OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

AirPlay Mirroring

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Look, Ma, no wires.

For a small (but ever growing) number of users, AirPlay Mirroring to the Apple TV will prove to be one of Mountain Lion’s greatest features. For everyone else, though? A maddening empty promise.

First introduced with iOS 4.2, AirPlay Mirroring has long allowed iDevice owners to stream the video and audio coming out of their iPhone or iPad to a second or third-generation Apple TV at  30 frames per second. With Mountain Lion, AirPlay Mirroring comes to the Mac and the good news is it’s great… if your Mac supports it. Which it probably doesn’t.

More on that in a second. First of all, let’s talk about how it works.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

AirPlay in the Mountain Lion menu bar.

If you are on a compatible Mac that is connected to the same WiFi network as a second or third-generation Apple TV, a small AirPlay icon will appear in the OS X menu bar. Clicking on this icon will give you the option of mirroring what’s your Mac’s audio and video to a connected Apple TV.

AirPlay Mirroring was a great feature on the iPhone or iPad, but it really shines on the Mac. It’s not perfect — sometimes you need to turn it on, off, and on again to get sound mirroring working — but using AirPlay Mirroring under Mountain Lion, you can stream a 1080p video you downloaded off of Bittorrent, or show your friends your demon-gelatination skills in Diablo III, or rehearse a Keynote presentation, or show your parents some vacation videos, even just slap a DVD into your Mac and watch it on a big-screen from across the room. If you’ve got an extensive collection of videos saved on your Mac, the convenience of AirPlay Mirroring is going to just kill for you.

There are other advantages too. Because of the weird ways in which Hollywood licenses media depending on which “kind” of screen that media is going to be viewed upon, many television shows and movies available for streaming online can only be streamed to a Mac or PC, not a TV. AirPlay Mirroring on a Mac means that you can actually pump certain kinds of streaming video up to your HDTV that would otherwise be forbidden by prohibitive licensing agreements.

Then there’s enterprise. AirPlay Mirroring will help Macs to make an even bigger dent in business environments than they currently have: instead of an expensive projector, all a board meeting needs is a TV, a Mac and a $99 box.

AirPlay Mirroring is a hugely important feature when it comes to Cupertino’s long-term plans to infiltrate the living room.

Apple hasn’t really spent a lot of time talking about AirPlay Mirroring as a showcase feature in Mountain Lion, but make no mistake: this is a hugely important feature, not just as far as user convenience is concerned, but when it comes to Cupertino’s long-term plans to infiltrate the living room. There was a time when Apple viewed the Mac as the nexus through which all of a user’s other devices connected — your iPod, iPhone, iPad, even the original Apple TV — but thanks to AirPlay and the much rumored Apple HDTV, there’s every reason to believe that the biggest screen and most central screen in our homes will soon become that nexus instead.

So AirPlay is awesome and it’s the future. Why isn’t Apple making a big deal of AirPlay Mirroring in Mountain Lion, then?

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

By default, AirPlay will mirror your default desktop size, but if your HDTV can push more pixels than your Mac can, you can change the setting.

Simple: it doesn’t work on the vast majority of Macs that can run Mountain Lion. In fact, unless you have a MacBook Pro from early 2011, or any other Mac from mid-2011, you won’t be able to use the feature at all.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Third-party apps like AirParrot will let you mirror older Macs over AirPlay, but not without some performance compromises.

Although there have been plenty of conspiracy theories as to why Apple’s excluding older Mac, the real reason Apple has limited AirPlay Mirroring to 2011 Macs and above is because they all have on-GPU H.264 encoding, the same requirement Apple lists for AirPlay Mirroring on iOS. While third-party apps like AirParrot can manage AirPlay Mirroring even on older machines, it takes up a non-trivial amount of CPU power, causing Macs to run faster, hotter and louder than Apple likes. In our experience, it’s also a laggier experience.

That’s not to say AirPlay Mirroring even on Macs that support it under Mountain Lion is always a buttery experience. The speed and congestion of your network is a huge factor in how well AirPlay Mirroring works, and things can get janky quick if you have, say, a torrent running in the background, or if you’re trying to use AirPlay Mirroring while simultaneously streaming a 1080p HD video file. If you have a Mac and a network that can handle it, though, AirPlay Mirroring offers a built-in convenience that simply no other operating system can match, and which quickly becomes utterly indispensable.

For some, AirPlay Mirroring will be one of Mountain Lion’s best features. For the rest, though, it’ll be a maddening empty promise.

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Related
  • Clem_E

    We can’t read it later!!!!! :p
    Any link for the full article in one page?

  • brownlee

    We can’t read it later!!!!! :p
    Any link for the full article in one page?

    We have this functionality, but it isn’t working for some reason. We’ve got our tech team coming. Soon!

  • FatSquirrel

    None of the pages seem to be working at all.

  • joewaylo

    I can see GateKeeper being the most annoying feature introduced to Mountain Lion. This reminds me of Windows Vista. “Permission to run blahblahblah” of a third party program. Vista kept freezing my computer every time I ran a non-microsoft product.

  • Kalvin Chan Loc

    Multiple monitor support still sucks. Fullscreen mode support wasn’t what I expected, as the other monitor still turns into a useless grey screen when going into fullscreen mode on the other.

  • John Owen

    WHY would Apple take our RSS reader support our of Safari????? I try to load the Cult of Mac feed and it takes me to Mail…I HATE that!!!!!

  • Edwin Torres

    Glad to see that the dictionary has been updated… :)

  • Edwin Torres

    Since safari got an update, has the lag that has been reported for the retina MBP while scrolling been fixed?

  • ddevito

    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

  • MC Pearl

    Good thing I’m sticking with Lion for a while. waiting until all the short-term bugs are fixed with 10.8.1

  • RadTech5000

    I can’t wait to upgrade my new Retina MacBook Pro tonight, super excited! :)

  • extra_medium

    I’d much rather be able to use my TV as a wireless second display than to duplicate my desktop. Using two of my screens to show the same thing simultaneously seems like a waste of a screen to me. It would be nice to be able to get some work done (play games) on the thunderbolt display while content streams on the TV, unrelated to what I’m doing.

    Also, if all it does is mirror your desktop why does the article mention that it only works for “certain types of streaming” content. What doesn’t work? What does work?

  • trexuphigh

    As a customer I love it. As a support tech, I’m scared. This was the easiest OS upgrades I’ve ever done. I started the download, went for coffee, after coffee started the installer, went out, returned in the evening, logged in. Done. Wow. The USB installer is much easier to make than a Windows PE environment, works better, and his more feature rich. So far so good. One disappointment is waiting for facebook integration, why wait for iOS6? Oh Apple, you so eccentric.

  • Soundcloud Forwardslash GenthenaZero

    Gatekeeper is DRM under the guise of an antivirus. It will soon be impossible to release an App without it being Apple signed. Mark my words.

    It’s a great feature until it is though :)

  • Ed_Kel

    Good thing I’m sticking with Lion for a while. waiting until all the short-term bugs are fixed with 10.8.1

    Could you elaborate on the “bugs” you’re waiting to be cleaned up? This is the smoothest upgrade I’ve ever done on my Mac – Period. I would highly suggest upgrading; it’s everything that Lion wasn’t…

  • Ed_Kel

    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

  • Greg

    Good stuff John, it must have taken a while to put this article together. Thanks!

  • Tallest_Skil

    Gatekeeper is DRM under the guise of an antivirus. It will soon be impossible to release an App without it being Apple signed. Mark my words.

    Consider them completely ignored.

  • ddevito
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

    On the contrary, I own an iMac running Lion (although Lion was a waste of money, Snow leopard was my all time desktop OS fav).

  • ddevito
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    Fuck off and die you stupid fat asshole troll.

    I own more Apple products than you.

  • johnboyhanna

    Why is it a 3rd party app like Air Parrot can get Airplay to work on pre 2011 Macs but Apple won’t? One feature I was really looking forward to with this OS

  • johnboyhanna

    Also really missing the battery time option on the top bar, only % is an option to toggle on and off, not as useful as time, hope this gets fixed in an update.

  • Tallest_Skil

    I own more Apple products than you.

    So zero, then.

  • Ossiann

    Safari in iOS 6 doesn’t have a unified location field! You got that wrong.

  • site7000

    “Unfortunately, once you save a document to the iCloud, there’s no easy way to browse through your files outside of the app you saved it in, nor is there an easy way to, say, drag documents you’d like to keep synced into the iCloud from your desktop into a Dropbox or iDisk-style “syncing” folder.”

    This is bizarre. Isn’t the goal of a user interface design to make content more easily accessible and applications invisible? I don’t get this.

  • Alfred2612

    From the article: “AirPlay Mirroring will help Macs to make an even bigger dent in business environments than they currently have: instead of an expensive projector, all a board meeting needs is a TV, a Mac and a $99 box.”

    Cool feature, but I’ve been doing this for years giving presentations in boardrooms. All I need is a VGA/HDMI out cable and a TV with a VGA/HDMI in socket (which is most TVs nowadays). No $99 box needed. Done it many many times. :)

    And OSX looks GORGEOUS on a big screen TV!

  • Soundcloud Forwardslash GenthenaZero
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

    Quit trolling and realise he’s right. Everything introduced to OS X in the last two instalments was stolen from existing tech on iOS. Its downright lazy.

    Furthermore, I’m irritated by Apple’s decision to start rolling out OS upgrades yearly. If the cheangelog is going to look like this then they are really just charging you more for the same amount of changes but in smaller chunks. I like it when I’m excited by new OSX releases, but I feel like one every year is going to make the change log much less exciting.

    If I hadn’t worked so hard to get Lion working on my iMac right now, I might update…. but I did, and I can’t afford to have Airport, Safe Mode and Finder crashing problems again… I’d probably rip my hair out.

  • Stoffe_C

    Another nice Airplay feature incase youve missed it (should work on every mac model).
    If you press the “alt” key and leftklick the volume control icon you can choose to output the sound to Airplay enabled devices. No need for airfoil anymore :)

  • Tallest_Skil

    Quit trolling and realise he’s right. Everything introduced to OS X in the last two instalments was stolen from existing tech on iOS. Its downright lazy.

    And you’re downright stupid. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • RadTech5000

    I’ve had a chance to play around with Mountain Lion for about a week now on my new Retina MacBook Pro and find I’m loving it! Power Nap is awesome and I feel so sorry for those of you who don’t have it. I use Messages a lot and I find the new Notifications to be a very nice as well. I think many of the small things they added of fixed really make you fell like this is a very polished OS and I couldn’t be happier. Way to go Apple you should be very proud. =)

  • coolman1081

    No mention of Game Center?

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 girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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