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How Does AirPlay Work?

Apple has been instrumental in changing the way we use peripheral devices. For the ones who loving working with numerous devices in their homes, switching between multiple media devices can be a problem. While the consistent transfer of media files can tire any user, there is also the issue of compatibility. Therefore, Apple developed a function called 'AirPlay'. Ideally, AirPlay is a medium to use the existing home network to bring together all the Apple devices, or to link them to each other. This helps the user access media files across devices, without having to worry if the file is stored on that device locally or not. Streaming from one device to another helps you save yourself from storing copies on multiple devices and eventually saves space.

Basically, AirPlay functions over the wireless network, and therefore, it is necessary for all the devices that you wish to use to be connected using the same wireless network. While there is the available option of Bluetooth, it is certainly not recommended due to the issue of battery drain. Apple's Wireless Router, also termed as 'Apple Airport' can come in handy, but isn't mandatory to be put into use. One has the freedom to use any wireless router, as long as it serves the function. So, in the next section, we look how Apple AirPlay actually works.

Part 1: How does AirPlay work?

Irony is no one has been able to comprehensively deduct how the AirPlay system functions. This can be attributed to the tight control Apple has on its technology. Elements such as audio system have been reengineered, but that is just a single independent component, and doesn't explain the complete functionality. However, in the following section we can discuss a few components that offer us some understanding about how AirPlay works.

AirPlay (without including AirPlay Mirroring) can be subcategorized into three separate entities.

1) Images

2) Audio Files

3) Video Files

Talking about the images, one can deduct, that the images are streamed through a device using iOS to the TV Screen through the Apple TV box. Please note that there is no loss in image quality because the file size is small enough to be sent to the cache of the Apple TV box. However, the WiFi and megapixel count of the image would be crucial in determining the time taken for streaming to complete.

how does AirPlay work

However, the audio files and video are a little more complicated to explain in AirPlay. Firstly, let us understand why or how we would use an audio or video file.

1) In order to stream or play an audio or video file on an iOS device.

2) We could also use AirPlay to stream music or any video that we located on the internet from an iOS device. One can quote the example of internet radio or any online video streaming service.

Considering the example of an audio file or video that is located on an iOS device. The Apple Lossless format streams your music at 44100 Hz upto two stereo channels, which means that as a user, you don't have to worry about loss in quality. On the other hand, the video streaming uses the conventional H.264 mpeg format without any compression (this does not include the compression the actually video file).

The video file is to be transferred into the Apple TV Cache and there would be some waiting time before the transfer is complete. So, it all comes down to how good your wireless network is. Please note that the files discussed here are the ones that are stored locally.

how does AirPlay work

Considering the second scenario, where one uses the internet or services like YouTube or Netflix, while using AirPlay. When one streams from an internet source and taps the AirPlay button on their respective iOS device, the AirPlay functioning Apple TV box would ensure a direct connection to the source playing your media file. This authorizes the Apple TV to access the internet source, and thus, there is no loss of quality as the streaming occurs directly between the iOS device and Apple TV. Eventually, it all comes down to how good your streaming service is.

Part 2: What are the few challenges with AirPlay?

The approach discussed above doesn't come without any challenges. To start with, one would question how the Apple TV Box gets the permission for streaming music or any other media file from the internet subscription service. There has to be a process to log-in? Also, there is the underlying question of AirPlay system avoiding piracy of content?

The answer to the above query is 'Advanced Encryption Standard'. The iOS devices and the AirPlay receive a secure connection through this 'Advanced Encryption Standard', and the good thing is that the most advanced computers haven't been able to breach its encryption methods, thus making it secure and reliable.

Apple's integrated ecosystem also deserves a special mention for allowing all devices to have a communication channel through which they communicate back and forth. The concerns of piracy do not arise because the iOS devices are integrated so well. This is the same integration that allows for the 'AirPlay' to be open. While Android had a fragmented approach earlier, it couldn't have any counterpart for AirPlay, but now it has one, which will be discussed in a separate article.

Apple AirPlay has certainly changed the way users share or stream their media files across a common wireless network. Couple this with an advanced speaker and one can be assured of a scintillating audio experience. While not a lot is known about the AirPlay internal working due to secrecy issues from Apple, there is no denying that this technology is now starting to end the confusion it had brought upon earlier for the users. If you have been using AirPlay, do let us know about your experience in the comments section.

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