Under The Microscope

AppleTV, AirTunes And Airfoil 3

Today, Apple released “Apple TV Take 2”, version 2 of the software running the Apple TV. This update adds many things, including iTunes store access right from the device, a new UI, and more. Unheralded, but very much worth noting, the Apple TV now has AirTunes functionality. I haven’t seen any mention of this on Apple’s site, though plenty of people did notice it at Macworld. However, there’s also been a bit of misinformation, so let’s see if we can’t clear some of that up.

Apple TV Can Receive Audio Over AirTunes…
20080212iTunesMenu.jpgThe Apple TV can now receive audio from iTunes, as an AirTunes device, just like an AirPort Express. As you can see, Apple TV’s will now appear in iTunes output menu – my Apple TV is named Boxy1. It works just like a standard AirPort Express units.

…But It Can’t Transmit Over AirTunes
However, this AirTunes functionality is one-way -the Apple TV can not send audio to AirPort Express units. It functions only as a receiver, not a transmitter, at least currently. AppleInsider previously reported otherwise, but it appears this report was wrong.

Apple TV Can Receive Information From The Sender…
Apple TV DisplayWhen receiving audio from iTunes as an AirTunes device, the Apple TV shows information on the audio its receiving, including song, artist and album name, as well album artwork where available. You can see this in the image to the left. And yes, I’ve updated my TV to a fancy new widescreen, high definition LCD since we last looked at the Apple TV. Thanks for noticing!

…But You Can’t Remotely Control The Sender
The Apple Remote does not remotely control the sending iTunes while the Apple TV is receiving as an AirTunes devices, as reported here. When the Apple TV is receiving and in AirTunes mode, the Apple Remote currently only allows you to bring up the menu and exit AirTunes mode.

…And You Can Remotely Control The Sender
The Apple Remote remotely controls the copy of iTunes that’s sending to the Apple TV, as reported here. When the Apple TV is receiving and in AirTunes mode, the Apple Remote allows you to pause and skip tracks.

Update: Thanks to multiple commenters for convincing me to go back and check on this. With the help of our own Guy English, I realized that I needed to adjust an iTunes preference to make this work.

This preference is in the Advanced section -> General tab, and it appears to be off by default. Prior to now, this preference only applied to Keyspan’s hardware, and was always a bit odd. Anyhow, turn it on and the remote will control iTunes, through the Apple TV. Very nice!

You Can Try And Send Audio From Airfoil 3…
Airfoil 3 Thumb.png
Right now Airfoil 3, our tool for sending audio to hardware all around your house, also sees the Apple TV as an output. It displays it as an AirPort Express unit for now, and you can even send audio to it. If you do, Airfoil will think things are working fine.

…But It Won’t Work
However, currently, no audio will be played by the Apple TV. The Apple TV seems to know we’re sending to it, as the display will change in some setups to enter AirTunes mode. However, it does not properly handle this audio, because the receiving method differs from that of a standard AirPort Express. The specifics of network encryption used by the Airport Express appear to differ on the Apple TV. Thus, at this time, Airfoil 3 is not able to work as desired with the Apple TV.

What Next?
We’re currently working to get the Apple TV and Airfoil talking to one another fully, and we’ve already got the Apple TV experimentally receiving audio from development builds of Airfoil.

Of course, we’re stuck doing all of this in the dark. It would be nice if Apple would work with us, in any capacity, to make Airfoil compatible with their hardware. Doing so would speed development time of an application that can only help to move more units, while costing them next to nothing. Nevertheless, we hope to have an Airfoil 3.1 update with full Apple TV support in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

1. Loyal readers may notice that it’s yet another device named after a Futurama robot. Previous such devices include Clamps and iZac.

26 Responses to “AppleTV, AirTunes And Airfoil 3”

  1. egordin says:

    Keep up the good work guys! Can’t wait to buy AirFoil once you guys get it working for the AppleTV!

  2. Timm says:

    Wow! I’m excitedly awaiting the arrival of the “Stream to Apple TV” feature in Airfoil. This way I will be able to listen to internet radio in my bedroom without the need of an additional Express base station. Thanks in advance!

  3. adin says:

    keep up the great work….I know that I’m not going to buy an AppleTV until it works with Airfoil (I have a Vudu already) — it’s definitely the big “value-add” for the AppleTV

  4. Aidan says:

    In my experience with Take 2 you can control iTunes audio from the AppleTV screen.

  5. Burford says:

    OK, I’m a confused new Apple TV owner. I don’t have the v2 update yet. I can already use the streaming feature to listen to music from any iTunes on the network. What does the new AirTunes client feature add over this?


  6. flowb33 says:

    Burford: AirTunes make sending audio more flexible. Now you can listen to Internet Radio over the AppleTV, for instance. Or you could stream it to several areas of your house in sync.

    I just updated my AppleTV, noticed AirFoil didn’t work and came right to the Rouge Amoeba weblog to see if there was any news. What a great, timely post. Thanks for being on top of it.

  7. Chris says:

    @Aidan: Same here. I was able to pause, fast forward, change tracks, etc.

  8. Paul says:

    Hey hey! I’ve updated this, as multiple commentators convinced me I needed to check again. Indeed, there’s a preference needed to control iTunes remotely. Once it’s on, the remote works.

    I’m glad to hear Airfoil will help sell a few Apple TVs – maybe Apple will notice. Probably not though.

  9. Alan says:

    I am looking forward to sending Safari audio to my Apple TV via Airfoil. Airfoil has been with me for a few years now, and I love it–keep it up guys!

  10. t-minus says:

    Does it still work with your standard definition tv?

  11. Erik J. Barzeski says:

    If only the darn thing could bridge wirelessly as well, so that I could network my Xbox and DVR to it via an ethernet hub. Until then, no AppleTV for me. Instead, just an AirPort Express.

  12. ankush says:

    this update would be amazing!!!

  13. Carlo says:

    NO SYNC!

    I LOVE the idea of AirTunes on an AppleTV, but when I use it, it’s out of sync with my Express and my Mac sending the audio, which sounds terrible.

  14. Michael says:

    I was ready to purchase Airfoil when the AppleTV update came, until I tried it out and it didn’t work. I plan on purchasing it as soon as you get it working, good luck to you, I can’t wait to use it.

  15. dark magik says:

    u guys kick a**! i also found this post after getting excited about airTunes on appe tv 2 & then trying to stream via AirFoil. keep up the great work!

    99% of times i crack software (out of old school “cloud should be free” principle), but i’m making an exception & buying AirFoil! :)

  16. dal20402 says:

    Sweet! And I know you guys will have Airfoil working soon.

    I’ll buy an Apple TV once there is an end-to-end 1080p capable version. Unfortunately, that won’t cause me to buy Airfoil, because I already bought it for my 2 Airport Expresses. :)

  17. ExitToShell says:

    This new feature removes a requirement to “hack” the AppleTV to play non-supported audio formats, since you can set that up on a Mac and blast the audio in agnostic format to AppleTV (and Airport Express units) around your home/office.

    Just in case someone wanted to use a format created by two college kids to broadcast music on their own internet radio station hosted on their schools intranet.

    This could also streamline the family room/media room since you don’t need an Airport Express stuck in an outlet with long cables snaking around the baseboards to get to your 5.1 speakers. Note that AppleTV can now do true 5.1 audio so it all fits together with one thin little gray slab with an Apple logo on top (and not Microsoft, or any random hardware ODM).

  18. Matthew says:

    Will there be an update for the windows version too?

  19. Peter says:

    I think the killer app here is going to be an extension of airfoil that lets me stream not just my FLAC audio from VLC to AppleTV, but also HD video! Or maybe what I need is VLC on on the AppleTV, because I really do hate iTunes :)

    Anyway great work! I recently purchased AirFoil and I’m very pleased with it, look forward to the update.

  20. Dove says:

    It would be interesting if AirTunes could pick up on the remote control info coming back from the Apple TV and use it to run applescripts or whatever to control non-iTunes playback sources.

  21. Trevor Fancher says:

    One other nice feature would be for the Airfoil Speakers app to cause the computer it is running on to show up in the speakers pop-up menu in iTunes. This would allow me to run Airfoil Speakers on my desktop and listen to iTunes over my desktop speakers from my friend’s laptop which doesn’t have Airfoil installed.

    Is this possible currently and I am just not doing something right?

  22. Paul says:

    t-minus: I haven’t tested, but I’ve seen other reports that standard-def still works fine.

    Carlo: If you’re not getting sync between your Mac and ATV, with iTunes, something is wrong – you should talk to Apple. Those should (and do, for all the tests we’ve run) sync fine, just like AirPort Express units do.

    dark magik: Thanks, I guess…I have no idea what a “cloud should be free” principle is. We, and most other developers, work hard on our software – if you use it, you should pay for it. If you don’t, we can’t stay in business.

    dal20402: Free new features for you, if you have v3 8).

    Matthew: We’re working on Airfoil for Windows too, yes.

    Peter: Unfortunately, the Apple TV isn’t built to receive streamed video the way it is streamed audio. There’s no AirFlicks, at least not now.

    Dove: That’s something we’ll be considering past 3.1. Version 3.1 is just about getting Apple TV supported for streaming.

    Trevor: Unfortunately, iTunes itself precludes this, as it will only speak to authenticated audio devices. That’s not something we can get around. You can, however, set iTunes as your source in Airfoil. Have iTunes play to the Computer output, and let Airfoil send to both AirPort Express units and Airfoil Speakers.

  23. rbshen says:

    How do you get the apple tv name shown in the bottom of the itunes like airport express? I don’t have it even I tuned on airtunes in apple tv’s settings.

  24. Peter says:

    Can the Airtunes capability on Apple TV stream audio out of the optical or analog audio ports while the TV (in my case connected via HDMI) is turned off?

    Thx in advance,

  25. Peter says:

    I answered my own question: you can indeed use the airtunes capabilities of Apple TV to stream from itunes on any mac directly out of the Audio (analog) out ports on the Apple TV to a amplifier in my case (bypassing use of the TV) . I have not tried with the optical audio out, but this is a pretty cool feature as it incorporates yet another room into my airtunes universe.


  26. Arthur says:

    Hi there,

    You say that “Apple TV Can Receive Information From The Sender”. Then, could you add Growl support to Airfoil, so that the song name shows up on the receiver’s screen?

    There are at least to ways you can do it:
    – implement Growl in the sender app, install Growl on both machine, and use Growl’s network notification capability
    – implement Growl in the receiver app, install Growl on the receiver machine only, send information through Airfoil’s own channel, and let Airfoil’s receiver show up the info using Growl’s local notification

    I hacked up a Airtunes-like thing in 2006, using Apple’s AUlab and a couple a freewares, and did use the first option (Growl’s network notification) to achieve the information feature. It worked fine, but not so user-friendly, so i’m glad you made Airfoil 3, i think i’ll buy it (much better women acceptance factor than my hack!).

    It shouldn’t be that difficult: one day, i asked freeware ByteController’s developper to add Growl support to his app, and got the feature a few days later!

    Thanks in advance, mates!
    (mail: take my website address and replace the first dot with @)

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