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.

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