TechTalk: AirPlay

AirPlay is an Apple protocol which allows wireless streaming of audio, video, and photos between devices such as computers, smartphones, speakers, etc. over your home network.  Only a limited number of products are currently AirPlay-compatible, however, by the time you brush your teeth tonight, there will probably be one or two more added to that list.
What can you do with AirPlay?  AirPlay works with any newer MacBook Air/Pro laptop, an iPhone 4 or 4s, an AirPlay compatible speaker, an AirPort Express, or an Apple TV.   

The Apple AirPort Express:  This is a nifty little gadget, available for $99, which allows you to stream music wirelessly to an existing wired audio system.  All you do is plug the AirPort Express into a wall plug next to the wired audio system and connect it to the stereo with a standard 1/8” audio cable.  Once you’ve set up the AirPort Express to be on your home network, you can now stream anything in iTunes from your Mac or iPhone to the AirPort Express, which will play it out of the wired audio system.

The Apple TV:  Also for $99, is this super-nifty slightly larger gadget, which not only works just like the AirPort Express, it also lets you stream movies and photos from your computer to your TV.  Via HDMI, you can connect the Apple TV to your television to watch movies and listen to music there.  You can also use the optical audio connection on the Apple TV to connect to your wired stereo system for music listening.  Added bonus:  you can also rent movies and tv shows and purchase tv shows directly from the Apple TV, and download them later to any of your Apple devices for no extra cost.

The AirPlay Wireless Speaker:  If you happen to have one of the new AirPlay wireless speakers available these days, you don’t need any kind of adapter.  The speaker connects directly to your home network, and you can stream from any Mac or iPhone directly to the speaker.  You can have multiple AirPlay speakers throughout the home for whole-home audio.  There is one caveat to this though, while iTunes will support streaming to multiple AirPlay destinations, the iPhone will only stream to one.
One noteworthy item is the iW1 wireless speaker by iHome. Priced at $300, this is a great all-in-one speaker which provides decent sound to any room in the home via its wireless connection.  It has a remote which controls not only the volume of the speaker, but a few controls in iTunes on your Mac or iPhone as well.  It even does “next song” in Pandora (iPhone only).