updated 02:13 pm EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
App sends variety of video codecs to Apple's media streaming box
Apple's "hobby" Apple TV may not have been the first to market, or the most flexible, but it was the cleanest interface and easiest to use of all the media streamers. Bound to the iTunes ecosystem, it allowed for simple connection and content navigation for all levels of experience. However, for the experienced user, the limit on codecs the device supports is a bit of a problem. A few solutions exist for wider codec playback, but one that promises simplicity is Beamer 2.0 by Tupil. The simple app purports to allow drag-and-drop playback of nearly any video file to an Apple TV, but how well does it actually perform?
The app itself allows all manners of codecs and resolutions to be pushed to the Apple TV across a local area network without time-consuming and resource-demanding transcoding before viewing into an Apple TV-compatible format. The developers claim that AVI, MKV, MOV, MP4, WMV, and FLV-formatted video can all be sent to a connected Apple TV, and we found this to be universally the case. Even damaged videos seem to play fine, but just "stutter" over the damaged part of the file.
We tried miring the app down with subtitles on a high bitrate 5.1 stereo surround sound file, and had no problems. A very brief delay before the video plays occurs, likely for caching to prevent any stutter. The delay varies very little between hardware configurations, and resolutions, which is nice.
Beamer has been recently re-designed, with a limit of OS X 10.9 Mavericks as the required operating system. The new version is notably faster in the pre-play caching delay (which is still brief). We also tried all the same files with the app, and still had no problems with any of them. The older version is still available for users running an older version of OS X, and the developers claim that they will continue to update the older version to support newer revisions of the Apple TV hardware.
Beamer isn't available on the Mac App Store. The developers claim to use "undocumented Apple technology" prohibiting inclusion in the store. So, users of Mavericks will have to insure that the security center settings allow unsigned apps from non-App Store sources to be executed, at least long enough to install and launch Beamer the first time.
This brings us to our only possible problem with the app -- the undocumented API used in communicating with the Apple TV. While we're sure that the developers stay on top of the situation, the method that the developer uses could be blocked from the Apple TV at any time, with any patch. The developers have no control over this situation, and while they could use screen sharing to the Apple TV, the documented protocol doesn't allow 5.1 stereo to be transmitted, which would eliminate a major benefit to using the app.
For now, however, Beamer 2.0 is an elegant solution for Mavericks users for playing back a video that iTunes may not support. While we still think that a video destined for repeat viewing should probably be transcoded using Handbrake or similar tool if needed, Beamer is a great solution for the morass of codecs and containers involved in Internet video.