Tuesday 28 October 2014

AirPlay Still Good

It has been a week now since I put my AppleTV in its box and took it back to the Apple Store.  Unfortunately, I was told I needed an appointment to receive an audience with a “Genius” in order to get it seen to, and nobody was available.  Since this involves a 45-minute drive through the West Island’s lethal road construction, I haven’t been back yet.

The upside is that I have had a week without an AppleTV in my system, and during that week AirPlay playback has been flawless, provided I followed the (revised for Yosemite) procedure I described last week.  That’s three systems - a 2014 RMPB, a 2013 bare-bones Mac Mini, and a 2009 MBP.  All running Yosemite, all working just fine, first time, every time, with AirPlay.

I thought that was worth reporting.

I now have my new AppleTV from the Apple Store.  To find out what happened when I installed it in the system, read on here.

Thursday 23 October 2014


I have an AppleTV 3.  It is an incredibly buggy device.  As an audio device it has been a source of frustration for me since day one, to the point where I now no longer use it - ever - as part of my BitPerfect test regimen.  It is relegated to use in my Gym, where I watch YouTube or Netflix with it while working out.

The AppleTV has an annoying habit of dropping its WiFi connection periodically.  Actually, it doesn’t so much drop its connection - it is more like its entire WiFi system shuts off.  This happens after between a few minutes and a few hours of use, and has persisted across several firmware updates.  The solution is to re-boot it.  Sometimes it takes three or four re-boots.  Rarely do I get through a solid hour without it failing.

Today it appears to have given up for good.  I can’t get it to come back up at all.  I have just found out that there is an Apple recall program in place and that my AppleTV is one of the affected units, so it is now boxed up and ready to go back to Apple.  Let's see what happens.

So, while dealing with that, I got round to thinking a little.  If you have read my recent posts on AirPlay, you will have noted that I spent a few days exhaustively testing AirPlay with BitPerfect under Yosemite and iTunes 12.0.1 with mixed results.  I was using both my AirPort Express and the AirPlay receiver in my Classe CP-800 as the target AirPlay device.  It may not have come across in my post, but my test experience seemed to go through two phases.  The first was an initial three-hour phase during which nothing seemed to work at all.  This was followed by a lengthy period during which AirPlay seemed to function with at least some semblance of predictability, as reported in my post, a situation which still persists this morning.

Here is what is going through my mind.  Is it possible that when my AppleTV was active on the network I was having uncontrollable AirPlay problems?  And that as soon as its WiFi transceiver ‘died’ (causing it to drop off the network) things started to play more predictably?  As I write this, it occurs to me that whenever the AppleTV is active on my network, my RMBP seems to want to select it as its ‘default’ AirPlay device whenever it can, even though I never want to use it in that role and therefore never - ever - select it.  Hmmmm….

Read on here....

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Adventures in AirPlay

I have been working hard on AirPlay to try to understand what it takes to get BitPerfect to work smoothly with it under the combination of Yosemite and iTunes 12.0.1.  Unfortunately I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but I am at least starting to get a handle on its behaviour.  I thought you might be interested to read some of this.

The problem is, it either works or it doesn’t, and I can’t figure out why.  There are two main modes of “doesn’t work”.  One is where BitPerfect’s menu bar icon stays black.  This one happens rarely and generally only at the first attempt.  It means that BitPerfect cannot access the AirPlay Device.  The other is where the icon starts green, goes briefly black, and then stays green but with no music audible.  This means that BitPerfect is streaming music to the AirPlay Device, which as far as BitPerfect is concerned is responding in the way it normally would.  I have been wrestling with every combination of the various settings and sequences that might impact AirPlay behaviour but despite some successes, nothing has proven to be the magic bullet.

My first potential “Aha!” moment was when I got to the point where iTunes would throw up a message to the effect that “I can’t find the Airport Express” and offers me two options, “Cancel” or “Continue using the Computer Speaker”.  The secret seems to be to select “Continue using the Computer Speaker”.  “Cancel” is the wrong choice.  I spent some time trying to determine what would cause this message to appear, but after a while I just stopped seeing it, and I haven’t actually seen it now since early yesterday.  So that remains a puzzle.

The next interesting observation is a significant deviation from the setup that we have been recommending since Mountain Lion and Mavericks.  iTunes has its own little AirPlay icon (next to its volume control) where you can select between the various AirPlay devices and “Computer”.  It used to be that it was necessary to select the desired AirPlay device, but now I am finding that when using BitPerfect, AirPlay never works unless “Computer” is selected, and not the other way around.

Yesterday, using my Mac Mini, it appeared that the required solution was to select AirPlay as the default system output device using Audio Midi Setup, then launch BitPerfect, and have BitPerfect launch iTunes (whether automatically or manually), then select “Computer” as the output device from the iTunes AirPlay control.  But when I came to confirm my findings this morning, I found that it didn’t seem to matter whether or not I set the default system output device to AirPlay or to something else.  All that matters is that I set the iTunes AirPlay control to “Computer”.  You must select the desired AirPlay device (if you have more than one) in Audio Midi Setup.  I even experimented with connecting the Mac Mini to the network by Ethernet (its normal configuration) or by WiFi.  It didn’t make any difference.

While all this was happening, on my RMBP (which had Yosemite and iTunes 12.0.1 installed) it seemed that AirPlay would always work first time.  I have a second, older MBP and so I installed Yosemite and iTunes 12.0.1 on that machine also.  This morning I have added that to the mix.  It seems that both MBPs have no problems at all getting BitPerfect and AirPlay to work together, provided I set the iTunes AirPlay control to “Computer”.  For the most part the Mac Mini also works too.  However, it took three or four attempts, restarting BitPerfect and iTunes each time in between, before it started working consistently.  With each of these Macs, once AirPlay starts working, it seems to stay working until you stop playback for a while, or quit iTunes/BitPerfect.

So there you have a summary of a couple of days of intensive AirPlay experimentation.  Set the iTunes AirPlay control to “Computer” and it will either work or it won’t.  If it doesn’t, then quit BitPerfect and iTunes and start again.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.  You may be lucky in that you have a Mac which is pre-disposed to want to work well with AirPlay (like my two MBPs) or you may be unlucky that your Mac does not prefer to play ball (like my Mac Mini).  It’s all I have at the moment, I’m afraid.  I have no idea whether or not you will see the same behaviour.  I will continue my experiments, albeit at a less intense level, as I am (a) running short of good ideas, and (b) have other things piling up on my plate.

... As an important follow-up, here are some thoughts and observations regarding my AppleTV.

Monday 20 October 2014

Yosemite / iTunes 12.0.1

We have been working on evaluating BitPerfect on the latest version of Yosemite / iTunes 12.0.1, and we are coming up with a mixed bag of results.  For the most part it is working quite well, but there are two areas of concern for us for the moment.

The first is with AirPlay.  I have two Macs right now that have been updated to the new configuration.  The first is a RMBP and the second is a headless Mac Mini.  I seem to have no problems getting AirPlay to work on the RMBP, but thus far not with the headless Mac Mini.  I have no idea what the problem is.  I am currently updating a second, older MBP, and will see what happens with that one in due course.

The second issue is with the Console App.  We use the Console Log as a valuable debugging tool, but unfortunately, under Yosemite, BitPerfect is flooding the Console with a raft of unhelpful messages.  In effect, this is amounting to a Denial-of-Service attack on the Console App!!  While this seems to have no obvious impact on BitPerfect's performance, it is rendering our primary diagnostic tool almost ineffective.

More on all this as developments arise ....

UPDATE 21 Oct 2014

Monday 6 October 2014

Our Own League Of Nations

One of the useful things about Apple's App Store is that they give you some very detailed breakdowns of product sales, including by Country.  To date, BitPerfect has been sold in 71 different countries, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.  And it was just this week that our first customer from Pakistan joined the BitPerfect community, extending the list now to 72.  [Ask yourself - can you even name 72 Countries off the top of your head?]  So, whoever you are - if you are reading this - I would like to extend a warm welcome to the sole representative of Pakistan to the BitPerfect Community!

If you are interested, here are the 72 Countries:
Hong Kong
New Zealand
South Africa
Saudi Arabia
Costa Rica
... and ...