Sunday, 9 December 2012

Revolution at Home

Airplay mirroring (BBS)

The stars have aligned over Australia this year to enable a revolution in the way we consume our audio and visual entertainment media. I have discussed most of it on these pages already, but it was always from the point of view of the gadget or the app; now I want to look at it from the simple point of view of the consumption experience itself.
I like music; if it was up to me I would be listening to music most of my time. How do I go about listening to music today? It’s pretty simple, actually.
Let’s say I think of something I want to listen to. Say, the soundtrack from the movie The Dictator, which features high quality productions of famous songs sung in Arabic (highly recommended, by the way). I pick my phone or my tablet up, do a quick Internet search for the album, select where I want the music to play from, and… that’s it. About four seconds later, music starts bursting from my speakers of choice. Life is beautiful!
Now for the technical part – how does it work? I use Apple’s AirPlay technology. In our lounge are I use an Airport Express that’s connected to an old set of Creative computer speakers; the latter are not great on fidelity but do a decent job for background music, which is what we’re after when we have dinner. That Airport express is receiving the music to play through my wifi network, with my iPad/iPhone feeding the music coming off the Spotify app. Alternatively, I can choose to listen through my Apple TV equipped hi-fi, with the Apple TV performing the same duties as the Airport Express.
It’s all incredibly easy to set up and start running. At about $100 for an Airport Express / Apple TV, cost is not much of a factor either. That is, assuming you already have a tablet/smartphone and speakers to play music through. At $12 a month, a Spotify subscription isn’t penalizing either. And if you’re not an iPhone/iPad user then an iPod Touch will do.

If you think that’s the whole story, just wait. This whole thing that I have just described for audio can be replicated with video!
The magic comes of the Apple TV. That gadget can do two basic tricks: it can run its own apps to allow you to, say, watch YouTube videos directly on your TV; or it can mirror things playing on another Apple device. That is, it can play the music playing on your iPhone, and it can also play the image of the screen on your iPad or Mac.
Video mirroring is a hit & miss affair with the iPad, given the device’s resolution, but with the Mac? It’s glorious!
Essentially, the experience comes down to this: anything your Mountain Lion running Mac can play, which is pretty much everything on the Internet, can be played on your TV (and in my case, through the hi-fi). Sports, movies, TV stuff, the works – it’s all wirelessly there for you.

The stars have aligned: Between Spotify, Apple TV and Mountain Lion home entertainment will no longer be the same.
You may read the above and say “so what”. That’s fair enough. My answer is simple, though: There is no going back. Once you get used to such easy and seamless delivery, you’re hooked.
Getting your media on plastic discs that you need to go somewhere to get (and then potentially return)? Getting those plastic discs posted to me and then having to wait for days if not weeks? Waiting for the TV network to air the program that actually interests us? Don’t insult me. These are all butchered by the ability to play anything you want, exactly when you want it, through the Internet.
The future is here. The only question is how quickly the media companies will align themselves around it. They’ve done it with music during 2012; they’ve done it with video to one extent or another in the USA. Now they need to stop their crying and do the same for video here and in the rest of the world.

Image by ckm, Shih, Creative Commons license

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