During the past months, I've stumbled upon several Mac apps that enable to turn your computer into an AirPlay receiver. None of them, however, provided the same amount of stability and functionality I've found today in AirServer, a $3 app that easily turns your Mac into an AirPlay device for audio, photos and videos. Since Apple introduced AirPlay with iOS 4.2 back in November, many have wondered whether it'd be possible to use the streaming features of the protocol (for music and other kinds of media) on a Mac, rather than on iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs. The number of Mac apps that came out promising to bring AirPlay on the desktop was quite overwhelming: from simple utilities to stream music to more complex solutions like Banana TV, developers didn't even refrain from creating similar alternatives for iOS devices, turning an iPad into a receiver for video. And if that's not enough, remember a few weeks ago a hacker cracked the encryption keys used by Apple in the AirPort Express station -- opening the door to even more apps with AirPlay / AirTunes integration.
AirServer brings some clarity and unification with a $3 purchase and a simple package that runs in the menubar. That's it, no UI. Heck, the icon can be removed from the menubar, if you want. What AirServer does is simple: it turns a Mac into an AirPlay receiver for anything. Provided you have an iOS device (or another Mac) to start a streaming session, you'll be able to listen to music (or any other audio) or watch videos and photos coming from AirPlay on your Mac's big screen. I have an iMac at home, and AirServer is just perfect on it: I can fire up Instacast on my iPhone and listen to my favorite podcast on better speakers (pardon me if I don't have external speakers); I can find a cool YouTube video and instantly beam it to my Mac without sharing any link; I can take my entire Camera Roll and show photos of my last vacation to my (poorly sighted) parents on the iMac. Now we're talking.
As for quality, I have tested AirServer on two different local networks with pretty good results. Videos stored on device start playing almost instantly; music quality was great, with a couple of lags on my slower home network in a 2-hour playing time; photos stream just fine with responsive touch controls as you swipe. AirServer takes a minimal footprint on your Mac, and I've also noticed it reproduces the fading effect you get on the iPhone when you change your audio source. Overall, the app is stable and I was pleased to see an update was issued a few hours after I bought the app.
To sum up: at $3 you get an AirPlay receiver for Mac that supports audio, videos (even from Youtube and other apps) and photos. If you love AirPlay, get AirServer.