stutter-free AirPlay streaming from Mac to AppleTV

Using AirPlay to stream video from iOS to AppleTV is awesome. But doing the same thing from a Mac (even a fairly recent MacBook Pro) can result in jittery, stuttering video. Here’s how to fix that.

First, verify you can stream video

Let’s make sure you are able to stream video in the first place. If you already know you can do this, then you can skip this section.

Turn on your TV and view your AppleTV. Doesn’t matter if you’re looking at the AppleTV home screen, as long as you can see the AppleTV.


You already know how cool that is, especially if you add in a home music and video server as well as services like Netflix and Hulu. I’m sure it’s gonna get even cooler over time. But that’s out of scope for this article.


Now let’s stream some content from an iOS device to your AppleTV, just to make sure everything’s working.

If you don’t have an AppleTV plus an iOS device like an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you’ll get stuck right here! I’m assuming you actually have Apple devices, and that you keep your devices pretty much updated. Because you’re on top of these things.

To send the video signal from your iOS device (I’ll call it an iPhone for simplicity) to your AppleTV, sign into your iPhone. Swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen, and click on the icon at bottom right marked “AirPlay.”


You should now see a screen that gives you a choice of multiple devices. Your iPhone will be the one that’s checked. But any other AirPlay devices that your iPhone can “see” will also be in this list. By default, this should include any AirPlay receiving devices like AppleTV that are on your local WiFi network (assuming your iPhone is logged into WiFi), plus any that happen to be nearby and broadcasting a signal.

If you’re not on WiFi (let’s say you’re at your friend’s house), but they have AppleTV, you should still see their AppleTV in this list. No problem. Choose that AppleTV in the list. By default, it’ll just be called “AppleTV,” though if the owner has gone in and given it a name, it could be called something else. I have two of them, and name them according to the room they’re in. For example: “Servant’s Wing” and “Hall Of The Golden Throne.”

You should see an option labeled “Mirroring.” If you turn this on, your device will display video locally (on your iPhone) and also play it on the TV. However, this will use up extra processing power on your device, and may result in video stuttering. So let’s not turn that on.

Click “Done”. Now use your phone to launch a video app, like YouTube. Play a video. Any video. Can even be one of cats playing piano. Better yet, play a prank video from my very funny brother, Greg Benson of MediocreFilms.

When you play the video, you shouldn’t actually see it on your phone. Instead, it should be playing on the TV, video and audio both. Cool, huh? I said it’s a neat party game, because you can have any number of people taking turns sending video to AppleTV this way, sharing your favorite videos in turn.

Did the video play in high resolution without stuttering/jerking or stopping frequently to buffer? If so, you’re probably on a good WiFi network already, or you have a really excellent cell connection with lots of bandwidth. Good for you. Now you know you can stream video to your AppleTV, and you know how to do it. If you’re stuck here, look for other tutorials on how to use AirPlay. There are some networking, iOS or AppleTV settings that, if set wrong, can stop you. But that’s out of the scope of this article.

If you were on WiFi already, but your video was stuttering or low quality, then you might not have good bandwidth from your Internet provider. You can check your bandwidth with, or the SpeedTest app if  you’re on iOS.

At this point, you can swipe upwards and change AirPlay streaming back to your iPhone if you like. Or keep having fun watching Greg’s videos. Or videos of cats, if that’s what entertains you.

Stream from your Mac to AppleTV


Now grab your Mac. Hopefully it’s a laptop, or you might strain your back (which is also out of scope, but you have my sympathy). Under the Apple menu at top-left, open the System Preferences and click on the Displays icon.


Optional: There should be a checkbox at the bottom-left, “Show mirroring options in the menu bar when available.” Turn that on and you’ll see the AirPlay icon (same icon on the iPhone) in your menu bar at the top of your Mac’s screen.


This optional step makes it easy to turn on and off AirPlay streaming in the future. But you can do everything from the Preferences dialog if you like. If your checkbox option says something else, or is hard to find, then you’re probably using a different version of OS X. Look around a bit. Or update your Mac software. Or ask me to update this article if OS X is well beyond 10.10.x (Yosemite).

Now tell your Mac to send its video output to your AppleTV. You can use the popup just above the Mirroring checkbox, labeled “AirPlay Display.” Or you can use the AirPlay icon in the menu bar if you enabled that checkbox above.

You should see your Mac screen both on your laptop, AND on your AppleTV. You could play a video at this point, and you should see and hear it on the AppleTV. You could even go fullscreen on the video. However, since it’s playing locally AND on your TV, that’s where you get the stuttering/pausing of the video. Your Mac’s video processor is simply working too hard. Let’s fix that.

Make AppleTV your primary monitor

The trick is to have your Mac only send the full-screen video over to your AppleTV, rather than having to do all of the processing work to play that video in two places (at potentially two different screen resolutions). This should be really, really simple. Unfortunately, it’s not. Still with me? Let’s continue.


Open your Display Preferences again. It will look different this time because you’re sending a signal to two monitors (your Mac, and your TV). Select the “Arrangement” tab, and then uncheck “Mirror Displays”.

You can do the same thing through the menu, in which case you’ll choose “Extend Desktop” (to uncheck the “Mirror…” option):


Now your display will change, such that the AppleTV is displaying something different from your Mac. If you’ve never done this before, your Mac’s display won’t change much, and your AppleTV will be displaying a desktop background with nothing on it.

That’s because right now, your Mac is the “primary display” and your AppleTV is the “secondary display”: it’s been turned into a second monitor.


The arrangement of the blue rectangles shows how the primary monitor (on the left, showing the white ‘menu bar’ rectangle) relates spatially to the secondary monitor. The graphic above shows that if you were to slide your cursor to the right, all the way off your main screen, it would magically appear on the secondary screen, because you’ve created a mega-monitor! Note that both the blue rectangles and the white rectangle are draggable: you can freely configure the arrangement of your mega-monitor. Also note that if your two monitors are set to different screen resolutions, the blue rectangles will show different sizes relative to each other.

Make AppleTV your primary monitor

Let’s switch the arrangement, so that your AppleTV is the primary monitor, and your Mac is the secondary monitor. That way, when you tell your video to go Full Screen (like Full Monty but better) the TV will show the full-screen video and your Mac won’t be doing any extra heavy lifting. Don’t worry, this will all work out.


Drag the white “menu bar” rectangle over to the secondary display.

Whoa, what just happened? If all went according to plan, your display just switched so that your menu bar now shows up on your TV. Your browser, where you’re reading this (or trying to!) probably just scooted over to your TV as well. Cmd+ a couple of times if it’s hard to read!

Watch your video full-screen

Now that you have made your television the primary display, video will be sent to that screen when you go Full Screen, and not be sent to your Mac. Let’s try it. Pick a YouTube video, or a Netflix video, or whatever.  Here’s one (don’t worry, it’s safe for work):

You’ll click the Full Screen icon, generally found at the bottom-right of the video. Different video players (as used by YouTube, Netflix, etc.) will have a different UI, but they all work about the same.

Once you do that, your work here is done. Your video should play full-screen on your TV with far less stuttering, leaving your Mac to just sit there blankly, doing nothing. You can turn down the Mac brightness control to nothing so it won’t disturb your TV watching. Tap the esc (escape) key to exit Full Screen.

Tip: if your cursor still shows up on the screen, just move it. Generally it’ll disappear after a few seconds. Or you can drag it all the way over to your secondary monitor (your Mac).

To disable AirPlay sharing, just choose Disconnect from the display menu or from within the Display Preferences. The next time you re-connect to send video from this Mac, these settings will be remembered, and you shouldn’t have to do anything but Connect to an AirPlay device.

One final advanced tip: sometimes a video will be ‘protected’ and will give an HDCP warning when you try to share full-screen video from Mac Safari to AppleTV. Don’t give up. Just try a different browser. Chrome, for instance.

I hope this was useful to you. Please send a shout-out below!


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