Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Apple AirPlay Works

        Tech | Audio

How Apple AirPlay Stacks Up
The DLNA has certified the interoperability of digital products since 2004, allowing those products to boast the "DLNA Certified" logo.
The DLNA has certified the interoperability of digital products since 2004, allowing those products to boast the "DLNA Certified" logo.
Digital Living Network Alliance screen capture by HowStuffWorks staff

As of mid-2011, Apple is working with these partners to create products that can play streaming audio using Apple AirPlay: D&M Holdings (Denon and Marantz), Bowers & Wilkins, JBL and iHome. The last three primarily make stand-alone wireless speakers while Denon and Marantz brands include sophisticated audio-video (A/V) components for home entertainment systems.

Are these components an affordable option for your home entertainment setup? Adding a Denon or Marantz A/V receiver to your system will cost several hundred dollars, not including the additional $49.99 required to enable AirPlay on each device. Only purchase one of these if you're already in the market for a high-quality A/V component. The speaker-only products offered by Bowers & Wilkins, JBL and iHome are less expensive, but not by much. The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air will set you back almost $600, the JBL On Air Wireless just under $350, and the iHome iW1 about $300.

So, while AirPlay is a free feature on Apple products, making full use of it can hit hard in the wallet. The question is, will people buy it? As developers produce more devices and applications to use AirPlay, time will tell whether AirPlay itself becomes yet a true selling feature for Apple products.

In the meantime, a lesser-known group known as the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) is continuing the strides it has been making since it launched in 2003. More than 245 companies are part of the DLNA, which originally formed to establish interoperability standards among digital devices. The group published its DLNA Interoperability Guidelines in June 2004 along with a certification program to recognize products that meet the standards.

Wired and wireless DLNA-certified devices are everywhere, and they have far more interoperability features than AirPlay. For example, a certified digital media player (DMP) can access network attached storage (NAS) by way of a certified digital media server (DMS). So, instead of having to play your music or movies as a stream from a separate device, your TV or stereo can access them directly from the source.

Some of the member companies in the DLNA are household names like Microsoft, Sony and Sharp, as well as trusted tech industry favorites Logitech, Cisco and Nvidia. Conspicuously absent from the DLNA, though, is Apple. Apple has a reputation of keeping to itself and venturing to establish its company brand as its own standard.

AirPlay started its 2011 growth spurt following the release of Apple iOS 4.2. As of June 2011, it's too early to know whether AirPlay will become a long-term success, or if Apple will be able to overshadow the years of successful DLNA collaboration in the home streaming arena. Stream forward to the next page for more useful information.