OS X Mountain Lion’s AirPlay Mirroring Requires Mid-2011 Macs


With the release of OS X Mountain Lion, one of the most anticipated features was being able to use AirPlay Mirroring from your Mac to your second generation Apple TV. Many users have experienced AirPlay on their iPhone and iPads, and the ability to use the feature from your Mac seemed really appealing.

Some Users Feel Misled Their Older Macs Don’t Support AirPlay

This massive thread in the Apple Support Communities (via @ryleylamarsh) notes frustrated Apple users that feel Apple didn’t advertise the requirements explicitly enough for AirPlay Mirroring, leaving out a huge bulk of former Mac customers. AirPlay Mirroring requires a Mac purchased in mid-2011 or newer.

For those that didn’t thoroughly check out the pages on OS X Mountain Lion, they probably only saw AirPlay Mirroring listed as a feature from the ‘What’s New’ page:

The strict requirements for AirPlay Mirroring are listed on Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion ‘What’s New’ page–in the footnotes:

AirPlay Mirroring requires a second-generation Apple TV or later, and is supported on the following Mac models: iMac (Mid 2011 or newer), Mac mini (Mid 2011 or newer), MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or newer), and MacBook Pro (Early 2011 or newer).

Another OS X page section on Specs notes ‘Feature-Specific Requirements’:

AirPlay Mirroring

Requires a second-generation Apple TV or later. Supports the following Mac models:

  • iMac (Mid 2011 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2011 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Early 2011 or newer)

So why can’t older Macs support AirPlay Mirroring?

It comes down to hardware advantages of mid-2011 Macs, as they received Sandy Bridge i5/i7 chipsets that included separate dedicated hardware encoding for H.264. AppleInsider explains why older Macs can support AirPlay, but not AirPlay Mirroring:

These systems are the oldest machines capable of supporting AirPlay Mirroring because they are the first to deliver dedicated hardware encoding for H.264. Without a CPU capable of crunching this task using specialized hardware, earlier Macs simply can’t transmit video fast enough without a lot of heat and screaming fans.

Older Macs can already send video from iTunes to Apple TV via AirPlay, but they stop local playback while doing this. Mirroring requires the system to produce two video images, one driving the local display and one to be wirelessly delivered to the external screen.

AirPlay doesn’t just relay video from the computer (or iOS device) to Apple TV. It scales down the video to fit on an HDTV resolution, and has to convert the colorspace from the computer’s RGB to the native YUV that televisions use. Both tasks require a lot of processing resources, so without the extra hardware available on newer Macs, mirroring isn’t possible.

Users have noted the app AirParrot mimics AirPlay Mirroring on pre-2011 Macs with both video and audio. However, note that live video encoding is a hardware intensive task–so note your Mac will run very hot with the fans on full blast.

So, the real issue here is Apple not making AirPlay Mirroring requirements explicit for casual users; of course, seasoned users will have read the requirements beforehand. How should Apple have handled the issue of AirPlay Mirroring better for users with pre-2011 Macs?


  • I understand that encoding and sending a live, high-resolution video stream is taxing on an older system, but why not at least give me the option to send an audio-only stream? That’s what I was really looking forward to… being able to watch YouTube videos on my computer while streaming the audio to my AirPlay-enabled living room stereo. I was pretty disappointed that this wasn’t an option. 🙁

  • iFone

    Actually, you can stream audio to your Apple TV in older Macs. Simply, go to Settings -> Audio and then enable audio to Apple TV. Voila! It works on my Macbook Late 2008.
    Also, if you want to stream video using your older Mac, check out AirParrot. Make sure you look for the system requirements before purchasing it for $9.99
    Hope this helps!

  • Really?!? I’ll have to try it out when I get home. That would make me much happier. I’d still love to have the easy-to-access AirPlay menu, but at least the functionality would be there. Thanks!

  • Graham r

    How should they have handled it? Well if a $10 third party can do it fine.. They should have done it. This is like not adding traffic to iPhone 4 in ios6. No reason other than “they can”. This was a feature I was looking forward to in mountain lion. Frustrating that I won’t get it

  • vazandrew

    Airparrot is adequate but I would hardly call it fine. There is lag and it slows down the computer. Though I am disappointed I understand why they chose to do it this way.

  • great article

  • AP

    Why not have the ability to kill the laptop display? If I am mirroring on to my tv, I really only want to be looking at that screen anyway…

  • Eric

    I too was disappointed by this when I downloaded Mountain Lion, and I too purchased Air Parrot. It works ok. There is lag for flash video and I found the audio didn’t sync quite perfectly, but close.

    What I was much happier to see was that iTunes can send video and audio to my apple TV box. This doesn’t exactly let one play video from sites other than youtube, vimeo, netflix, or other content on the Apple TV box itself, but it does at least let me watch the most recent episode of my favourite (public domain) TV shows and movies on the torrent sites 🙂

  • That option would be nice. The theory would be to have both displays on, say if you were giving a presentation.