Without a doubt, my favorite Mountain Lion feature is AirPlay Mirroring, which allows me to easily mirror whatever is happening on my Mac to my Apple TV. My girlfriend and I use it pretty much all the time to watch movies at night — I digitized our vast DVD collection long ago to save space. It’s truly indispensible to me.
Although I love AirPlay Mirroring, the feature still has two main issues. First of all, AirPlay Mirroring doesn’t work at all on Macs released before 2011, meaning that my 2009-era 27-inch iMac can’t easily stream anything off of its 3.25 TB (rolled-at-home) Fusion Drive. There are apps like AirParrot that get around that limitation, but I’ve always found them to be a little bit strange and laggy, doing weird things like letterboxing my iMac’s display on all sides.
Even if you have a Mac that is newer than 2011, though, there’s one major limitation of AirPlay Mirroring: if you’re streaming a movie to your Apple TV using AirPlay Mirroring, you can’t actually do anything else with your Mac while the movie is playing. If you switch away from the video player to check your email or your Twitter account, it’s all mirrored on the screen.
What I have always wanted is this: the ability to easily stream a movie to my Apple TV from any Mac in my house, while allowing me to still use my Mac without disrupting the viewing experience.
Today, I discovered a gem of an app that lets me do all of this. It’s called Beamer and it frickin’ rocks.
The first thing to know about Beamer is how simple it is. You launch the app, it automatically connects to the nearest Apple TV (or, if you for some reason have more than one, it asks you which one you want to connect to), you drag a movie onto it and it automatically starts playing on another screen. And that’s it! You can pause the movie, or change the subtitles, in the app, but otherwise, there’s nothing to futz with: you just drag-and-drop, and it plays.
The genius of this is how lightweight it is. There’s nothing complicated to futz with. And while you’re playing a video using Beamer, it treats your Apple TV like a true second screen, allowing you to do whatever you want on your Mac (play a game! check your email! watch some porn!) without spraying it up on your 50-inch plasma for everyone to see.
Here’s another benefit of using Beamer: unlike AirPlay Mirroring, your Apple TV remote will work with Beamer. You can pause, fast forward, play and rewind, all from the remote… no fiddling around with your Mac every time you want to stop a movie!
Don’t let this simplicity of use fool you, though. Beamer supports a ton of different file formats, such as AVI, FLV, M4V, MKV, MOV, MP4, and WMV. If your movie has an associated subtitle file, you can load it up in Beamer to stream alongside the video. And if you’ve got a bitching 5.1 Surround Sound system? AirPlay Mirroring will convert it to stereo, but Beamer will use every channel. Rad.
Testing Beamer out on my 2009 iMac, I was just amazed at how good the experience was. Even with large video files, playback on my Apple TV was almost immediate, image quality was fantastic and there was none of the usual jitters and stutters that I have gotten when trying to use my older iMac to stream video to my Apple TV. That’s impressive in and of its own right. About my only quibble is Beamer doesn’t support video playlists: you can only drag-and-drop a single movie at a time, with no queing.
I don’t generally get this psyched about Mac apps, but Beamer is a wonderful app that improves upon Mountain Lion’s AirPlay Mirroring support in a fundamental way. Not only does it give any 64-bit Mac from 2007 or later the ability to stream movies to their television, it is better than Apple’s own implementation of Mirroring in simplicity, ease-of-use and multitaskability. If you use AirPlay Mirroring to stream your desktop to your HDTV for work or presentations, Beamer’s not going to be for you, but if AirPlay Mirroring’s major promise for you is a way to watch movies stored on your Mac on the big screen, it’s hard to imagine an implementation better than this.
You can purchase Beamer from the official site for $15. Money well spent in my book. There’s also a free demo available.