How to Make the Most of Apple’s New AirPlay 2

In June 2017, Apple threw back the curtains on AirPlay 2, saying it would play the same song on multiple speakers (with AirPlay 1, this is possible only in iTunes) or play different songs on different speakers. Subsequently, Apple released the HomePod, promising to add multi-room audio and stereo sound with linked HomePods in the future.

For many years now, Apple’s AirPlay feature has made it possible to stream audio from an iOS device or Mac to an AirPlay-enabled speaker, AirPort Express base station, or most recently, a HomePod. Because AirPlay transfers sound over a Wi-Fi network, it eliminates the need for stereo wires and lets you put your speakers where you want them.

Apple recently released three updates—iOS 11.4, tvOS 11.4, and HomePod 11.4—with an eye toward delivering AirPlay 2 and these promised features. Once you’ve installed these updates, here’s how to start enjoying AirPlay 2’s improvements.

AirPlay 2 in iOS

To take advantage of the multi-room audio capabilities in iOS, start playing some audio. Then open Control Center, press the audio card to expand it, and tap the AirPlay 

 button in the upper right. You see a list of available output devices; those that support AirPlay 2 have a circle to the right of the name. Tap one or more of those circles to send the audio to that speaker. If an app has its own AirPlay button, you can also tap that to access the same controls.

The iPhone can’t play audio simultaneously with an AirPlay 2 speaker, which is why there’s no circle next to iPhone in the image above. Although AirPlay 1 devices—such as the AirPort Express base station (Speaker Express above)—still work singly, they can’t be included in a multi-room set.

AirPlay 2 in tvOS

Once your Apple TV is running tvOS 11.4, it can become an AirPlay 2 speaker, sending audio through your TV, soundbar, or home theater system. It can also broadcast its own audio to other AirPlay 2 speakers.

To enable an Apple TV for AirPlay 2, go to Settings > AirPlay > Room, and bring your iPhone or iPad close to the Apple TV. Accept the prompt that appears on the iPhone or iPad, and the Apple TV joins other AirPlay 2 devices associated with your Apple ID.

Once it’s set up, you can send audio from the Apple TV to different speakers. In a video app, swipe down from the top of the Siri Remote, select Audio, and then select one or more speakers (not all video apps offer this feature).

For music, the steps are a little different. Start playing some music and then, from the Music app’s Now Playing screen, swipe up and to the left to highlight the AirPlay 

button (if no icons are showing at the top of the screen, press the Menu button to display them). Or—this is much easier!—just press and hold the Play/Pause  button on the Siri Remote. Then, as in iOS, select the desired AirPlay 2 speakers with circles to the right of their names by swiping down and clicking the touchpad.

You can also send all Apple TV audio to AirPlay 2 speakers by going to Settings > Video and Audio > Audio Output and selecting the desired speakers.

Other AirPlay 2 Improvements

AirPlay 2 includes a few welcome performance improvements. A larger streaming buffer makes for fewer audio drops, and tighter device syncing provides a faster response when you play or pause the music. Another plus for iOS users is that taking a phone call or playing a game won’t interrupt playback.

Siri works better with streaming audio as well. You can specify which speaker Siri should play through, as in “play David Bowie’s Hunky Dory on Dining Room,” and play the same music through all your speakers with a command like “play the Brandenburg Concertos everywhere.” You can even move audio from one speaker to another—try asking your HomePod to “move the music to the Apple TV.”

AirPlay 2 speakers are now HomeKit accessories, so you can start and stop them in the Home app. That’s about it for now, but we hope a future update will let us integrate audio into HomeKit scenes and automations, so your HomePod could automatically start playing soft jazz when you walk in the door from work.

Finally, although it’s unclear whether this feature is part of AirPlay 2, a pair of HomePods can now act as stereo speakers. Once each HomePod is running 11.4, a new option to pair them appears in the HomePod settings in the Home app. Select the HomePods, assign them to the left and right sides, and you can enjoy true stereo music.

It may sound as though all AirPlay 2-compatible speakers come from Apple, but in fact, a wide range of speaker manufacturers—including names like Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Denon, Marantz, Polk, and Sonos—have committed to supporting AirPlay 2, either with updates to existing products or in new speakers. Look for such products later in 2018, and, in the meantime, we hope you enjoy using AirPlay 2 with HomePods and Apple TVs.

Amazon Prime Video Comes to the Apple TV

It’s been a long time coming, but Amazon Prime Video is now available on the Apple TV as an App. A $99-per-year Amazon Prime membership provides various perks, including free 2-day shipping from the Amazon online store and streaming access to Amazon’s media libraries. But for Apple TV users, accessing Prime Video content has been frustrating, because there was no Amazon app for the Apple TV. That has all changed now, and if you have an Amazon Prime membership and an Apple TV, it’s time to download the new Amazon Prime Video app. It gives you a boatload of additional video content, including Amazon’s original programming (like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is hilarious). Find it on your fourth-generation Apple TV or Apple TV 4K in the App Store app. If you are still using a third-generation Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video should appear automatically on your Apple TV Home screen.

The Best Apple-Related Gifts for 2017

It’s that time of year again, when many of us start wracking our brains for gift ideas for our loved ones—or for our own wish lists. If your special someone is an Apple user, we have a few suggestions.

Chargers, Cables, and Adapters, Oh My!

We know that giving someone a cable feels a bit like buying them socks, but Apple’s minimalist design and focus on USB-C and Lightning ports means that many users would appreciate extra cables or adapters. You’ll want to ask them what they find most annoying about their current cable situation—they might want an extra Lightning to headphone adapter, a USB-C to USB-A cable for connecting some peripheral, or an HDMI cable to run a big-screen TV.

Plus, giving someone a second iPhone, Mac, or Apple Watch charger could reduce battery anxiety or make it less likely that they’d forget to pack one while traveling.

AirPods

Apple’s most surprising hit of 2017 was the AirPods, svelte wireless earbuds that pair quickly and seamlessly to all Apple devices logged in to the same iCloud account. They’re light, stay in the ear well, and are comfortable even for many people who couldn’t wear the wired EarPods. At $159, they’re not cheap, but they’re still less expensive than many competing wireless earbuds.

The only catch? Apple has had trouble making AirPods fast enough, so don’t assume you can buy a pair as a last-minute gift.

Apple Watch

Apple always intended the Apple Watch as an iPhone accessory, so it makes a great add-on for any iPhone user who doesn’t already have their iPhone in hand most of the day. For most people, the $249 Apple Watch Series 1 is a fine gift, although the $329 Series 3 is faster and brighter, and doesn’t need the iPhone to track a run or bike ride via GPS.

Consider the $399 Series 3 with cellular access only if you’re certain the recipient will make use of the watch while out and about without the iPhone, since its data plan costs $10 extra per month.

And, if someone on your gift list already has an Apple Watch, a new band might make a great present—Apple offers a wide variety of attractive and comfortable bands.

Apple TV

Although it’s a few years old, the $149 fourth-generation Apple TV still makes a good present for anyone who watches TV shows and movies from Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, and other Internet streaming video services.

For most people, the $179 Apple TV 4K is overkill, since its support for 4K video and HDR color require a compatible 4K HDR TV purchased in the last year or so.

So stick with the previous Apple TV, and if you’re looking for a related stocking stuffer, search for silicone cases that protect the brittle Siri Remote and make it easier to orient in the dark.

iPad

Last, but far from least, if someone in your family has never tried an iPad or is limping along with one of the early models, the current fifth-generation iPad combines good performance and a gorgeous screen with a compellingly low price starting at $329.

At $399, the smaller iPad mini 4 doesn’t provide as much bang for the buck, but it could be the perfect present for a child.

Particularly when buying an iPad for a kid, a durable case is a must—perhaps suggest that as a gift idea to another family member.