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Apple AirPlay 2: Everything you need to know

Whether it's for listening to your favorite tune or streaming the latest blockbuster on iTunes, this is what you need to know about Apple's AirPlay 2 specification.

AirPlay is Apple's proprietary system that allows you to stream audio or video from an Apple source -- iOS, HomePod or Mac computer -- to another device over a home network. Now, AirPlay 2 expands these capabilities in ways the company hasn't done before.

Apple unveiled its AirPlay 2 update at the 2017 World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC), and it arrived a year later with Apple's own HomePod. But, now that TVs are also on the table, how does AirPlay 2 differ from the Apple's original wireless protocol, and what can you stream it on? Let's break it down.

AirPlay 2 brings iTunes to TVs, multiroom to speakers

Sonos One

The Sonos One is  one of the first AirPlay 2 devices.

Sarah Tew/CNET

At CES 2019, Apple announced it was partnering with television manufacturers to expand AirPlay 2 support beyond just the Apple TV. For Samsung, this also means the addition of an iTunes app.

AirPlay 2 also adds the ability to stream music to multiple audio devices at the same time. You could use it to call up a song on your iPhone and play it in multiple rooms around the house simultaneously, or pick and choose which AirPlay speaker to stream to. Yep, AirPlay can finally party.

Previously AirPlay was a one-to-one protocol, from your phone to a compatible speaker, AV receiver or other piece of gear. While this made it comparable to Bluetooth audio streaming, AirPlay generally sounded better, thanks to the wider bandwidth that Wi-Fi provides.

AirPlay 2 is backward compatible, and it works in the same way as the original -- tap the AirPlay icon to play your content on available speakers or video devices. The main difference is that older AirPlay  devices won't be able to be included in multiroom groups.

Though AirPlay 2 was announced before the Apple HomePod, the two have almost become synonymous. AirPlay 2 unlocks several promised features of the speaker, including multiroom and stereo pairing (the ability to use separate HomePods as left and right speakers). It also allows you to ask Siri, Apple's voice assistant on the speaker and other devices, to play music in a particular room or throughout the house.

At WWDC 2017, Apple announced that AirPlay 2 would be "built throughout iOS," enabling users to play music from the Apple Music app as well as third-party apps. Another promised feature lets you create "shared up next", or multiuser playlists within Apple Music.

airplay-2-main

As seen here in Apple's iOS public beta, AirPlay 2 allows you to pair two HomePods and group speakers.

Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Which Apple device will you need?

The two main pieces of Apple hardware that are specifically AirPlay 2 compatible are the Apple TV and the Apple HomePod. But AirPlay 2 will also work with recent iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. 

iOS 12 is the latest version and it includes both multiroom capabilities and HomePod stereo pairing. Any device that can run Apple iOS 12 should be compatible with AirPlay 2. These include:

If you have an Apple TV (2015) or the Apple TV 4K  running TVOS 11.4 or greater, it can also act as an AirPlay 2 endpoint. Additionally, In order to control multiple speakers/devices via your Mac or PC you'll need iTunes 12.8 or greater. 

samsung-ces-2019-2-2

Samsung announce partnership with Apple at CES 2019 

CNET

Which third-party devices support AirPlay 2?

Apple has listed which specific devices will support AirPlay 2, both in terms of audio and video as announced at CES 2019. Here's the full list of manufacturers and models.

Audio 

In addition, these companies announced support at WWDC 2017 but have yet to announce specific models: BoseBeats, Dynaudio ,Bowers & Wilkins and McIntosh. 

Meanwhile, Dannie Lau, DTS Play-Fi general manager told CNET: "We are adding Airplay 2 support to the DTS Play-Fi platform. Any manufacturer interested in licensing AirPlay 2 from Apple can enable this feature in their DTS Play-Fi product."    

Video

Several manufacturers have announced upcoming support for AirPlay 2, and Vizio will even add the feature to TVs as old as 2016. 

  • LG (2019 OLED, NanoCell SM9X series, NanoCell SM8X series, UHD UM7X series)
  • Samsung (QLED Series -- 2019 and 2018)
  • Samsung (4 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series, 8 Series -- 2019 and 2018)
  • Sony (A9G Series, Z9G Series, X850G Series X950G Series)
  • Vizio D-Series (2018),  P-Series (2018, 2017 and 2016), P-Series Quantum (2019 and 2018), Quantum X (2019)
  • Vizio M-Series (2018, 2017 and 2016), M-Series Quantum (2019)
  • Vizio E-Series (2018, 2017 and 2016 UHD models), V-Series (2019)

How will AirPlay 2 compete?

There's no doubt Apple is late to the wireless multiroom audio party, which has been a part of the audio landscape for 15 years starting with Sonos, Squeezebox and Roku. Google's Chromecast and Amazon's Alexa system have had multiroom audio support since the summer of 2017.

As a result, Apple is several years and multiple audio products behind the leaders. AirPlay 2 helps it catch up, particularly for owners of the HomePod, but the company still has some ground to gain. However, the ability to use AirPlay on TVs should be a boon to people who don't have an Apple TV and yet have an extensive iTunes library.

Update, March 9, 2019: This story was originally published May 23, 2018 and has since been updated to reflect changes including the number of models that support AirPlay 2

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