Under The Microscope

Airfoil, AirPlay, and the New Apple TV

Over the past two weeks, plenty of excited users have received their new (version 2) Apple TVs, including everyone here at Rogue Amoeba. We’ve gotten a lot of questions about the Apple TV, as well as Apple’s updated version of AirTunes, now called AirPlay.

For years, our audio transmitting tool Airfoil has made it possible to send any audio to devices which support AirTunes. Originally, the only device of this type was the AirPort Express, Apple’s strange little router with an audio output. Later, the Apple TV (version 1) came along, and we supported that as well.

Currently, Airfoil supports sending audio to the AirPort Express, AppleTV, iOS devices (running our free Airfoil Speakers Touch app), and even other Macs, Windows, and Linux machines (running our free Airfoil Speakers software). Airfoil aims to let you send any audio, all around your house, using the AirTunes protocol.

In September, Apple announced that they’re changing AirTunes into AirPlay. AirPlay will do everything AirTunes did (wireless audio to AirPort Express and AppleTV), with some important additions:

  • AirPlay will be supported by additional hardware from third parties like iHome and JBL, making it possible to send audio to more devices.

  • AirPlay will enable you to send audio from an iOS device out to an AirPlay-enabled device.

  • Airplay will enable you to send video from an iOS device to an Apple TV (version 2), and likely from iTunes as well.

With all that in mind, let’s answer a few questions related to Airfoil, AirPlay, and the new Apple TV.

Can Airfoil send audio to the new AppleTV?

Yup! The current versions of Airfoil send audio to the new AppleTV with no updates required. We’ve worked with version 1 of the AppleTV since 2008, and we support version 2 as well. Download and enjoy!

What about sending video?

Right now, this part of AirPlay’s functionality is not available in the iOS betas nor in iTunes. When it is available, we’ll be taking a close look at it, and determining what we can do then. Sending non-iTunes video from your Mac to your AppleTV is certainly something we’d love to make possible, if Apple doesn’t.

Won’t it be easy to send video, with Airfoil Video Player?

We don’t have any way of knowing just how the video sending will work with AirPlay. Once we see it, we’ll be able to tell if we can mimic it. Right now, we have no idea what format AirPlay will send it, or if it will accept streams rather than seekable files.

However, even then, Airfoil has never done much with video. Airfoil Video Player is a tool for playing video files and DVDs on your Mac, with remote audio. We’ve never sent video.

So, in short? We’ll see what happens.

Will I be able to transmit from my iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad to Airfoil Speakers?

Unfortunately, this is not currently possible. Just as iTunes currently won’t see or send to Airfoil Speakers, iOS devices also will only send to Apple-approved outputs.

Do I still need Airfoil Speakers Touch to receive audio on iOS?

It appears so, yes. Nothing currently in AirPlay makes it possible to send from your Mac to an iOS device. Airfoil enables this.

What about Airfoil for iOS?

This is still not possible for a third-party. However, AirPlay on iOS appears to obviate the need for a third party app to send audio out.


Right now we’re eagerly waiting for more information. It looks like Airfoil will continue to be useful in the future, and we’re working on some major updates already. You can be sure we’ll be working on updating Airfoil to provide the best possible AirPlay functionality as well, so stay tuned!

7 Responses to “Airfoil, AirPlay, and the New Apple TV”

  1. Mathias says:

    Thanks for the posting, same questions arised here a couple of days ago. My personal favorite would be to have video output from any device to Apple TV gen2… (for sure it needs to be encoded, which could make thinks not as simple as it seems ;-).

  2. Nigel says:

    Thanks for the update. The new AirPlay functionality in the AppleTV all of a sudden makes that device much more interesting.

    What I’m curious about is that Apple is now allowing 3rd parties to implement the protocol. Does this open new possibilities for you guys? (I’m talking purely theoretical here – I’m sure there are potentially hefty licensing fees and restrictions involved.)

  3. Quentin Carnicelli says:

    Nigel – As far as we can tell, no. AirPlay licensing currently appears to be a hardware program. AirPlay protocol itself isn’t licensed, but instead a chip that can do AirPlay is. Hardware makers can buy it and get AirPlay into their devices. This is done via a hardware company called BridgeCo, which is in charge of making and distributing said chips.

    As far as we can tell, Apple isn’t giving the details of AirPlay out to anyone but BridgeCo (as they need to know them to make the chips). To hardware OEMs, AirPlay is going to be a black box: data comes in, magic happens, audio comes out.

    To even get this level of access, one must sign the MadeForiPod licensing agreement, and then be personally approved for AirPlay licensing. I don’t think we’d be accepted.

    So be mindful of any claims that AirPlay is now “open”, it is still very much under Apple’s ultimate control. Well, Apple and Rogue Amoeba, we still know how it works.

  4. Ben Weiss says:

    How about routing audio from app 1 to output devices A, B & C & routing audio from app 2 to devices D & E ? How about routing audio input to apps X, Y & Z? Sounds to me like it’s time for a UI with (user-pastable) icons representing each output device and app icons dragged into one another or, better yet, at the edges of a window with lines dragged between them to select audio routing.

    That’s what I’m waiting for.

    Oh, and don’t forget to support multiple Griffin iMics, too!

  5. Rick says:

    I’ve read that the new AppleTVs go to sleep after 30 minutes and that an incoming AirPlay or AirTunes/Airfoil stream won’t wake it up. Is that true from your testing? If so, that is too bad as I’m looking to replace an older Airport Express with a new AppleTV, but our main use is actually to stream audio at night using Airfoil.

  6. Paul Kafasis says:

    Ben Weiss: I’m afraid N -> N is not something for which we have any plans. While there are a small number of folks such as yourself who could make use of this, the vast majority of our users need 1 -> 1 or 1 -> N, and that’s what we’ll continue to make. Sorry!

    While not supported in anyway, and having the possibility to cause glitches with your Preferences, you can copy Airfoil, and run a second instance to send your second source to other outputs. Again, not supported, but it will likely work.

    Rick: By default, I believe the sleep is 30 minutes, yes. And when it’s asleep, the ATV disappears as a source, in iTunes or Airfoil.

    However, you can adjust the sleep pref in the Settings, and there’s a “Never” option, which will mean it will always be available.

  7. Tony Jensen says:

    “Sending non-iTunes video from your Mac to your AppleTV is certainly something we’d love to make possible, if Apple doesn’t.“

    This is the only part of my home theater setup that is left to be figured out. I eagerly await potential solutions.

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