may run into some severe choppiness if you try to AirPlay a webpage playing a video, though, or if you try and play a game. Basically, it's only really good for static or slow moving pages β so as a second screen for your Tweetdeck, email, document editing and that sort of thing.
Where macOS does come into its own with AirPlay is audio. Multi-room audio was already available on AirPlay, should you have iTunes running on a Mac. It even works the same way as multi-room audio works on iOS with AirPlay 2. From the AirPlay logo in iTunes, you can select multiple speakers and have them all playing in harmony.
AirPlay and Apple TV
You'll have noticed we've mentioned Apple TV a lot in this guide and that's because it's a device you'll be relying on if you want to go beyond audio with AirPlay β it's the only AirPlay recipient that plays back video.
However, Apple TV is also an AirPlay sender (ever since tvOS 11 went live last year). If you are watching a movie on iTunes you can send the sound over to a AirPlay speaker by dragging down on the remote.
AirPort Express was Apple's networking accessory, but the company is bringing that product to the end of its life. While it did act as an AirPlay receiver, it's not compatible with AirPlay 2. So if you're hoping to use it in your new AirPlay 2 world, you're out of luck.
The AirPort Express did have an audio-out 3.5mm jack on the back, which you could plug into existing stereo systems. Then, when you selected the AirPort Express on the AirPlay drop-down mirror it would, in turn, turn the music through those speakers.
HomePod and AirPlay 2 stereo pair
Multi-room audio and AirPlay 2 are very exciting. However, there's another feature that HomePod can pull off thanks to AirPlay 2. It's called stereo pair, and you can enable it fairly easily should you have two HomePods.
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Stereo pair treats two HomePods as one, pairing them both up to give you bigger, richer sound. This is especially great for home cinema setups where you want some booming sounds to go with your rewatches of Avengers: Infinity War. Here's how to do it:
1. Head over to the Home app.
2. Click on one HomePod.
3. Select Create stereo pair.
4. Choose your other HomePod.
5. Confirm your left and right channels are properly chosen.
That's it. Your left HomePod is the main one, which means that's where Siri will live. Your right HomePod will complement your left one when it's playing audio. Simple.
Obviously Apple wants you to buy a HomePod, but there are about 30 speakers coming that will support AirPlay 2. Apple lists them all on its support site. Do keep in mind that all of these speakers are announced, and have not yet arrived. Here they areβ¦
- Beoplay A6
- Beoplay A9 mk2
- Beoplay M3
- BeoSound 1
- BeoSound 2
- BeoSound 35
- BeoSound Core
- BeoSound Essence mk2
- BeoVision Eclipse (audio only)
- Denon AVR-X3500H
- Denon AVR-X4500H
- Denon AVR-X6500H
- Libratone Zipp
- Libratone Zipp Mini
- Marantz AV7705
- Marantz NA6006
- Marantz NR1509
- Marantz NR1609
- Marantz SR5013
- Marantz SR6013
- Marantz SR7013
- Naim Mu-so
- Naim Mu-so QB
- Naim ND 555
- Naim ND5 XS 2
- Naim NDX 2
- Naim Uniti Nova
- Naim Uniti Atom
- Naim Uniti Star
- Sonos One
- Sonos Play:5
- Sonos Playbase
There are also some brands that have not yet announced specific AirPlay 2 speakers but will support the tech. That includes Bose, Sonos, Apple-owned Beats, Polk, Bang & Olufsen and Bowers & Wilkins.