Wednesday, May 11, 2022 [Tweets] [Favorites]

AirPlay Bugs

Nick Heer:

Here are the two ways I most frequently use AirPlay through my Apple TV:

  1. I want to listen to music on my living room speakers, so I play albums — local and streamed from Apple Music — from my iPhone or my Mac.

  2. I want to watch a movie I previously ripped from disc or a TV show I have in my library, so I will AirPlay from QuickTime on my Mac.

Both of these features are acknowledged on Apple’s AirPlay marketing webpage, but neither works as expected.

[…]

I have filed bug reports against all of these behaviours. It is this last one where I received the biggest surprise: Apple closed it with the explanation that it “works as currently designed”.

11 Comments

My experience with AirPlay is that it has always been flakey. This includes the original AirPlay, AirPlay 2, video streaming, and screen mirroring. They all work most of the time, but then would fail in any number of ways some of the time. Such as:

Sometimes an AirPlay device just doesn't show up in the list of devices I can connect to.

Sometimes I connect to a device, and then get immediately disconnected, only for it to work on the second or third try.

Sometimes stuff just doesn't start playing.

Sometimes stuff stops playing partway through.

Sometimes the connection to the AirPlay device just gets dropped for seemingly no reason.

Sometimes the audio stutters or skips.

And then sometimes it works great from beginning to end.

But I don't like unreliable features, so with the exception of a single Sonos speaker that I'm pleased works 95% of the time, I try to avoid AirPlay.

Is it like that for anyone else? I have some manner of curse that causes tech bugs to hit me at a much higher rate than the average user, even the average power user, so this could just be me.

Beatrix Willius

Do they even use their own software and hardware anymore?

I'll admit, I find it odd that I never had these sorts of issues and I'm not sure why people seemed to struggle so much with AirPlay. I'm glad their are open implementations of it, too, so there's at least one standard for networked audio streaming that's cross-platform. Guess I'm lucky?

I still treasure my AirPort Express. Replacing that wouldn't be impossible, but it would be harder than I'd like ...

I'm surprised that AirPlay 2 didn't increase support for codecs as well as buffering. It seems obvious (to me, anyway) that "race-to-sleep" behaviour would benefit from more network-efficient codecs than ALAC.

On my early 2015 13" MBP running Monterey 12.3.1, playing sound via AirPlay to my SONOS Roam on WiFi does not work and never has.

Ben Kennedy

On my 2018 Mac Mini, running every version of MacOS over the past several years, playing sound via AirPlay to my HomePod Mini doesn't work and never has, either.

(The computer thinks it's connected… but no sound ever comes out.)

I use AirPlay to stream Amazon Prime content from my iPad to my AppleTV 4. Works fine.
Sometimes I stream with VLC (not QuickTime-Player) from my Mac to the AppleTV 4. VLC takes care of not letting the Mac sleep, even if the MBP internal display is blacked out (but not sleeping).

iPad Pro 12.9" 1st Gen with iPadOS 14.8.1.
rMBP late 2016 with High Sierra 10.13.6, VLC 3.0.8.
AppleTV 4 with tvOS 15.4.1.

Absolutely no problems at all.

Ghost Quartz

> I'll admit, I find it odd that I never had these sorts of issues and I'm not sure why people seemed to struggle so much with AirPlay.

This mirrors my feelings regarding iMessage. I too have experienced flakiness with AirPlay video streaming, but I’ve never had a problem with iMessage.

Mirroring aside, I only really have one AirPlay device (a JBL Link Music), and… cannot recommend. I don't know if that's on Apple or on JBL, but the experience is hit and miss enough that it would be embarrassing when you have people over. Things like:

* sooner or later, it will outright stop taking any further requests. If there's a timeout, it must be very long. Instead, I pull the cord, plug it in; then it works.
* sometimes, Apple Music's "play next" (or maybe any changes to the playlist at all) causes it to pause playback. Or to keep playing but muted. You resume, and it either resumes at the previous position, or the new one, except you didn't hear anything. It *seems*, knock on wood, that a recent iOS update may have fixed this one.
* oftentimes, playing music or podcasts via AirPlay while continuing to use iOS causes sound effects (which will continue to play on the internal speaker) to be extremely loud. Even stuff like tapping on the virtual keyboard is absurdly loud. Apparently, setting the main sound output to AirPlay sometimes causes the internal speaker's volume to just go to max. But it's hard to tell, because… well… next one!
* adjusting volume is confusing. iOS tries to pretend there's only really one volume, but there is not. I've used iPhones for over a decade and still don't understand what the "Change with Buttons" checkbox does, and why it's there. [ This is why you don't do checkboxes in settings. Do radio buttons. Make it clear what choice A) does, and what choice B) does. ] Let's say I'm playing a podcast in Overcast through AirPlay. If I now pull down Control Center or press the volume buttons, the icon has changed to a speaker. Makes sense! Except… then I launch a game (Good Sudoku, say). If I now pull down Control Center to adjust the volume, that still affects AirPlay, and still shows that icon. But if I press the volume buttons, the little popup to the side still shows that icon, but the actual shown volume is very clearly not the volume of the AirPlay speaker, and actually changing it affects the _internal speaker_ volume. Which is good, because that way, I can adjust that as well. But you know what would be a lot clearer and more flexible? Showing both volumes. Since, you know, there's clearly two outputs involved.

Again, I don't know how much of this is on iOS versus on buggy third-party firmware. I might get a HomePod mini to see if the experience is better (the sound might be, too). But clearly some of it is poor UX on Apple's part, and I suspect some is poor software quality, too.

> I'll admit, I find it odd that I never had these sorts of issues and I'm not sure why people seemed to struggle so much with AirPlay.

Well, relative lack of user-accessible diagnostics (https://mjtsai.com/blog/2022/01/21/user-friendly-diagnostics-should-be-a-core-part-of-any-system/) plays a role. Plus, AirPlay uses networking, so it's inherenty flaky. People could be having issues due to the Wi-Fi access points they use, or for whatever other variety of reasons.

@ Sebby

> I'm surprised that AirPlay 2 didn't increase support for codecs as well as buffering. It seems obvious (to me, anyway) that "race-to-sleep" behaviour would benefit from more network-efficient codecs than ALAC.

AirPlay 2 did increase support for codecs and buffering. It added support for AAC and Opus. In fact, 256kbps AAC is the default codec for most buffered scenarios (ie playback from Apple Music, some but not necessarily all streaming apps). ALAC is still used in "real time" scenarios. It is not used when playing back lossless audio from the Apple Music streaming catalog, but is for ALAC files you've ripped yourself.

@Eas Good to know, thanks. What then is used when streaming Apple Music lossless?

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