Apple’s AirPlay is the future of personal entertainment

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Apple released iOS 4.3 for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch recently. Of all the new features in the release, one stands tall as the stepping stone for the future of personal entertainment – Airplay support for third party apps.

For those who do not know, Apple’s AirPlay (previously called AirTunes), is a technology using which you can stream media (music, movie, podcasts etc.) to an airplay enabled device. This means that if you have an airplay enabled speaker system, you can listen to the songs on your iOS device on them. If you have an Apple TV, you can watch videos and podcasts on your iOS device (and iTunes) on your HDTV. Before iOS 4.3, only Apple’s apps (iPod, YouTube, iTunes etc.) could use airplay. However, with this release, any app can now leverage the technology to open up endless possibilities in personal entertainment.

Here is a video demonstrating the current features of Airplay:

Now imagine having an app from Comcast (or TataSky, Airtel in India) which lets you watch live TV on your iOS device. With airplay, you will have the option of streaming this content to your HDTV over your home’s WiFi network. Radio stations can have their apps which can stream audio to your airplay enabled speaker system. I am pretty sure NetFlix, ABC and virtually anyone who has a video streaming app for iOS devices is currently working on adding airplay support to their apps.

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I was just checking out the app from Vevo which lets me stream high quality videos to my Apple TV from my iPhone 4. Now I am not a big fan of english music videos, but ever since I saw this feature, I have already watched like 10 videos back to back.

There are other apps like AirVideo, which, with the help of a small program on your home computer let you watch all your video collection on your iOS device from anywhere in the world over WiFi or 3G. And the best part is that it is not necessary that your video collection is in iOS friendly format. That little program sitting on your computer back home coverts your videos in real time and serves them to your iOS device in the format that they accept. Now I also use this app within my home’s WiFi network sometimes to watch the content stored on my desktop’s 2TB hard disk. But who wants to watch videos on the small screen when at home? So, in my current setup, I use Xbox 360 and Tversity media server to watch this content on my home theater setup. Currently, the AirVideo app only supports streaming audio over airplay. When they start to support video (which I am sure they will), I will use my iPhone 4 or iPad to watch this content on my home theater via my Apple TV using airplay instead of 360. Why? because navigating through my video collection over a touch screen with the ability to search (hopefully) beats navigating the Xbox 360’s menu system using a traditional remote heads down. Plus, M$ is no saint. Even Xbox 360 doesn’t support all video formats available on the internet. So using the AirVideo app will ensure that all my videos will play, irrespective of the format they are in.

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I also have an Airport Express which I bought primarily to provide an ethernet port to my non WiFi enabled Xbox 360 in order to get rid of the ethernet cable that was running around my room from my 360 to my WiFi router. Luckily, my 360 is placed next to my home theater setup. Since Airport Express also has a 3.5mm audio jack, I have connected it to my home theater and enjoy music from my iOS devices or iTunes over airplay. The audio jack on the Airport Express also supports multi channel audio using supported cables. So, in future when we have multi channel audio format support in iOS and iTunes, I can stream them to my home theater over airplay.

iOS 4.3 also supports 1080p video mirroring from iPad 2 over HDMI using an adapter. Future iOS versions & devices might support this over airplay. This will open the gates to 1080p gaming on your HDTV using your handheld iOS device. Imagine playing a 1080p game on your HDTV using your iOS device as the wireless controller and the console! Of course such kind of technology will need time to develop and Apple will also have to work on getting faster throughput over WiFi in addition to making their devices more powerful to handle real time processing and smooth streaming of 1080p content. But the sheer thought of the whole setup gives me goose bumps. Rumors are already coming in that the next generation Apple TV will ship with Apple’s A5 dual core processor (the one used in iPad 2) and will be capable of supporting 1080p content (as opposed to the current generation Apple TV which supports a maximum of 720p).

I think of all this and try to imagine how simple and awesome the future of personal entertainment will be. And Steve Job’s following quote comes to my mind – “These are┬ápost-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC”. True to every character indeed.

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