How to use AirPlay on a Mac Mini: AirServer

I bought an Apple TV to connect to our beamer (what Germans call a projector) at work. I anticipated being able to project from an iPad to make data sharing in meetings more fluid. Unfortunately, I misunderstood that Apple TV cannot function as an Ad-Hoc access point. It connects to a router and all AirPlay data goes over the chain:

Client ---> Router ----> Apple TV

Whilst reasonable in a home environment, this arrangement isn’t ideal when it’s not your router. Apple TV also wants to connect to the Internet. The chance that our IT department would agree to installing a router for this purpose, or the utter uselessness of having to get each AirPlay client onto our Intranet, means that this idea is a non-starter. The Apple TV is going back.

Then I remembered AirServer. Later, I remembered I had already bought AirServer as part of the MacHeist NanoBundle 3 but that’s another story.

After installing on the Mac Mini that we normally use for hosting presentations, we can now beam data from an iPad, iPhone or any device that can send AirPlay data by following a few simple steps. 3rd party solutions are available for non-Apple devices, see below. AirServer is well known as a very robust app, but I thought I’d share the process.

Here’s what you have to do. First you need to create an Ad-Hoc network between the Mac Mini and your device.
On Mac Mini, turn on Wifi, make sure it doesn’t connect to any network and enable Internet Sharing. Although there is no obvious reason to put any security in a work environment, you might want to block your neighbour if you’re at home. Maybe not though….It makes sense to shut this off again after use. There’s no way to keep the ad-hoc network secret (technically: the SSID broadcast cannot be disabled) and it doesn’t turn off automatically. The default is to share the Ethernet with devices over Wifi. The easiest way to understand this function is that the Mac Mini is now additionally a wireless router you can connect to.

Bonus – sharing this connection means any device can get Wifi and see the Internet. AirPlay runs over the same connection, so you can, for example, call up slides from Dropbox.

AirServer runs at login, fairly silently. It can be restarted from Applications, if needed. There is a panel under System Preferences for AirServer. The option “Onscreen password” works well.

On the client (e.g. your iPhone, iPad, recent Macbook, or even a PC running an AirPlay client like AirParrot), connect to the Wifi network that you just created. For example, on any iOS device go to Settings -> Wifi.

You can mirror an iOS device display by accessing the Task Switcher (double-press on Home button) and swiping all the way to the right.

UPDATE: On iOS 7, AirPlay Mirroring moved to the Control Panel

UPDATE 2: AirServer 4.7.2 (imminent release) fixes some bugs in iOS7 related to pushing Passcode entry. 


Beware, if you lock the phone up, everyone can see your passcode as you unlock it! Mirroring doesn’t switch off just because the phone is locked. You can also look for the AirPlay logo in whatever app you want to mirror (e.g. Keynote).

The aspect of the Mirrored display may have to be altered if full-screen mode is invoked, if the Mirrored display is cropped or stretched in an ugly way. Mouseover the display and a floating menu appears that allows several cropping options, as well as completely awesome post-processing controls for those that need it.

On a Mac, enable Airplay Mirroring under Displays. To find this option ungreyed may need a restart of the client (e.g. your Macbook). At least, it has done 2/2 times for me. With a Retina Macbook I had to adjust the resolution under Displays to get something reasonable.


3 thoughts on “How to use AirPlay on a Mac Mini: AirServer

  1. Pingback: The Disgrace of Microsoft Office | Serious Piffle

  2. Pingback: Peer to peer AirPlay with Apple TV coming in iOS8 | Serious Piffle

  3. Pingback: Peer to Peer Airplay via Bluetooth | Serious Piffle

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