Quick guide: Troubleshooting AirPlay playback

AirPlay is Apple's wireless media streaming system for Mac and iOS devices. It works well most of the time, but sometimes users experience lag and stuttered playback. What can you do about this? Read this guide:

Quick guide: Troubleshooting AirPlay playback

The symptom

When playing media via AirPlay you experience stuttering, sound dropout, interference, a missing AirPlay button on your device or other annoying problems. (These problems usually reflect the robustness of your Wi-Fi network.)

First steps

  • Check your device/computer software's up-to-date and the latest version of iTunes is installed.
  • Be certain multiple devices aren't attempting to stream to the same AirPlay system simultaneously.

If problems persist, check the following:

Running Interference

Common household devices, such as cordless phones, microwave ovens and baby monitors, may interfere with a Wi-Fi network. You can try moving or disabling these devices to see if network performance improves.

Troubleshooting AirPlay playback

[ABOVE: Even Zigbee devices can create intermittent interference on wireless networks.]

Restart

AirPlay performance problems may be ameliorated if you switch off your computer, AirPort/wireless router and iOS devices for a few (15) seconds before switching them on again (restart the router first). Rebooting an iOS device usually resolves the greyed-out AirPlay icon bug.

Turn off Bluetooth

Some 2013 MacBook and Mac Pro owners report difficulties using AirPlay over an 802.11b or g network. Apple has advised that turning off Bluetooth "can enhance the performance of AirPlay considerably" for users of these systems.

Check capacity

I have noticed that Macs or iOS devices that are running out of disk capacity can deliver patchy AirPlay media streaming sessions. You can check capacity and how much space each app and its contents use on an iOS device in Settings>General>Usage. Depending on the app you can also delete some content there.

Repair permissions

If you are having problems using AirPlay with your Mac, launch Disk Utility and Repair Permissions. This has helped some users.

Reboot device Wi-Fi

If you are using an iOS device to stream media through AirPlay and you suffer these symptoms, Apple advises you to:

  • Check you are in range of the network
  • Tap Settings>Wi-Fi and turn Wi-Fi off and on
  • Tap Settings>Wi-Fi and choose the network you are using, them tap 'I' and choose Forget this Network. Then try to reconnect to the network using your password.
  • Reboot your router and install the latest firmware.

Upgrade Wi-Fi

If your AirPort device is configured to run an 802.11b or g network, enable or upgrade to 802.11n or 802.11ac networking on your base station. This should improve the performance and reliability of AirPlay and your wireless network.

Troubleshooting AirPlay playback

Check your network

On OS X Mavericks, if you press the Option key while clicking on the Wi-Fi icon in the Menu bar you'll get additional information about your network.

Check the bottom of the Menu pane and you'll see a new command: "Open Wireless Diagnostics," which can detect common problems with your wireless connection. Run this and you'll receive good advice to improve your network. (I have a neighbor running an incorrectly configured router that may be impacting my network.)

Apple hosts an extensive document offering recommended settings for Wi-Fi routers and access points.

Missing AirPlay icon

  • If you don't see an AirPlay icon in iTunes, then check to ensure you've enabled the system correctly.
  • If you are using an Apple TV, check Settings>AirPlay is set to on on your Apple TV menu(s). 
  • If using an AirPort device to stream music to an external system, launch AirPort Utility and ensure Enable AirPlay/AirTunes is checked in the AirPort Utility Music tab for that device.

I hope this information helps you get better use from AirPlay. If you have some helpful AirPlay hints to share, please leave them in comments below.

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