Mountain Lion, the latest version of Apple’s OS X desktop operating system, went public Wednesday to the delight of Mac users everywhere. But while the world fawns over updates to Safari and a number of features cribbed from iOS, most people are skipping over perhaps the most significant update of all: AirPlay Mirroring. Don’t look now, but Apple just created a formidable cord-cutting platform. The new operating system can change the way we watch video in the living room, and might even compel some users to finally cancel their cable and satellite services. Any video content that’s available for the computer can now be just as easily watched on an HDTV. All you need is a 2011 or newer Mac running Mountain Lion, and a $100 Apple TV.
The new AirPlay mirroring feature should have the Xfinitys and DirecTVs of the world very concerned.
AirPlay Mirroring in Mountain Lion uses the same basic tech found in iOS devices: Your computer wirelessly transmits whatever is playing on your Mac desktop to your Apple TV, which then shoots this mirrored content to your HDTV via an HDMI cable. Display settings are automatically determined by your Mac, so you don’t have to adjust the resolution over and over again, hoping to find the perfect recipe for optimal TV watching.
Once your mirroring set-up is complete, anything you might play on your desktop can be displayed on your big-screen TV — and this is where all that unique, cord-cutting potential comes into play. Sure, you can start playing computer games on the big-screen. And you can also pipe Rdio tunes, or any other music, directly to your TV speakers. But most importantly, you can mirror all those free, streaming desktop services that would otherwise cost money (or not work at all) if streamed directly to a TV.
For example: Hulu’s free, PC-only streaming library is suddenly available on your TV without Hulu’s $8 monthly tax in the form of a Hulu Plus subscription (this tax is imposed on set-top devices like the Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation). And then there’s CBS.com. On the network’s website, you can watch (and now AirPlay mirror) tons of network TV shows. Yes, these shows also appear in the CBS iOS app, but the app doesn’t support AirPlay mirroring. The same holds true for ABC content: It can be mirrored via ABC.com, but not via ABC’s iOS app.
How long will all this streaming desktop content remain free and unfettered? Only time will tell, but the latest evolutions in desktop mirroring could have long-term effects on the delicate relationships between Hollywood content producers, cable and satellite companies, and technology companies like Apple. Currently, desktop computers are somewhat of a bastion for free, streaming content, as evidenced by the Hulu, CBS and ABC policies above. Restrictions are tighter on mobile devices, and this even extends to YouTube, which disables mobile viewing — but not desktop viewing — for user videos that contain copyrighted music content.
But now easy, simple desktop mirroring presents game-changing opportunities for savvy users. Gartner analyst Michael McGuire told Wired, “[Video mirroring] is the longer-term threat. It’s the kind of thing the MVPDs [Multichannel Video Programming Distributors], the Comcasts of the world, dread.”
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