With the introduction of OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) for Mac, AirPlay became available also for users of Macbook Pro, iMac and Mac Mini. Apple, however, restricts this cool feature to Macs made in 2011 or later. [Users of older Mac models, however, can do a little trick to benefit from AirPlay as well (see below)]
In this guide, we'll explain how you can stream HD media content wirelessly from your Mac to your TV using AirPlay (Apple TV). With Macbook AirPlay, you'll get a wireless second screen for your Mac / Macbook / Macbook Pro.
These items are needed for using AirPlay on a Mac:
- 1x Apple TV (ca. $70)
- 1x high speed HDMI cable (ca. $5)
- Macbook / Mac / iMac / Mac Mini, 2011 model and newer
- TV / Screen / Projector with HDMI support
Step 1: Do You Have One of The Following Macs?
AirPlay for Mac was introduced with OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion). However, not every Mac that runs Mountain Lion supports AirPlay.
Which Mac Do I Have?
To find out which Mac model you have:
- Choose "About This Mac" from the Apple Menu.
- Double-click the version text, for example "Version 10.8"
- Type the serial number into this Apple Support Page.
Make sure you have at least one of the following Macs with OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) or later installed:
- iMac (Mid 2011 or newer)
- Mac mini (Mid 2011 or newer)
- MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or newer)
- MacBook Pro (Early 2011 or newer)
Tip: Your Mac's running Mountain Lion, but your hardware is not listed here? Try the 3rd party application AirParrot ($10), which will run on most Macs with at least an Intel Core 2 Duo platform (~ 2011 models). If your Mac or Macbook is even older you can also try connecting your Macbook to a TV using HDMI.
Step 2: Setting Up Apple TV
In order to use AirPlay, you'll need to have an Apple TV. Apple TV is a great device because it connects wirelessly with your Macbook, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. If you are running a Mac using the new OS X Mavericks, Apple TV will add a fully functional wireless display.
How to set up Apple TV in 3 steps:
- Connect your Apple TV to your HDTV with a high speed HDMI cable
- Link your Apple TV to an existing Wi-Fi network
- Run the latest software update for Apple TV
Step 3: Activate AirPlay Mirroring on Your Mac
- Make sure you followed Step 1 and Step 2
- Ensure that both your Mac and your Apple TV are connected to the same local network (Wi-Fi or ethernet)
- Switch on your Apple TV via the Apple TV remote and choose the corresponding HDMI input channel on your TV
If your Apple TV and your Mac are both connected to the same either Wi-Fi or ethernet network, you should notice the AirPlay icon appearing in the menu bar of your Mac. Click the AirPlay icon and select "Apple TV." Your Mac's desktop will nicely fade over to your HDTV.
Alternatively, you can also turn on AirPlay via System Preferences --> Displays.
Congratulations! Your Mac OS screen is now mirrored to your TV and you can enjoy Movies, Pictures and even Flash websites on your big home cinema.
Tip: With AirPlay, you can also stream music and videos from your Mac iTunes to Apple TV directly without needing to have AirPlay Mirroring enabled.
Airplay Mac Tweaking: Optimizing Quality and Performance
Now that your Mac Airplay connection is working, here are some tweaks to improve the quality and your overall experience:
- 1st tweak: Match Mac AirPlay resolution to HDTV. Choosing the option "Match Desktop Size To: Apple TV" from the Airplay menu the system will change your Mac's desktop resolution to fit the HDTV screen size even better (16:9 aspect ratio).
- 2nd tweak: Improve Airplay's Wireless Network Performance. Running Airplay Mirroring on your Mac will send a lot of traffic through your Wi-Fi network. Make sure that not too many users are connected to avoid lags or interruptions.
- Tip: Apple TV supports 802.11a, g, or n Wi-Fi networks. Make sure that your base station also supports the 802.11n wireless networking standard for best performance. The signal strength of your Apple TV should be at least 4 or 5 bars. If you still experience low Airplay playback performance you should rather connect your Apple TV to your base station with an Ethernet cable.
- 3rd tweak: Configure audio. Clicking the sound menubar icon while holding down the option key ("alt") will trigger a context menu where you can set the Apple TV as the sound output device. The output volume can now be controlled with the TV remote.
- Tip: You could also stream audio without having Airplay Mirroring enabled, e.g. if you would like to listen to Spotify or Pandora that don't directly support AirPlay.
What Can I Do With Airplay On My Mac?
|Wirelessly...||Possible with Airplay?|
Surf the web
Watch photo slideshow
No (too slow in most cases)
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Tobias (author) from Germany on February 18, 2015:
@Adam @Lance: Sorry, it should correctly read "Extra Items". Corrected by now. Thanks for the feedback!
Lance E Sloan on January 16, 2015:
Apparently, the Apple TV is not *optional*. It seems to be the only way to connect according to the rest of the article.
Adam on August 18, 2014:
Why do you say Apple TV is optional if it's required in the rest of the guide?
Firoz from India on June 27, 2013:
Useful article for mac users. Voted up and useful.