Preventing AirPlay Crashes

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The Apple ecosystem features AirPlay technology, which allows users to wirelessly stream audio and video to their Apple TV or audio to their AirPort Express base station. This technology evolved out of AirTunes, which was an Apple innovation.

The ability to wirelessly transmit a computer’s display onto a TV was first introduced by Intel, for Windows PCs, with their Wireless Display (WiDi) technology. A few months after WiDi was introduced, Apple introduced AirPlay, which allowed iTunes (Mac or PC) and select iOS apps to transmit video onto Apple TV.

The ability to do screen sharing over AirPlay was developed by third-party companies — products such as AirParrot. Apple introduced screen mirroring in iOS 5, and “official” screen mirroring for the Mac with OS X Mountain Lion. You can also get third-party software to turn your computer into an AirPlay target machine, enabling it to receive music or video transmitted from another device. As usual, Apple only supports the use cases that most people will perform — play music or video from one device or computer onto Apple TV. AirPlay is so successful and ubiquitous, it is now built into several AV receivers.

All of my music is in iTunes. I either bought it from iTunes or imported it from CDs I own. Since my computer is not in my living room, AirPlay is essential to enjoy music and video. For about a year, AirPlay was rock solid. A few months ago, Apple introduced the iOS 5.1 update, along with a major update and facelift for Apple TV. I immediately experienced problems with AirPlay. It would crash a few times in just an hour of listening to music. Indeed, this is why I started writing this blog. iTunes is one of the most essential apps for the Apple ecosystem, and AirPlay enables it to be a viable home entertainment system. When this doesn’t work, it is a catastrophe — literally tears before bedtime. Thousands of dollars of technology and media are near useless, due to the lack of reliability.

After a few updates to Apple TV, I realize these problems have not been ameliorated. When I play music from iTunes to my Apple TV, either via my Mac or my iPad 2, it will crash. Apple seems to have “fixed” this by forcing Apple TV to do a quick (~5 second) restart, but when it comes back up it does not display the track information or album art. The connection to the computer or iPad is half-severed. The music still plays, but the meta-data is no longer transmitted. This brings me to the first tip:

1. Reboot your Apple TV before you start a music session. You can do this by going to settings -> general -> restart. You can also hold down the bottom select button and menu button on the Apple remote for about 5 seconds, until the light on your Apple TV flashes rapidly. Fortunately, restarting Apple TV takes about 30 seconds. I find that when Apple TV is freshly restarted, AirPlay crashes are unlikely. I often forget to do this, and that’s when I get a crash, usually within 20 minutes of AirPlay use.

2. Push, don’t pull. If you use Apple TV to access your iTunes Library (with the “Computers” menu option on Apple TV), when AirPlay crashes it does not recover. If you “push” the music to Apple TV by initiating playback on iTunes or your iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, when it crashes it will recover within 5 seconds. You can even control your computer’s iTunes library by using the Remote app for iOS. You won’t need to keep running to your computer to change music.

3. Use the Amazon Cloud Player app for iOS instead of the Music app or iTunes on your computer. It does not crash AirPlay and can easily access your iTunes collection. You also save electricity by transferring the music you want to play onto your iOS device. iPads and iPhones use far less electricity than Macs and PCs. This is much easier if you have wireless syncing enabled for your iOS device, however, this is buggy and fails for me about half the time. I wrote a how-to article on fixing issues with iTunes wi-fi sync. Apple has not fixed this yet. If it fails, usually just quitting and restarting iTunes will work. If not, restart your Mac and then restart your iOS device.

4. One leading cause of AirPlay crashes is the “Play iTunes in the Cloud” feature. When enabled, AirPlay will only be initiated from your iOS device. The actual content will stream directly from iTunes to your Apple TV. The main advantage is preservation of battery life on your device. Your iPhone or iPad will not have to beam content to Apple TV over your WiFi network, which saves battery life.

Unfortunately, if iTunes or your ISP is having problems, this feature doesn’t work well. When your Apple TV tries to pull content from iTunes, network issues can cause streaming to stop. Your music might also skip to the next track. It may also make your iOS app behave strangely or crash. I only play music from my iPhone or iPad over AirPlay when my ISP is having problems. Otherwise, it makes sense to stream music directly from Apple TV.

You can turn this setting off by going to Settings > AirPlay > Play from iTunes in the Cloud. Make sure to turn this off, and not set it to Auto. While it may seem that the Auto setting will failover gracefully and stream music from your device if the Cloud is not accessible, this is not the case. It not only fails to play the content, but your Apple TV and device will have problems such as user interface bugs and freezes. Furthermore, if you have already downloaded music on your device, streaming it from iTunes in the Cloud will basically download it again. There really isn’t a compelling reason to have AirPlay stream content directly from the cloud. This is the default setting, and I strongly recommend turning it off. (continue…)

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UPDATES:

  • Version 2.1.2 of Podcasts fixes the AirPlay bugs. Unfortunately, the damage is done. The app has a 2/5 star rating in the App Store. Apple really needs to improve the quality of their free and stock apps — make them as good as GarageBand and iMovie.
  • The newest version of Podcasts (2.1.1) has severe AirPlay bugs. If you play Podcasts over AirPlay, you will likely experience crashes and other issues. This is not a problem with AirPlay technology, but an issue with the app. Hopefully this will be fixed in upcoming versions. If you haven’t upgraded, you might want to skip this version. If you have upgraded, you can try using a different Podcasts app, play the Podcast directly on your Apple TV or try to find the content on the provider’s website.
  • I’ve been using AirPlay extensively with iOS 7 (and now iOS 7.0.3) for over a month. It’s rock solid. I haven’t had one crash. If you’re suffering from AirPlay crashes, try upgrading your iOS device and Apple TV to the latest software.
  • New article – “Apple TV Games”: 10 games you can play on Apple TV with Dual Screen AirPlay.
  • If you are having problems with Hulu Plus, check out this article.
  • Find out how to get the most out of your Apple TV. Check out 30+ tips that will improve your Apple TV experience.
  • Do you love iTunes Radio? Here are some tips to help you get more out of iTunes Radio for Apple TV.

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2 thoughts on “Preventing AirPlay Crashes

  1. Great article. It explains a lot but one thing remains a mystery to me. I use the Music app on both my iPhone 5S and my iPad mini, both through the same wireless router, both with similar screen lock settings, and yet the break up problems only occur from the iPad. I have even been sending SMS and e-mails from the phone without music breakup. Is it simply that the iPad is using low grade components compared to the flagship 5S.?.

    • Glad you like the article. I put a lot of effort in researching these things and revising them as needed. Please feel free to share my site on social networks!

      It might be a problem with your iPad Mini. Perhaps there is some defect in the WiFi module. You can test this by going to SpeedTest and comparing the results with your 5S. Keep in mind — you want to run a few tests. Network speed is constantly changing. But if you see consistently slower speeds on your iPad Mini, that could be the issue.

      Another possibility is that your iPad Mini may have some background processes running. Some apps may have threads that run in the background, and these usually use the network. You may want to consider turning off some of the features in iOS 7 and 8 that automatically update and refresh apps. I found these to be more annoying than helpful. You can also try closing other apps. Of course, you do want to use other apps while playing music over AirPlay, and this should be possible.

      I have an iPad 2, and it seems to work well with AirPlay. I use it for playing web-based videos, mainly. These days, I find myself using the Music “channel” on Apple TV, which allows me to access all of my iTunes music directly from Apple TV. It works well. I do try playing music over AirPlay on occasion, to test it out. It seems to have improved.

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