So, AirPlay Mirroring has been with us for a little over a year now, but it still seems to be struggling to gain solid footing. Apple introduced it in iOS 5 as an improvement over the iPad 2′s Screen Mirroring feature, which requires either their Digital AV or VGA Adapters. There is a slowly growing list of games that support full HD mirroring, such as Real Racing 2 HD, Shift 2 Unleashed, Modern Combat: Fallen Nation, MetalStorm: Wingman, and Atari’s Greatest Hits. For those that don’t, you can still mirror exactly what you see on the iPad’s 4:3 screen on your TV, which isn’t quite as impressive, but does get the job done.
AirPlay Mirroring is a great idea in theory, but unlike Apple’s true home runs of the past, the reality is much more complicated. Apple’s best solutions are often borne from the control they tend to exert over every aspect of their devices and software, but in this case, that kind of control is impossible. That’s because AirPlay Mirroring is based on wireless networking, which is a powerful and ubiquitous technology, but at the same time, is also a huge variable that encompasses a wide range of hardware and implementations. In other words, Apple can’t account for cheap routers, crowded neighborhood airwaves, or network layout challenges.
If you do a search for AirPlay Mirroring, it won’t take you long to find users complaining about their apps, especially games, stuttering, skipping, and freezing on their way to the big screen. I would have to say that my experience has often been very similar. However, if you read many of the various responses to these pleas for help, there are some who seem to have Screen Mirroring down cold. I was having a tough time again when I first tried my new iPad almost two weeks ago, but I was inspired by the positive responses and solid advise that I saw, so I decided to give my home network a makeover to see if I could smooth things out a bit. Thankfully, these tweaks have made a noticeable improvement in my Screen Mirroring experience. So, here are a few of the tips that I have found helpful, both now and in the past.
1. Check for wireless network interference.
This is the most critical step in getting AirPlay Mirroring working properly. Due to the limited bandwidth available in the 2.4 GHz range and the rapid proliferation of wireless networking, the airwaves are getting increasingly crowded. This is especially true in densely populated urban areas. Even in the very suburban area where I live, with only one other house within a 150 yard radius, I can still see at least three SSIDs when I do a scan. Do that same scan in a New York City apartment, and I’d be shocked if you saw less than 20.
Do yourself a favor if you haven’t already, and download any one of the great free tools out there, such as NetStumbler or inSSIDer, and get an idea of what your neighborhood looks like. If there are other nearby networks that reside on the same channel, you may want to try moving yours to other end of the spectrum. Setting up the Auto channel selection may also be helpful if your router offers this feature.
2. Place your router as close as you can to your home entertainment center.
This should go without saying, but the closer you get to the signal source, the better off you will be. If your house is well insulated, especially if it has foil covered insulation, then each room the signal has to cross can represent a significant drop in strength and reliability. If there is any way you can have your router within one room of your Apple TV’s location, then it will be a big help.
If this isn’t possible, then there are still some other options available to help you out. First of all, if your house is wired with CAT 5 or 6 Ethernet cable, then you can install a wireless Access Point closer to your Apple TV. Another solid option would be to use a wireless repeater, such as the Netgear WN3000RP, which works very well and, unlike some other competing products, allows you to use WPA2 security. Be sure to check out any other repeater you may come across to be sure that it won’t limit you to the now very outdated WEP security standard.
Last, if none of these is a great option for you, you can also try a pair of Powerline Ethernet adapters. These don’t have the throughput of directly wired Ethernet connection, but they can help you avoid some potential wireless interference issue.
3. Turn off Bluetooth on your iOS device while you are playing.
The more compact devices like the new iPad and other tablets become, the more shared components they will have. Because the Bluetooth and 802.11 wireless are controlled by the same interface and have adjoining antennas, the two have the potential to interfere with each other when they are both in use. This isn’t something that you will notice in normal day to day use, such as surfing the net, watching videos, or checking email, but AirPlay Mirroring most definitely isn’t a typical task. Streaming the contents of your screen, as well as stereo audio, to the Apple TV in as close to real time as possible is no easy task, and when it isn’t perfect, you know it right away. So, if you are having issues with stuttering and skipping, be sure to try this before jumping off the deep end and re-wiring your house.
4. Make sure there aren’t any other data intensive tasks taking place on your network.
This one should also go without saying and doesn’t need a ton of elaboration. If you are trying to play Galaxy On Fire 2 HD using AirPlay Mirroring while also running a full computer backup to your NAS, then don’t be surprised when the game grinds to a screeching halt.
5. Use an Ethernet cable for your Apple TV, if possible.
If you have a high end 802.11n router in the same room as your Apple TV, then this may not be a big help to you, but in pretty much any other case, it will. The wired connection provides a more consistent signal that is free from wireless interference, so this can help not only your AirPlay Mirroring performance, but also your video streaming experience. Again, if your house isn’t wired, using Powerline adapters is a step down in performance, but it still a more consistent connection, and certainly helped a lot in my case.
6. Router Quality Matters
This point absolutely cannot be understated, and is vital even if you use a wired connection to your Apple TV. The iPad still uses wireless, so a quality signal is still a necessity. Wireless routers have become a sort of commodity item over the last five years, but all most definitely NOT equal. If you have done some of the basic checks and tweaks that I have already suggested and are still having issues, then this is where you need to look next.
No matter what kind of features you need or want, be sure that you get a router that supports 802.11n and has 2 antennas. Why do you ask?
7. Use 5 GHz wireless, if possible.
This is where the dual antennas come into play. There are some “fake” 802.11n routers out there that advertise 5 GHz capability, but only have a single antenna. This means that they can only produce one signal at a time. Unless every device that you use has 802.11n capability (and if you have an iPhone of any vintage, this is not the case for you), you will be wasting your money here, because as soon as a G or lower device connects to the router, the 5 GHz goes offline so that the single antenna can produce the 2.4 GHz signal for backward compatibility.
So what is the big deal about 5 Ghz? Well, a couple of things. First off, 5 GHz provides you with much faster maximum wireless speeds. Again, when you, trying to duplicate high definition retina graphics plus stereo sound in real time, it requires fast, and consistent bandwidth. 5 GHz gives you both. Secondly, the 5 GHz spectrum is far less crowded, so you will instantly have very little interference to put up with, no matter what’s going on with all of the 2.4 GHz networks around you.
The 5 GHz range in 802.11n isn’t without its drawbacks, however. First, not everything supports it. While both the new and old Apple TVs and the iPad 2 and new iPad support 8N2.11n, none of the iPhones do, as of yet. Secondly, since higher frequencies have less penetrating power, the 5 GHz will not travel as far as what you are used to with 2.4. In my case, I have my router one room away from where I am using my Apple TV and iPad for AirPlay Mirroring, and I am able to use it without any issues.
There have been some early reports of issues with WiFi strength on the new iPad, but my experience over the last three weeks has been the exact opposite. I have gotten better 5 GHz reception with my new 32 GB WiFi iPad than I had with my iPad 2. There were times when the 5 GHz wasn’t cutting it, even just one room away, and I would never even see it in other rooms. With my new iPad, however, I am getting 5 GHz reception in my bedroom on the other side of my single story, ranch-style house. Just be aware that your current mileage may vary until Apple addresses any issues that may exist.
8. Set up QOS (Quality of Service) on your router, and place your AirPlay devices at the highest priority.
This is the last thing to adjust, but if you are still having problems, it can definitely make a difference. I know that it did for me, because as I later realized, one of the problems I had when I first got my new iPad and used AirPlay Mirroring for the first time was that I hadn’t set it up for QOS. Once I did, things improved noticeably.
If you unfamiliar with the Quality of Service feature, it is geared toward helping you prioritize how your wired and wireless bandwidth gets used. I have a Netgear N600 router in my home, and it has fairly robust QOS features. There are several presets for different bandwidth intensive programs, such as online games and video chat applications. It also allows you to prioritize by switch port number, for your wired devices. For my purposes, I use the MAC Address prioritization, which lists all of your connected devices, and allows you to determine their priority level. I set all of my AirPlay devices to Highest, my computers to Normal, and specialized devices like my wireless printer and satellite service’s Internet interface, to Lowest. As I said before, setting this up makes a BIG difference in my network’s AirPlay Mirroring performance.
Doing this does require a little bit of expertise, as you will have to log into your wireless router’s web-based administration tool to set up QOS. If you set yours up, then you probably know what to do. If you aren’t sure how, be sure to consult the person who set up the router for you. You can also search the web for your router’s model number to get information on setup, default IP addresses and passwords. Typically, if you can get your computer’s own network IP address (ex. 192.168.1.100), your router’s IP should have the same first three octets, then ending in a 1 (ex. 192.168.1.1).
After going through all of these steps myself, I can say that I am currently pretty happy with my AirPlay Mirroring performance. There are still occasional stutters and hiccups, but there are far less frequent than they ever were before. This is absolutely essential to play games like Real Racing 2 HD, since all of the racing action is transferred to the television screen, as your iOS device becomes a map and status window. It only takes a freeze of 2-3 seconds to put your car into the wall and end your chances in that race, which I can say from experience is a real buzz killer. It totally ruins the experience. Thankfully, with my current router and device setup, I have won several races in Real Racing 2 HD, and have seen similarly solid performance in several other apps.
Is anyone else out there using AirPlay Mirroring? If so, what apps are you using? What is your experience so far? If it’s good, I would love to know what you are doing that is working well. If you are having trouble, let us know that, too. And, if any of these tips help you in your quest for improved performance, we would all love to know that to get an idea of which ones may be doing the most good.