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AirPlay Definition: What is AirPlay?


Apple AirPlay

Apple AirPlay Icon

Image Courtesy of Apple

What is AirPlay?

Originally named AirTunes, due to the fact that only digital audio was supported, AirPlay is a wireless streaming system developed by Apple for both video and audio. It's made up of a proprietary set (or stack) of protocols that enables you to use your portable iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) to stream media using a Wi-Fi network. For digital music, you can stream to your TV (in conjunction with an Apple TV box), share with other devices (via Airport Express), or listen with AirPlay compatible speakers. It's also possible to stream digital music to several rooms (with AirPlay speakers of course) using iTunes on the PC and Mac.

How does AirPlay Stream Digital Music and What Audio Format is Used?

To stream digital music over Wi-Fi, AirPlay uses the RTSP protocol (the AirTunes part). The Apple Lossless audio codec is used (over the UDP transport layer protocol) to stream two audio channels at 44100 Hz. The audio data is also scrambled by the AirPlay server device which uses a private key based encryption system.

Can AirPlay Transmit my Song's Metadata Information?

Yes, it can. For example, if you use Apple TV to stream music, videos, and photos from your iOS device to your HDTV then metadata such as song title, artist, genre, etc., can be displayed too. Album art can also be transmitted and displayed using AirPlay -- the JPEG image format is used to send cover art.

Examples of hardware devices that use AirPlay

Just like any wireless network, you need a device that transmits information (AirPlay sender) and one that receives it (AirPlay Receiver).
  • Examples of AirPlay Sender Hardware: Apple portable devices running the iOS operating system (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad). These have to be running at least iOS version 4.2 or higher to use AirPlay. A Mac or PC with iTunes can also be set up as an AirPlay Sender device.
  • Examples of AirPlay Receiver Hardware: Apple TV, Airport Express, Airplay-compatible speakers, are the main ways of receiving wireless media from AirPlay senders. However, other examples include: stereo systems, audio-visual receivers, and docks.
Also Known As: AirTunes, Apple TV, Airport Express

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