Why Can’t Macs Older Than 2011 Use AirPlay Mirroring In Mountain Lion?

Why Can’t Macs Older Than 2011 Use AirPlay Mirroring In Mountain Lion?

Unless you have a Mac from 2011 or later, don’t expect to be able to do this in Mountain Lion.

One of the killer features of OS X Mountain Lion is AirPlay Mirroring. Just like on your iPad or iPhone, AirPlay Mirroring will allow you to beam video and sound from your Mountain Lion Mac to an Apple TV connected to your television set. The result? If you’re someone like me who watches a lot of video on his MacBook Air, you’ll never have to reach for that Thunderbolt-to-HDMI converter again.

There’s only one problem with AirPlay Mirroring in Mountain Lion: inexplicably, it doesn’t work on all Macs. In fact, unless you have an iMac, MacBook Air or MacMini from mid-2011, or a MacBook Pro from early 2011, you can’t get in on Mountain Lion’s streaming action.

Why? One theory is that it’s all about DRM.

If you think about what tech should be the bottleneck in your Mac when it comes to streaming video to an Apple TV, the most common-sense answer is WiFi speed: does your machine have a WiFi chip fast enough to stream video and audio data in real-time across the room? With Apple’s line of Macs, this isn’t really an issue: they’ve all had 802.11n capable WiFi chips since early 2007, which are the same WiFi chips inside the iPhone and iPad, which can all do AirPlay Mirroring. Mountain Lion requires an Intel Core 2 Duo processor to run, which Apple started putting into its Macs in late 2006, so there should only be a few legacy Macs that can run Mountain Lion but don’t have 802.11n WiFi chips.

If that’s the case, why is Apple limiting AirPlay Mirroring to Macs only a year or so old, instead of all Macs from the last five years? Blog Fairer Platform has a theory, and it’s an interesting one:

My best guess is that these Macs ship with Intel chips containing the latest and greatest version of Intel Insider, which allows streamed DRM encrypted Hollywood content to play — just guessing…

This makes a lot of sense. Intel Insider technology first debuted in early 2011 in Intel’s latest and greatest Sandy Bridge chipsets… right around the time the MacBook Pro got one.

As for what Intel Insider does, it basically makes it a lot more difficult to rip off digital copies of streaming 1080p content coming from major Hollywood studios. Hollywood’s not worried about iOS, because except for jailbroken devices, the platform’s locked down. The same can’t be said about the Mac.

If true, this has got to be infuriating to Mac owners who arbitrarily don’t have an AirPlay-compatible Mac. As is often the case, AirPlay Mirroring on Mac is just another example of how DRM usually only inconveniences legitimate customers, while pirates, as always, figure out a way around the safeguard.

Are you not going to be able to use AirPlay Mirroring for Mac because of Intel Insider technology? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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  • medic6910

    If it turns out to be true, I will be looking for a working from someone, somewhere. BS that Apple has now alienated its mac customers from a feature that has been wanted/needed since the Apple TV; and a feature I am/was really excited about.

  • RAReed

    I bought Apple TV just yesterday. It’s going back today. Piss me off.

  • Shane Bryson

    You mean to tell me, my 2010 White Unibody MacBook cannot airplay mirror in Mountain Lion? Apple is really really really pushing my limits. I am close to switching back to Windows and Android.

  • Wirehedd

    If this prevents a 2010 MBP from working just because of some pissy little tantrum from some Hollyweird types who want to lock down videos then obviously Apple cares less about their customer base than they claim. This would be a flagrant slap in the face to a massive volume of Mac customers.

  • heyIvar

    Doesn’t work on my 2008 unibody 13″ Macbook (Pro). Very lame as it’s 100% possible based on the configuration.

  • coopaloop

    If true I won’t be surprised, I had an iPhone 4 when siri came out and I was super stoked, until…I found out it was only for the 4s…now all over again, I have two apple tv’s and I was looking forward to being able to stream content from my Mac Mini 2009 and I won’t be able to, I guess I will have to do the same I did with my iPhone 4 to get siri…wait until there was a work around outside of Apple so I can use the feature I want/deserve

  • Fatkid98

    This will be extremely disappointing considering Apple’s current website says nothing about AirPlay being restricted to 2011 or newer Macs.

  • 5imo

    If this is in the final version of Mountain lion, i’m sure there will be a easy hack out in under a month!

  • joewaylo

    My theory is the age of the Mac. 2011 to older run slower processors and WiFi chips. I have a four year old Mac Mini which is Core2. The newest processors can handle the more power. i3 i5 i7.

  • IXDoubleDXI

    Airparrot. I’m going to check it out tonight and see if it works well enough.

  • HenkPoley

    An easier answer is that the older machines do not include h.264 video compression acceleration. Which would mean mirroring would look like good old choppy VNC on these older macs. Not something Apple would release as new in this day and age.

  • Anon

    Is there any way to know whether it is going to work or not, like by serial number or something? I purchased my iMac in March 2011

  • partyfart

    Hate this indeed. tried it with my beta 2 and doesn’t work on my MacBook Pro (17-inch, Mid 2009)

  • Jason Knowlton

    Just use AIRPARROT. I was excited about this feature of Mountain Lion, but my 2010 Macbook Pro will not do the Airplay feature, but using Airparrot, works like a champ.

  • Jason Knowlton

    I bought Apple TV just yesterday. It’s going back today. Piss me off.

    use AirParrot, I was upset with this news but downloaded trial version, works great. More options than the Airplay feature offers also, like Desktop Extension, Mirroring, plus 1080P mirroring.

  • ericschultheiss

    What makes no sense is that AirPlay mirroring doesn’t work on pre 2011, but the regular AirPlay does. (AirPlay video via iTunes on a Mac)

  • LaerteJr

    Shame!!! I just bought my second Apple TV in order to use AirPlay Mirroring with my MacBook Pro…

  • JDAM

    Nah, this is a bogus explanation. Simple enough, Sandy Bridge and later chipset do have hardware h.264 encoders that will do real-time encoding of your video output. Core i5 and i7 have this feature (nobody wonder why we never introduced Core i3 based computers? Because Core i3 based chipsets lack this very feature). This hardware accelerated encoding is vital for Airplay, that’s why your base MacBook Air with a low end i5 is able to do AirPlay under ML while your top-of the line gazzilion-core ram-loaded MacPro is unable to do so.

  • JDAM

    Nah, this is a bogus explanation. Simple enough, Sandy Bridge and later chipset do have hardware h.264 encoders that will do real-time encoding of your video output. Core i5 and i7 have this feature (nobody wonder why we never introduced Core i3 based computers? Because Core i3 based chipsets lack this very feature). This hardware accelerated encoding is vital for Airplay, that’s why your base MacBook Air with a low end i5 is able to do AirPlay under ML while your top-of the line gazzilion-core ram-loaded MacPro is unable to do so.

  • rob_larkin

    Wow. This news just floored me. I bought an AppleTV almost solely for the AirPlay feature coming in Mountain Lion and now I find I won’t get that. The fact that this is mentioned nowhere in Apple’s documentation of the feature on their site leaves me feeling betrayed by false advertising. I’ll wait for confirmation when Mountain Lion comes out but I am really distressed by this…

  • Solowalker

    While this may be a factor, a lot of it does have to do with performance as well. A co-worker of mine put Mountain Lion on laptop with 9400M graphics and was bummed he couldn’t use AirPlay Mirroring. Told him about AirParrot and he tried it out. Verdict? Unusable. Frame rates at 720p were so low and/or inconsistent he just chalked it up as a reason to upgrade. I haven’t heard of any 320M models being tested so there may be a more arbitrary reason there if they turned out to be capable. But for at least some models, they just can’t seem to handle it.

  • Solowalker

    While this may be a factor, a lot of it does have to do with performance as well. A co-worker of mine put Mountain Lion on laptop with 9400M graphics and was bummed he couldn’t use AirPlay Mirroring. Told him about AirParrot and he tried it out. Verdict? Unusable. Frame rates at 720p were so low and/or inconsistent he just chalked it up as a reason to upgrade. I haven’t heard of any 320M models being tested so there may be a more arbitrary reason there if they turned out to be capable. But for at least some models, they just can’t seem to handle it.

  • patstar5

    My mid 2010 MacBook pro 13 inch I bought in January 2011 won’t mirror? Well air parrot is working. At least mountain lion is $20. Maybe they will be a hack so I don’t have to buy the full version of air parrot.

  • lowtolerance

    An easier answer is that the older machines do not include h.264 video compression acceleration. Which would mean mirroring would look like good old choppy VNC on these older macs. Not something Apple would release as new in this day and age.

    It’s perfectly possible to Airplay from an older Mac using Airparrot, with little impact on video quality, though no doubt the accelerated h.264 video offerings on the newer Macs is the real reason that Apple is restricting Airplay to 2011 Macs and newer as Airparrot is pretty resource intensive.

    Apple has a long history of holding off on features that can have a negative impact on battery life and overall system performance, and I think that’s what we’re seeing here. Hopefully, someone will find a workaround to enable it on older machines, but if not, there is still Airparrot, which works great and is priced fairly – $9.99 for a single user license of $29.99 for a 5-license family pack.

  • Derek Schlicker

    Does anyone know if this also applies to second gen and earlier Apple TVs, or just the Mac model?

  • AirSquirrels

    The real answer is that AirPlay mirroring in Mountain Lion requires the on-GPU H264 encoding capabilities that are only present in the graphics chipsets on newer Apple computers. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the tech behind this as the author of AirParrot (www.airparrot.com) which does allow for mirror on those older macs because we do the encoding on the CPU.

  • _C4LE

    Yeah, I just realized this right after wwdc. I chatted with an apple person but they couldn’t give me a good reason. AirPlay was one of the main features that I was going to get mountain lion for. But I have since decided to sell my current 13 inch MacBook Pro and use the money I get from it to get one of the new 11 inch MacBook Airs. But it does suck. Guess people won’t be able to completely cut the cord from their tv provider as soon as they thought.

  • _C4LE

    Yeah, I just realized this right after wwdc. I chatted with an apple person but they couldn’t give me a good reason. AirPlay was one of the main features that I was going to get mountain lion for. But I have since decided to sell my current 13 inch MacBook Pro and use the money I get from it to get one of the new 11 inch MacBook Airs. But it does suck. Guess people won’t be able to completely cut the cord from their tv provider as soon as they thought.

  • djrobsd

    This is no surprise. Apple does this all the time to force people to buy a new computer every 1-2 years, even though their products last 10 years.

  • Aaron

    Why is everyone blaming Apple? Does Apple care if you make illegal copies of movies? NO! Hollywood does. They’re the ones pulling the strings and, if Apple doesn’t play by Hollywood’s rules, Hollywood will go after Apple for not securing its digital content. Intel’s technology just allows for encryption of the data. If an older Mac doesn’t support that encryption (which appears to be hardware-based), then it ain’t gonna work. If you’re that upset, hook your Mac to your TV up with a good, old-fashioned cable.

  • Dan

    I know this thread is about mirroring, but does anyone know if AirPlay will be offered without mirroring? What I mean is, will you be able to AirPlay for QuickTime, iPhoto, Aperture etc, also will audio only AirPlay be available or will this still be restricted to iTunes only?

  • h0ffer

    I love my new Ivy Bridge MBA even more now.

  • Kendall Tawes

    Nah, this is a bogus explanation. Simple enough, Sandy Bridge and later chipset do have hardware h.264 encoders that will do real-time encoding of your video output. Core i5 and i7 have this feature (nobody wonder why we never introduced Core i3 based computers? Because Core i3 based chipsets lack this very feature). This hardware accelerated encoding is vital for Airplay, that’s why your base MacBook Air with a low end i5 is able to do AirPlay under ML while your top-of the line gazzilion-core ram-loaded MacPro is unable to do so.

    My 2010 i7 MacBook Pro has some words for you.

  • 42_prefect

    Likely won’t update, since why
    $20 bucks for an update and not get all the features. Seems to me like Apple is taking advantage of all the people who pay to have the latest and greatest. With record sales on almost everything they release these days, Apple know that people need a reason to update and if having certain features only able to work on the newest hardware and not on older devices. Siri on 4S and not on 4? No camera on iPad, then 2 Cameras available on 11 months later? Apple doesn’t care what you want, they only want you to keep wanting and spending. The same goes for Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Motorola, ATT, Verizon, Sprint, T-mobile… It goes on. I will likely not be updating until I buy a new computer, because all future updates will only make my Mac less happy. All the excess processing needed to run features like Reminders and Notifications in the background are taxing and Lion slowed me down a bunch mid 2010 13″ MacBook pro. I am ready to jump ship after 20 plus years of Mac use. Not sure where to go, though, they all seem greedy and evil now.

  • quicker

    Older Macs don’t have Intel’s new Quick Sync Video support, which is 5x faster than the GPU and 10x faster than the CPU. Sorry, no conspiracy needed here.

  • quicker

    This hardware accelerated encoding is vital for Airplay, that’s why your base MacBook Air with a low end i5 is able to do AirPlay under ML while your top-of the line gazzilion-core ram-loaded MacPro is unable to do so.

    The ATI 5770 (baseline graphics card in the latest Mac Pro, and the most popular graphics upgrade for Mac Pros since at least 2009) also has hardware features to support video encoding.

    A Mac Pro has plenty of power to support realtime video encoding. That’s half the reason people buy them!

  • kybluegrassboy

    I am pissed! Seriously. I had not heard anything about Apple being selective as to which hardware platforms would have certain pieces and parts of the OSX Mountain Lion upgrade. Mirroring is on of the main reasons I was looking forward to the new OS and now my late 2010 MacBook Pro will not do what was, as far as I’m concerned, promised by Apple. This is very close to what I would consider a “Bait and Switch” pitch from Apple.

  • kybluegrassboy

    I am pissed! Seriously. I had not heard anything about Apple being selective as to which hardware platforms would have certain pieces and parts of the OSX Mountain Lion upgrade. Mirroring is on of the main reasons I was looking forward to the new OS and now my late 2010 MacBook Pro will not do what was, as far as I’m concerned, promised by Apple. This is very close to what I would consider a “Bait and Switch” pitch from Apple.

  • kybluegrassboy

    Amazing that I am able to use “AirPlay” from my iPhone, but my 2010 MacBook Pro, NVIDIA GeForce 320M, 2.4 GHz, Intel Core 2 Duo CPU with 8 GB of RAM just doesn’t meet the standards.
    DRM or not, Apple should have been more forthcoming about the limitations for certain hardware platforms as it relates to the features they tout for the latest OS.
    This is, debatably, an example of “Bait and Switch” if you ask me.

  • drake48

    What a flop! I’ve been a Mac user for 30 years and today was, I think, the biggest let down I’ve had with Mac. I was looking forward to Mountain Lion, particularly Airplay Mirroring and made sure that the computers we have in our office and at home were compatible – they were. After the download and trying to get Airplay to work I find out that it won’t work on a machine that’s older that mid 2011. What a waste of time. If only Apple had placed a disclaimer on their website. If I ran my business with false advertising like that I think my customers would have a lot to say. Just plain BOGUS

  • Tony Munoz

    Was going to download lion for airplay mostly and since I have a late 2010 model now I wont download, thanks!

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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