How To

The complete guide to Apple AirPlay: streaming music, audio, and video

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Most people don’t own a stereo anymore and use their phones or computers—or the cloud—as repositories for their music. You can stream music from any Apple device to speakers and stereo receivers using AirPlay, Apple’s local streaming protocol. With AirPlay, you can send music to one or more speakers in your home, and control them from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. You can also stream video to a TV or a Mac.

AirPlay is flexible and powerful. In this article, we explain how you can get the most out of Apple AirPlay.

A brief history of AirPlay

First released as AirTunes in 2004, this protocol was designed to stream music to an AirPort Express, which could then be connected to a stereo receiver or powered speakers. In 2010, Apple changed the name to AirPlay, since the protocol also started supporting video, and released AirPlay 2 in 2018. This newer iteration improved the reliability of AirPlay and allowed users to send multiple streams to multiple devices.

You can send audio or video via AirPlay from most Apple devices: iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple TVs; this can be done over Wi-Fi or Ethernet. For example, if you have a Mac connected to a router via Ethernet, you can stream to another device that receives the data over Wi-Fi from the router.

AirPlay receivers include HomePods, Apple TVs, and a wide range of powered speakers from many companies, as well as many stereo receivers. A number of TVs also support AirPlay, so you can send video and audio from an Apple device and watch it on your TV. (These lists from the Apple website are not exhaustive.)

Since the AirPort Express has been discontinued, several companies have released AirPlay receivers that allow you to connect them to older stereos; one example is the Belkin SoundForm Connect, which has both analog and optical audio outputs. You can also stream via AirPlay to a Mac, from devices running iOS 14 or iPadOS 14 or later, or macOS Monterey or later.

How to stream music and audio via AirPlay

The most common use of AirPlay is to stream audio from a device to one or more speakers. When you stream audio via AirPlay, the sending device converts it to Apple Lossless format at 48 kHz. This doesn’t improve or degrade the audio quality, but since source files could be in different formats and in different bit rates, this ensures that the audio is consistent. With AirPlay 2, you can listen to high-resolution audio of up to 24-bit/48 kHz on devices that support this type of audio, which include the HomePod and HomePod mini.

If you want to stream from the Music app on your iPhone to a speaker or stereo, you do this from the Music app’s playback screen. Tap the AirPlay icon at the bottom of the screen to display an AirPlay picker; then tap the device you want to stream to. If you select multiple devices, the audio is sent to all the selected devices, in sync.

You have similar options in the Music app on a Mac. Click the AirPlay icon in the toolbar and choose which devices to stream to.

As you can see in both of the above screenshots, some speakers show as pairs; this is the case for Office, where I have two HomePods set as a stereo pair, and for Kitchen, where I have a stereo pair of HomePod minis. (You can create a stereo pair of HomePods in the Home app.) The Bedroom device is a generic speaker, i.e. not a HomePod. It is actually a stereo pair of Sonos speakers, which is set up in the Sonos app, but AirPlay only sees this as a single speaker. Two devices at the bottom of the list show as TV Room. The top one is a Sonos soundbar, showing as a generic speaker, and the bottom is an Apple TV.

In the above screenshot, Music is streaming to the HomePods in my office. You can see that there’s a volume slider for this device; you can adjust the volume for the device, using this slider, or in the app you’re streaming from. If you select multiple devices, you can adjust the volume for each one.

You can also stream audio when playing a video. Click the AirPlay icon on a video, and choose a device to stream to. (For some reason, the video AirPlay picker on my MacBook Air doesn’t show icons for non-Apple devices.) You can select multiple devices to stream the audio of a video on different speakers, such as, for example, a pair of HomePods on your desk on either side of your Mac.

How to control other AirPlay devices

As you can see, in the first screenshot in this article, there is an option in Control Center to “Control Other Speakers & TVs.” You can send audio and video to multiple devices in your home and control them from a single device. If you tap that option, you’ll see something like this, showing all of your AirPlay devices, and whether or not, they are playing any audio or video content. On a Mac, these devices display below the other AirPlay devices, s yo can see in the second screenshot above.

Tap one of these AirPlay devices to control playback, adjust the volume, or start playing different content.

How to stream video via AirPlay

In the above screenshot, you can see that it’s possible to stream audio when watching a video. If you choose a device in that picker that can display video, then AirPlay streams both the video and the audio. In my case, I could stream to my iMac or to my Apple TV (I’m playing the video on my MacBook Air). If I had a TV that supported AirPlay, I could also stream to that device directly.

Interestingly, Apple licenses its AirPlay technology to some third-party manufacturers. So, for example, you can AirPlay video directly from your Apple products to some smart TVs and even Roku streaming devices, without needing to buy an Apple TV set-top box as an intermediary.

How to use AirPlay Mirroring

When you stream video from an Apple device to another device, the video is sent in its native format; you can only stream AirPlay video in formats that Apple devices support. You can’t stream videos from other apps, such as the free VLC, which plays videos in many formats. However, you can use AirPlay Mirroring to stream video from an Apple device to another device from an app that can play unsupported formats; the video is automatically converted to a supported format for streaming.

To use AirPlay Mirroring, click the Screen Mirroring icon in Control Center on a Mac or iOS device, then choose a device to stream video to.

You can stream a video you’re playing on a device, but also anything on your screen. This is great if you’re giving a presentation: just launch PowerPoint or Keynote, and stream to a TV or projector that supports AirPlay.

Or use it to show photos on a TV or a Mac. Select a photo in the Photos app and choose AirPlay from the share sheet, then choose a device to display the photo. As you swipe through your photos, they continue to display on the selected device. Switch away from the Photos app to stop AirPlay.

A new feature allows you to stream videos via AirPlay to some TVs in certain hotels. You scan a QR code displayed on the TV, then you can stream audio or video to that TV. This is slowly rolling out, with TV manufacturers and hotel chains needing to be on board. Apple has stated that “select brands from IHG Hotels & Resorts, including Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Hotel Indigo, and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts” will be among the first to offer this new “AirPlay in hotels” functionality.


AirPlay is a great technology if you want to be able to stream audio and video to other devices. More and more TVs and stereo receivers support AirPlay, as well as most smart speakers, and this is becoming a standard protocol for audio-visual content. Take advantage of this feature to play music anywhere in your home.

How can I learn more?

Each week on the Intego Mac Podcast, Intego’s Mac security experts discuss the latest Apple news, including security and privacy stories, and offer practical advice on getting the most out of your Apple devices. Be sure to follow the podcast to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.

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About Kirk McElhearn

Kirk McElhearn writes about Apple products and more on his blog Kirkville. He is co-host of the Intego Mac Podcast, as well as several other podcasts, and is a regular contributor to The Mac Security Blog, TidBITS, and several other websites and publications. Kirk has written more than two dozen books, including Take Control books about Apple's media apps, Scrivener, and LaunchBar. Follow him on Twitter at @mcelhearn. View all posts by Kirk McElhearn →