I’ve had an Apple TV for more than a year now. Until recently, it was mostly just a Netflix machine, a way for me to stream old episodes of “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad.”
But I just moved to a new apartment and made the bold decision to “cut the cord” from cable and get most of my TV online. I now have a 46-inch Sharp TV connected to a HD antenna that gets free network channels such as NBC, ABC, and CBS.
I also have my Apple TV for streaming stuff from Netflix and iTunes and a Boxee Box that can play just about any video file I download. (All I have to do is plug in my external hard drive to the box).
So far, my setup has been working pretty well.
Then I remembered AirPlay and things got way better.
Most people probably use AirPlay to beam stuff within the iTunes ecosystem to their Apple TV. With one tap you can push movies and music stored on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad to your big screen.
However, AirPlay is a lot more open now than it used to be. App developers and online video sites have the option to incorporate AirPlay. Until recently, I didn’t even think of trying AirPlay with anything but iTunes-sanctioned content.
I started experimenting this weekend. With the excellent PBS iPad app, I was able to beam recent episodes of NOVA from my tablet to my Apple TV. It also works with streaming video sites like YouTube and music apps like Pandora.
Even better, I don’t need an Apple TV to enjoy AirPlay. Boxee Box works too.
(By the way, you’ll know if an app or streaming video works with AirPlay if you see the icon pictured above on the video’s controls. Just make sure your Apple TV is turned on and connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your iPhone or iPad.)
AirPlay helps fill a major gap in Apple TV. Apple doesn’t offer downloadable apps for Apple TV (yet), so AirPlay brings your iPhone or iPad’s apps to the big screen.
Unfortunately, some apps such as Hulu Plus and ABC don’t allow AirPlay. There are probably a lot of legal reasons for that. In the meantime, I’m stuck watching Hulu on my computer or iPad.
Still, I think the lack of AirPlay support for some apps is just a minor inconvenience. I don’t watch a lot of TV, so the combination of free over the air HD programming, Apple TV, Boxee, and AirPlay has all but eliminated any desire I’ve had for cable. Plus I’m saving about $70 per month.