One of the nicer capabilities of iTunes and iOS is the ability to stream content over your wireless network from your library or portable device to AirPlay-enabled devices. You can stream audio to satellite speakers or to an audio receiver; for video, your options are limited since the only available device with built-in AirPlay video streaming is the newer Apple TV.
Aerodrom is a new application and plug-in that lets you play audio, video, and photos on your Windows PC or in Windows Media Center using AirPlay. Released earlier this month by [email protected] development, Aerodrom runs in your tray and broadcasts your Windows XP, Vista, or 7 PC as an AirPlay destination. iTunes and your iOS 5 iPhone, iPod, or iPad then list your PC, by computer name, in the AirPlay devices list.
Aerodrom is available to download on [email protected]’s web site. Licensing the full version for up to three computers costs €9.99. A limited demo version is also available at no cost to give you a taste of the product’s capabilities and determine if it will work in your environment. [email protected] development also released AerodromMCE, a plug-in that provides some integration with Windows Media Center. While this plug-in is free, it does require that you have the full version of the application installed.
[email protected] provided us with a review copy of Aerodrom for our evaluation, and we spent an afternoon putting the application through the paces on two different Windows 7 Media Center PCs. You can run Aerodrom in Windows alone—without Media Center running—or you can set it up to integrate with Media Center, so we tested both configurations.
Installing and running Aerodrom in Windows worked exactly as expected with no additional configuration required. Aerodrom runs as a background application and puts an icon in your system tray. The PCs on which Aerodrom was running appeared in iTunes and on the test iPhone and iPad as AirTunes targets. Selecting one of the computers while playing music on the iPhone caused the audio to switch to the selected computer’s speakers.
Similarly, playing video or viewing photos on the iPad and selecting one of the PCs running Aerodrom launched a full-screen video overlay on the computer, providing close to immediate response and playback. The video screen includes a floating panel that offers basic shuttle and volume controls and a close button, but we could also control playback from the iPad, as we’d expect. Video quality and audio sync was flawless, but that can be impacted by any number of factors on your home network.
In testing, we noticed that the Aerodrom PCs didn’t always appear in our devices’ AirPlay menu. While remote speakers and an Apple TV always appeared as expected, the Aerodrom PCs sometimes disappeared from the list of available output devices.
Additionally, we learned that you need tweak the preferences if you want Aerodrom to run in the background when you start Windows. Right-clicking on Aerodrom’s tray icon displays a menu. You can select Preferences, and then configure the app to start on system startup.
Media Center Integration
We installed AerodromMCE, which adds an Aerodrom tile to the Extras Library in Windows Media Center. After installing the add-in, we expected AirPlay playback to work in Media Center just as it did in Windows. But when we tried sending video to the Media Center PC from an iPhone or iPad, we only heard sound with no picture. If we minimized Media Center, the full-screen video was playing on the desktop. It took a bit of research on [email protected]’s site to finally learn that you have to configure Aerodrom to integrate with Windows Media Center, even after you’ve installed AerodromMCE. It would be nice if this was an option that could be selected at installation time.
Even with Windows Media Center integration selected in Aerodrom’s Preferences panel, the experience in Media Center seems, somewhat ironically, less tightly integrated than on the desktop. We found that to view video through AirPlay, you have to launch the Aerodrom plug-in from the Extras Library, and then select the Media Center PC as the AirPlay destination on our device. Unlike Aerodrom in Windows not running Media Center, the video won’t just appear when you select the Windows PC in iOS’s AirPlay menu. You must first launch the Aerodrom plug-in on the PC, then select that PC as the target device. When we tried launching the Aerodrom plug-in after selecting the PC as the AirPlay target, the video would not play on the PC. The same was true when sharing photos with AirPlay.
AerodromMCE lets you control the streaming video not only from iTunes or your iOS device, but also with your Media Center remote. We noticed that we could pause and resume video from within Media Center, and at one point we tested the skip and ff/rew buttons, but we could not get that to work consistently. Controling video playback from within Media Center caused the local iPhone/iPad controls to appear out of sync with the video. We also noticed that selecting the Aerodrom PC as the AirPlay destination for video causes the video to restart from the beginning. This isn’t standard AirPlay behavior, and it could be annoying if you’re trying to watch a longer video like a movie on different devices or in different rooms.
Aerodrom and the AerodromMCE plug-in bring AirPlay to Windows and Windows Media Center. If you own one of the newer iOS devices that supports video streaming using AirPlay and you use a Windows PC or home theater PC (HTPC) to watch video on a big screen, Aerodrom may be a great app for you to consider. It helps bridge the gap between iTunes and Media Center, letting you send music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and more from any iTunes library in your home or from your iPhone, iPod, or iPad to your computer.
Aerodrom just launched in November, and this first major release has some rough edges that we’d like to see ironed out:
- Selecting an Aerodrom PC as a target device should not cause video playback to restart from the beginning.
- Local control of the video is handy, but if the scrubber and playback state get out of sync with iTunes and iOS, that can be a hassle.
- Playback in Media Center should be easier, ideally mirroring the full-screen behavior in Windows (and on Apple TV) that takes over the screen without having to launch a client plug-in.
All-in-all, though, this is the best option we’ve seen so far for bringing AirPlay to Windows and to Media Center. So if that’s something you’d like to support in your home, you may want to get out your currency converter and spend the €9.99 for this app.