Apple TV 4 offers limited AirPlay capabilities without WiFi. This article explains how to use peer-to-peer AirPlay.
Peer-to-peer AirPlay was added to the third generation (rev A) Apple TV in 2014. The feature allows a subset of AirPlay features to function without WiFi connectivity. Peer-to-peer AirPlay works over Bluetooth instead of Bonjour, which requires a WiFi network. The feature also works with Apple TV 4.
Peer-to-peer AirPlay can come in handy, but it is limited and a bit quirky. It seems like just another indication that Apple has lost its “it just works” mojo. Nonetheless, peer-to-peer AirPlay can be useful on a “rainy day”.
Why Use Peer to Peer AirPlay?
Most people have unreliable Internet service providers. Corporations such as Comcast often exist in markets with no competition. They are notorious for poor service. It’s “normal” for me to experience at least 5 outages a month that last for at least two hours. As I write this article, my Comcast Internet service has been out for 24 hours. There was another day-long outage just a month ago, and an 8 hour outage two weeks ago. If you live in a major metropolitan area, this problem is usually worse.
The San Francisco Bay Area has some of the worst Internet access in the nation. It’s ironic, because it’s the tech center of the world. It’s home to Google, Apple, Oracle, Facebook, Twitter and many more tech companies. Unfortunately, the cobbler’s children wear no shoes. The SF Bay Area is also home to the worst Internet access. Steve Wozniak even contemplated moving to Australia for better Internet access. It’s that bad.
Peer-to-peer AirPlay can come in handy when your Internet service is offline. Although you can use AirPlay without an Internet connection, it’s very buggy. When I stream music without an Internet connection using WiFi AirPlay, I get regular audio dropouts every minute. Peer-to-peer AirPlay doesn’t do that.
You can even use a cellular data connection with peer-to-peer AirPlay! Before you get too excited, there are some limitations. Don’t expect to be streaming Netflix over a peer-to-peer AirPlay connection. You can, however, stream music and, in some cases, video using peer-to-peer AirPlay.
Road warriors and corporate users may increase productivity with peer-to-peer AirPlay. The technology supports AirPlay screen mirroring, making it easy to put on a presentation, even if you can’t access a WiFi network.
Music fans can also enjoy a better experience using peer-to-peer AirPlay. Apple overhauled AirPlay in tvOS and iOS 9. Unfortunately, they seem to have drastically reduced the buffer size. Whenever I walk in between my Apple TV and WiFi router, I get an audio dropout with WiFi AirPlay. (This never happened with my Apple TV 2, which was in the same location and used the same AirPort extreme WiFi router.) When I play music using peer-to-peer AirPlay, I never get chunks of dead air. (I can see why a lot of people prefer vinyl. It just works!)
Who knows when Apple will fix AirPlay? After all, they are pushing their own music service, and AirPlay is a conduit for competitors like Spotify, Tidal and Google Play Music. They could have used peer-to-peer AirPlay as a failover for standard AirPlay, making it rock solid. They didn’t. Apple doesn’t seem interested in improving AirPlay, as there is no return on investment. In fact, it may hurt their bottom line. Apple wants you to get your Apple TV content from the App Store. AirPlay allows you to bypass that. Enjoy it while it lasts. My hunch is that AirPlay will eventually be discontinued, just like multiple USB ports on the MacBook.
System Requirements for Peer to Peer AirPlay
Peer to peer AirPlay doesn’t work with every Apple TV, Mac or iOS device. You need a late-model Apple TV 3 rev. A. This model will bear the number A1469 on the bottom. Older third generation Apple TVs do not support peer-to-peer AirPlay. Your Apple TV 3 must also have version 7.0 (or later) of its operating system installed. All Apple TV 4 models support the feature. You also need a 2012 (or later) Mac running OS X 10.10 (or later) or a 2012 (or later) iOS device running iOS 8 (or later). I tried it with my iPad 2, and it doesn’t work. It works just fine with my iPhone 6.
How to Use Peer-To-Peer AirPlay
Peer-to-peer AirPlay isn’t one of those easy-to-use Apple features. You really have to go through a bit of effort to get it to work. Ideally, AirPlay should just failover to peer-to-peer mode if your Apple TV or source device aren’t on the WiFi network. Instead, Apple has given their users a kludgy rattletrap of settings changes and restarts. Obviously, peer-to-peer AirPlay is something you’ll use only when you have to use it.
This article assumes that you have already updated your Apple TV and iOS device with operating systems that support peer-to-peer AirPlay. If not, please refer to the previous system requirements section. This article also assumes that you are using an Apple TV 4 and iOS device. The process is similar for an Apple TV 3 or Macintosh.
First, start up your Apple TV and launch the Settings app. Click on network and then Wi-Fi. If you are currently connected to a WiFi network, click on this network. You will see the WiFi settings screen for this network. Click on Forget Network. We need to make sure Apple TV is not connected to any WiFi network for peer-to-peer AirPlay to work.
Your iOS device should also be disconnected from any WiFi network. This isn’t mandatory, and in some cases it may be beneficial to leave it on. I’ve found peer-to-peer AirPlay to be more reliable when WiFi is turned off. Tap on Settings > Wi-Fi. Next, tap on the “i” button next to the connected WiFi network. Tap on “Forget This Network”. Peer to peer AirPlay operates over Bluetooth, so it needs to be turned on. If it isn’t already on, swipe up from the bottom of any screen to reveal Control Center. Tap on the Bluetooth button to turn it on. Also, make sure that WiFi is turned on, even though you’re not connected to a network. It’s needed to display the AirPlay control, which should now show up. If you don’t see the AirPlay control, try moving your iOS device close to your Apple TV. If you still don’t see it, try restarting your iOS device. When it comes back online, you should see the AirPlay control. If not, try restarting your Apple TV. Peer to peer AirPlay is a messy, kludgy feature. Most problems can be solved by restarting your iOS device and Apple TV.
The AirPlay control should now be visible on your iOS device. Tap on the control. If you don’t see your Apple TV listed, move your iOS device closer to your Apple TV. If you plan on using screen mirroring, keep in mind that your iOS device has to be very close to your Apple TV. This makes it less useful for presentations.
Your iOS device may prompt you for an AirPlay password. If this is the case, you will see a 4 digit passcode displayed on your Apple TV. Enter the 4 digit code on your iOS device.
When you finally manage to connect via AirPlay, you are limited as to what you can beam. Music works well, but videos do not. I was able to use my cellular data connection during a peer-to-peer AirPlay session. Unfortunately, Netflix and YouTube wouldn’t work. I had a video Podcast downloaded, and was able to successfully beam it to Apple TV. Some streaming video apps may work. There are reports that Hulu works with peer-to-peer AirPlay. Make sure to try both screen mirroring and “standard” AirPlay.
Limitations of Peer to Peer AirPlay
Peer to peer AirPlay is far from perfect. It’s par for the course, as Apple’s quality has plummeted over the past few years. There’s nothing elegant about peer-to-peer AirPlay.
Your source device (Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) must be close to Apple TV for peer-to-peer AirPlay to work. If I move my iPhone more than 5 feet away from my Apple TV, it starts to lose the connection. Desktop Mac owners will suffer the most from this limitation. If you’re using an iOS device, this means you will most likely need to get up off the sofa to change music or a video. I can’t blame Apple for this one, as it is a Bluetooth limitation.
Most video content won’t play using peer-to-peer AirPlay. I tried it with Netflix, and it didn’t work using either AirPlay or AirPlay screen mirroring. There are claims that it works with Hulu. Bluetooth actually provides sufficient bandwidth to stream video. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could stream Netflix using cellular data, but watch it on the big screen? When my ISP is having problems, I end up watching Netflix on my iPhone. Unfortunately, peer-to-peer AirPlay doesn’t remedy this situation. You can always shell out $40 to buy the lightning-to-HDMI adapter. Given the gross unreliability of Comcast, I may end up doing this!
Peer-to-peer AirPlay also drains the battery rapidly compared to standard AirPlay. Bluetooth seems to be more of a battery hog than WiFi. If I play about 10 minutes of music, my iPhone will lose 2% of its battery life, even with the screen locked.
Peer-to-peer AirPlay only works with Apple devices. Unlike standard AirPlay, it isn’t supported on Windows computers, even with iTunes installed. AirParrot and other third-party vendors don’t support peer-to-peer AirPlay. The feature is tightly coupled with Apple’s Bluetooth hardware.
The overall design and reliability of this system leave much to be desired. Peer-to-peer AirPlay requires a lot of fiddling and rebooting to work. It can break easily, and you may need to restart your iOS device and Apple TV to get it to work again. The iOS AirPlay UI seems to show that an AirPlay connection is possible, even when it’s not. For example, if I turn off Bluetooth and WiFi, it will still show the AirPlay control with my Apple TV in the list. It just won’t work. When I turn WiFi and Bluetooth back on, it still won’t work. I need to restart my iPhone. Maybe this feature was implemented by summer interns? Perhaps Apple just didn’t want to invest time and resources into doing it right? In either case, it’s embarrassingly bad.
There you have it, warts and all. Peer-to-peer AirPlay is far from perfect. It’s limited and quirky. The technology has its uses and can come in handy when you don’t have access to a WiFi router or your Internet service is offline. It has so much potential, and could have been implemented as a failover to make AirPlay rock solid. That said, the required fiddling is justified when you have no other options.