Yesterday's Apple TV update added some major streaming-content services (MLB.TV, NBA League Pass) and 5.1 Netflix audio, and it also added some AirPlay enhancements, including the ability to stream video to an Apple TV from third-party applications. After updating both our Apple TV and iPhone 4, we took a hands-on look at the new AirPlay changes.
When we first tested AirPlay, we noted a couple of key limitations. Videos we shot on our iPhone wouldn't stream, there wasn't any support for video streaming from third-party apps, and we were disappointed that while Pandora would stream, artist/track info and cover art didn't show up onscreen.
The latest update addresses the first two of those complaints. We were able to stream videos we shot with our iPhone, as well as "push" videos from the Vevo app to the Apple TV. Vevo's AirPlay functionality is listed as beta, and we did have some hiccups, but overall it worked well. Not all third-party apps work and Hulu Plus notably still isn't AirPlay-compatible. We still also weren't able to push browser-based Vimeo videos to our Apple TV. (Sound was pushed, but not video.)
Though AirPlay is dead simple to use, it's worth mentioning that we ran into relatively frequent dropouts streaming music from our iPhone to our Apple TV while in the same room as our wireless router. It's hard not to point to the AirPlay streaming platform as the problem, as we had no trouble streaming HD Netflix movies on the Apple TV over the same Wi-Fi network. If you're planning on using AirPlay as your main method of streaming music, it doesn't feel quite reliable enough yet. (At least in our test environment, which is admittedly crowded with wireless signals.)
What's left for AirPlay? Not much on Apple's side, as many of the features we'd like to see (such as Hulu Plus streaming) are up to developers to implement. Though it would be interesting to see if AirPlay could be used with some iOS games, it seems like it would be hard to pull off with the lag over the network.
For now, the biggest improvement we'd like to see is improved audio-streaming stability, which would make the Apple TV a viable budget competitor to dedicated audio streamers like Sonos and Squeezebox.
Of course, Apple TV isn't the only product with AirPlay support. It's finally beginning to pop up in AV receivers, speaker docks, and mini systems. Stay tuned for reviews of other AirPlay-compatible products coming later this month.