Apple’s Airport products are best sellers. They’re easy to setup, easy to use, generally durable, and make owning a laptop a fun experience, at home or work.
I was skeptical of Airport Express. It’s just another way to do wireless, right? Not quite. In fact quite different. With Airport Express, and a few clicks, your TV becomes a stereo. Here’s how…
First, you need a Mac. Any wireless enabled Mac running OS X will do (I’m using Tiger for this review), an Internet connection (in this case it will be Time-Warner Cable’s “RoadRunner”), and Apple’s Airport Express.
As an early Mac adopter, I already an original Airport, why the need for another wireless station? Airport Express does music.
That’s M – U – S – I – C, as in iTunes.
What you may not know about iTunes is that it comes with a little built-in feature called AirTunes (iTunes is at version 6.0, and AirTunes dates back to version 4.6). AirTunes lets you send your iTunes music through Airport Express (wirelessly, naturally) and into your stereo system for playback.
Except for just one thing. I don’t have a stereo system. Got the Mac. Got wireless. Got iTunes. Got music. My “stereo system” consists of a little mixer and some honkin’ speakers connected to a huge amplifier stuck in a back room where I can’t bother anyone.
I can knock paint off cars that drive by too slowly. Unfortunately, it’s a great system that’s also connected to my desktop Mac and far away from the living room, where, frankly, it’s much more comfortable to sit and listen to music.
But there’s no need for another Airport, or even Airport Express, right? If you thought like that, as I thought like that, we’d both be wrong.
As you’ve figured out, my home office isn’t a real good spot for listening to iTunes music while relaxing. Yeah, it’s great to shake the paint off neighbors walls when the volume goes up, but ambiance is somewhat lacking, what with all the electronic devices sitting around.
The family room/living room is the right place, but no stereo in there; just a big Sony Wega TV. And an external audio connection.
Hmmmm. What to do.
Do you see what I see? It didn’t take much effort after that. I hit the local Apple Store and picked up an Airport Express. Once back home and in the living room I was reminded again of why Apple leads innovation and design.
First, Airport Express looks like a PowerBook power adapter. It’s small; about as thick as two decks of playing cards. It’s white plastic, with little electrical prongs coming out one corner. There’s also a USB connector to plug in a printer to be shared by wirless devices.
There’s an ethernet connector so your Airport Express can connect to the Internet (not required to play AirTunes via iTunes).
Importantly, there’s a small stereo mini jack so you can plug Airport Express into your stereo system. In this case, there’s no stereo system within 75 feet, so it had to be the next best thing. The Sony Wega TV.
Many good TVs have audio input connections on the back, so getting an adapter was a few bucks at the local Radio Shack store. I connected the adapter to the sony TV’s audio “in” connectors, then connected the adapter to the Airport Express.
That was it. Oh, Airport Express was plugged in to the electrical outlet but not to the Internet (I needed an extra ethernet cable). Wireless from my laptop to Airport Express still works even if Airport Express isn’t connected to the internet.
We’re all set, right? So far I haven’t “clicked” anything. I just plugged in Airport Express and connected it to the TV’s “audio in” connectors. The TV also had an “input source” button and I selected Input 2 for Airport Express. No video. Just audio.
Here comes the fun part. This is why Windows users pull their hair out and shake their heads. Have you ever tried setting up a wi-fi wireless system on Windows? Someone should go to jail. Really.
I moved across the room and opened my PowerBook. It’s wireless already (built in to Apple’s PowerBooks), and opened iTunes. In the Mac OS X menu bar (top) I selected “Airport Express”. That’s click #1. With iTunes open, check the bottom right of the screen. Next to the Eject button, and the Show Equalizer button, you’ll now see another button. Airport Express.
Click that button. That’s click #2.
Select a song on iTunes and click (double-click) it. That’s click #3.
iTunes music now is piped from the PowerBook, through the Airport Express, and into the TV, and out the TV’s speakers. They’re not great speakers and don’t have the volume of my 300 watt amplifier in the back room, but they’re quite good. Very good, actually.
The music is now in the living room so relaxing to tunes is much easier than the office.
Is that cool or what?
Oh, by that point I had NOT opened the Airport Express manual. It’s difficult to get much easier than that. Click, click, click, and music.
As you’d suspect, there’s a bit more to it than that. If you’re justing using Airport Express to play music through your stereo or TV, security isn’t much of an issue (maybe your neighbors will share their iTunes playlists with you, or, rather “to” you).
Once you plug the Internet connection into Airport Express then security is a concern. Install the Airport Express utility. Open the Airport Express Assistant (placed inside the Utilities folder, inside the Applications folder) and walk through setup. Passwords are a good thing. Don’t forget it, though. I did and had to reset Airport Express to use it again.
There’s even more to Airport Express than that. It’s small enough that it’ll fit inside your laptop’s carry case. Once you visit a friend’s house (wired, of course), plug in Airport Express and you’re connected. Many hotels now have broadband access in guest rooms. Plug in Airport Express and you can use your laptop anywhere in the room, the balcony (need the right kind of hotel, you know).
Apple does it again. It’s an extension of wireless that fits the Mac lifestyle, fits in with the most important iLife application, and is competitively priced at $129.
All this new tech stuff brings up an age old question related to iTunes music. Legal or not. We polled our readers and found some interesting results about how many songs they have on iTunes and iPod, and how much of the music is legal dowloads vs. illegal downloads.
Click Here to get the scoop and check out the results.
This was an Encore Presentation of a previous article.