Are you sick of watching videos on a tiny screen? Or do want to play your music over your stereo instead? Apple's AirPlay 2 allows you to do this and more, and it's baked right into every iPhone and Mac.
The original Apple AirPlay is a proprietary system for streaming audio or video from one Apple source -- typically an iPhone, iPad or a Mac computer -- to another device over a home network. The upgraded AirPlay 2 system expands these capabilities to include many more devices made by other manufacturers, and adds the potential for whole-house entertainment.
Since the debut of the first AirPlay 2 device in 2018 -- Apple's own HomePod -- the number of devices that work with AirPlay has expanded dramatically to include TVs, Roku streaming devices, AV receivers and speakers. How does AirPlay 2 differ from the Apple's original wireless protocol, and what can you stream it on? Let's break it down.
What is AirPlay 2 and how do I use it?
AirPlay 2 has a number of different uses. You can use it to mirror an iPhone or Mac on another screen (great for sharing video and pictures); you can stream video from a compatible app to a TV (Netflix, Hulu etc); and you can stream audio to speakers.
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 also generally sounded better, thanks to the wider bandwidth that Wi-Fi provides.
From its inception Apple has maintained that AirPlay 2 would be "built throughout iOS," enabling users to play music from the Apple Music app as well as third-party apps. Not only that, but making music playback possible from wherever you are in the house.
AirPlay 2 adds the ability to stream music to multiple audio devices all at the same time. You could use it to call up a song on your iPhone and play it in multiple rooms simultaneously, or pick and choose which AirPlay speaker to stream to. Yep, AirPlay can finally party. In addition, with iOS 14.6 and up, users can AirPlay songs from Apple in lossless from iPhone to the HomePod and Mini.
AirPlay 2 is backward-compatible and works the same way as the original: Hit the AirPlay icon on your phone, iPad or Mac to play your content on available speakers or video devices. The main difference is that older AirPlay devices won't be included in multiroom groups.
There are two main icons for AirPlay and will vary according to which app you're using: the video icon (a TV with an Arrow), and audio (radiating circles). Pressing either of these will bring up a list of devices on your network which you can then stream to.
Though AirPlay 2 was announced before the Apple HomePod, the two quickly become synonymous. AirPlay 2 unlocked several features of the speaker, including multiroom and stereo pairing (the ability to use separate HomePods as left and right speakers). AirPlay 2 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.
More recently Apple added the ability for multiple people to share control of a music queue. This means that everyone can be the DJ at your next house party (provided everyone has their own Apple Music subscription first.) Spotify can also do this: It's called Group Session but it doesn't require the use of AirPlay, and you can be in different countries.
Which Apple devices do you need to use AirPlay?
The two main pieces of Apple hardware that are specifically AirPlay 2 compatible are the Apple TV and the Apple HomePod devices. But AirPlay 2 is designed to work with recent iPhones, iPads and Mac computers.
The latest version of iOS 15 includes both multiroom capabilities and HomePod stereo pairing. Any device that runs Apple iOS 12 or later should be compatible with AirPlay 2. These include:
- iPhone 5S and newer
- iPad (2017)
- Any iPad Air
- Any iPad Pro
- iPad Mini 2 and newer
- Apple iPod Touch 2015 and newer (6th generation)
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. That is you can stream to it from your device. Additionally, In order to control multiple speakers/devices via your PC you'll need iTunes 12.8 or greater, or a Mac with macOS Catalina or later.
Which speakers and TVs are compatible with AirPlay 2?
Apple has an extensive list of specific devices that support AirPlay 2, but here's a sample of the most popular models.
- Belkin Soundform Connect
- Bluesound (2i series)
- Bose (Portable Smart Speaker, Home Speaker 300, Home Speaker 500)
- Denon (AVR-X3500H, AVR-X4500H, AVR-X6500H, AVR-S740H)
- Devialet Phantom
- JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam
- Libratone (Zipp, Zipp Mini)
- Marantz (AV7705, NA6006, NR1x09 series, SRx013 series)
- Naim (Mu-so, Mu-so QB ND series, Uniti)
- Roku (Smart Soundbar, Streambar)
- Sonos (Amp, Arc, One, Play:5 (2015), Playbase, Beam)
- Yamaha (MusicCast 20, MusicCast 50, MusicCast Bar 400)
Several TV and video manufacturers support AirPlay 2; Vizio retroactively added the feature to TVs from 2016. These include:
- LG (2018-2020 OLED, NanoCell9 and 8 series, UHD UK 62, UHD UN 8, UHD UN 71)
- Roku (Express, Express+, Premiere, Streaming Stick, Ultra, Ultra LT, Roku 3)
- Samsung (QLED Series -- 2018-2020)
- Samsung (4 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series, 8 Series -- 2018-2020)
- Sony (A9G Series, Z9G Series, X850G Series X950G Series)
- TCL Roku TV (4-Series, 5-Series, 6-Series & 8-Series)
- Vizio D-Series (2018, 2019), P-Series (2018, 2017 and 2016), P-Series Quantum (2018-2020), Quantum X (2019, 2020)
- Vizio M-Series (2018, 2017 and 2016), M-Series Quantum (2019, 2020)
- Vizio E-Series (2018, 2017 and 2016 UHD models), V-Series (2019, 2020)
How does AirPlay 2 compare?
Wireless multiroom audio has been around since 2004, thanks to the efforts of companies like Sonos, Squeezebox and Roku. Apple was relatively late to the game, and likely spurred by the success of Google's Chromecast and Amazon's Alexa. AirPlay 2 has helped the company catch up, particularly for owners of the HomePod and mini, but the company still has some ground to gain.
The real boon here is video support -- AirPlay 2 makes it much easier for iOS users to stream Netflix to both TVs and Roku devices. You no longer need to buy an expensive Apple TV in order to watch Ted Lasso free of the confines of your iPhone screen.
Update, Oct. 9, 2021: 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