iWant: AirPlay Streaming from iOS Devices to Macs

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AirPlay is very cool. You can stream from a Mac to various devices, such as an Apple TV, or to standalone AirPlay-compatible speakers. You can stream from an iOS device to an Apple TV or to standalone AirPlay speakers. But one thing I’d like, which currently isn’t possible, is to stream from an iOS device to a Mac.

The reason for this is, in my case, to play podcasts that are on an app on my iPhone, and not on my Mac, through my Mac and its speakers. There could be many other uses, such as playing someone’s music on your Mac when they’re visiting, or to view an iPad screen on a Mac while playing a game. You can do both of these to an Apple TV, so it shouldn’t be hard to do them to a Mac as well.

I wouldn’t use this feature a lot, but trying out Marco Arment’s new Overcast podcast app, with its great smart speed and voice boost features, I realized that, when I listen to podcasts in my office, I’d rather use that app than iTunes. So I’d like to just stream them to my Mac. The alternative is to connect an AirPort Express to my stereo, but that’s expensive for just streaming occasionally.

But you may even want to stream something from one Mac to another; again, since you can do this to an Apple TV, it should be trivial to do it on a Mac.

Update: I was reminded by a few friends that there are third-party apps that can act as AirPlay receivers on a Mac. I have one, X-Mirage, which I got in an app bundle, but never used. I’ll try it out.

Is iTunes About to Start Selling Hi-Res Music, or Is a Record Label Confused?

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I came across a curious announcement from Warner Classics this morning. They say that they will be releasing some music in high definition on iTunes. Talking about some remastered albums by Herbert van Karajan, they say:

This treasure trove has been painstakingly remastered at London’s Abbey Road Studios in 24-bit/96kHz from the original tapes, available for the first time as digital, high-definition releases via iTunes.

Two possibilities. The first is that the iTunes Store will start selling music in high-resolution, 24-bit 96 kHz. The other is that Warner Classics is simply confused, or is trying to pull one over on music consumers. They talk about these albums being “remastered at London’s Abbey Road Studios in 24-bit/96kHz from the original tapes,” which is generally the case for recordings that are remastered from analog these days. But I think they assume that, if the remastering was done at 24/96, then the resulting files on the iTunes Store will also be at 24/96.

If it were true that the iTunes Store were to start selling high-resolution files, this wouldn’t leak in a now day-old news release from a record label, but would be announced with a fair amount of fanfare by Apple. So my money is on a record label that either doesn’t understand, and are just talking about Mastered for iTunes tracks, which use high-resolution masters, or that is trying to confuse consumers to make them think that they’re getting high-resolution music from iTunes.

For now, none of these albums are available on the iTunes Store, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Hardware Notes: Belkin Charge+Sync Dock for iPhone

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71bQtPPPf5L._SL1500_.jpgAfter I got my new Mac Pro, I decided to clean up my desk a bit. Gone are the random papers and gadgets that used to surround my workspace; now I have a clean desk, and I can see the nice oak beneath my hands and around my keyboard and trackpad.

One thing I needed, however, was a better way to connect my iPhone and iPod touch when syncing. I used to lay them flat on the desk and connect them to a lightning cable. But that’s annoying; since the cable connects at the bottom of the devices, I needed to turn them with the cable coming out toward me to be able to see notifications and texts on my iPhone, and that cable gets in the way.

So I thought of getting a dock. I queried some friends, and asked on Twitter, and Manfred L. recommended the Belkin Charge+Sync Dock for iPhone. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) One thing that was important was that the dock fit with the the iPhone and the case I have; an Evutec Karbon Sleek case in teak. (Apple Store.) The case is only 7mm thick, so I thought the dock should work.

Well, it does. The dock fits with the case on the iPhone, and probably with a few mm to spare. It sets the iPhone at a good angle for viewing, and takes up little space.

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There’s not much that a dock does, other than connect to a computer, and let another device sit on it, but this one is fine. I don’t need a very long cable – as you can see above, it’s on my desk right in front of my Mac Pro – but the cable it comes with is 1.2 m (4 ft). The cable is permanently connected to the dock, so the only downside is that if you need a longer cable, you’ll have to get an extension, and if you want a shorter cable, you’ll have to use cable ties to wrap it up.

But it holds the iPhone securely, as well as my iPod touch, and will even hold my iPad Air, but it’s delicate to set that device on the dock correctly. Given that may main need was a dock that can work with my case, this one fits the bill. If you need an iPhone dock, check this one out.

iTunes Album Art Not Syncing to iOS Devices: Album Art Size Could be Limiting Factor

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A reader wrote to me the other day with an intriguing question: why was some of his album art not syncing to his iOS devices? He had ripped John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach cantatas pilgrimage CDs in Apple Lossless format, and scanned all the covers at 600 pixels. Yet none of these covers showed up on his iOS devices. However, all his other music displayed album art on iOS devices.

I asked him to send me one of the files, and I found that he had actually added album art at 2900 pixels wide; perhaps he had set the scanner for 600 dpi, and not resized the images to 600 pixels. When I added the track to my iTunes library and synced it to my iPhone, the album art didn’t display.

So, I set out to do some testing. I tried changing the size of the album art to see if that had an effect; sure enough, it did. I did some more testing, using the same track and the same album art. I tried at different sizes, to see where the cut-off would be. I named each file with the pixel size of the artwork, and the size of the graphic file that I was adding.

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It turned out that the files up to 2200 pixels displayed album art; the 2400 and 2900 pixel artwork did not display.

There are two possibilities; I need to do more testing to figure out which variable iTunes uses to decide whether to sync album art with music. It could be either the pixel size, or the graphic file size. In other words, it’s possible that iTunes has a limit of 2200 (or up to 2399) pixels, or that the limit is 10 MB (or up to just under 12 MB). My guess is that it’s the latter; I don’t think iTunes can calculate the pixel size of an embedded image, but it probably can figure out how much space it takes up. The 10 MB file size was rounded up; I think the actual file was 9.8 MB.

Finder001.pngIt makes sense that iTunes would strip album art if it’s very large when syncing to an iOS device. You might accidentally add a huge file as album art for an album, much larger than the size of the music file itself. (That was the case with the original file I received from my reader; the music file was around 5 MB.) To save space on an iOS device, iTunes may simply strip it. It would be nice, however, if iTunes could tell users when this happens.

So if you’re having problems with iOS devices not displaying album art for specific tracks or albums, select one of these files in iTunes, press Command-I, then click the Artwork tab. Drag the artwork to the Finder, then select it and press Command-I. The info window will show you the file size and the pixel size of the artwork, as you can see in the screenshot to the left.

If the artwork is larger than the sizes I mentioned above, try reducing it to see if it still doesn’t display. I don’t guarantee that my limited test will work all the time; in fact, if it doesn’t work for you, post a comment.

Update: French website iGen did some tests, and found that the limit is around 10 MB for the album art file. They found that pixel size didn’t matter, but they also found that a graphic of 10.3 MB was synced, and another of 10.1 MB didn’t sync. My guess is that those are the Finder sizes, and include the amount of space taken up by thumbnails; it looks like the limit is around 10 MB per file.

OS X Tip: Add an Eject Button in your Menu Bar

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Ripping CDs today on my new Mac Pro, I realized that I no longer had the eject button in my menu bar. Since I did a clean install on the Mac Pro, it didn’t carry over a lot of my settings from my previous Mac.

Having an eject button in the menu bar lets you quickly eject any optical discs that are mounted on your Mac; it doesn’t let you eject hard drives, however.

To do this, go to /System/Library/Core Services/Menu Extras, and find Eject.menu.

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Double-click that item, and it adds an eject button to your menu bar. There are no options.

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When I’m ripping a lot of CDs, and doing other things at the same time, I find it quicker to eject them like this than to go straight to iTunes. Your mileage may vary.

Who Had the Bright Idea of Designing a Box Set Like This?

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The John Eliot Gardiner Collection, from DG, has 30 discs across Gardiner’s career, covering a broad range of music: Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, operas and passions, and some symphonies.

I bought this box set last year when it came out, but hadn’t gotten around to ripping it, so I pulled it off my shelf, and had forgotten that some dimwit thought that a box set like this is a Good Idea.

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As you can see, when you hold the box normally, the bottom falls out. I caught it, but it’s quite stupid. I’m pretty sure that DG has other box sets like this. I hope the designer’s been fired.

The iTunes Guy Looks at Inconsistent Buttons, Faulty Gapless Playback and Home Videos

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itunesguy-thum-100004188-gallery.jpgiTunes has many quirks and inconstancies. In this week’s column, I look at a few of them. Why do Next and Previous buttons display only sometimes when you view track tags? Why does iTunes funnel videos into the Home Videos category? And why isn’t gapless playback working on iOS devices running iTunes Match?

Read this week’s Ask the iTunes Guy.

Some iTunes Store Music Previews Shrink to 30 Seconds

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Since 2010, the iTunes Store has offered 90-second previews of music for tracks that are longer than 2:30. This was done because 30 seconds simply isn’t enough to sample music. But suddenly, many tracks on the iTunes Store are only offering 30-second previews. I checked a number of albums, and found that many have 30-second preview, though there are also albums where this is a mix of 30- and 90-second previews, and some with only 90-second previews.

For pop music, there is a mixture. On Pharell Williams’ Girl, seven tracks have 30-second previews, and three have 90-second previews. Ed Sheeran’s X, however, has all 90-second previews.

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On the other hand, all 40 tracks on the new CSNY 1974 album have 30-second previews.

In the classical section, I checked a handful of albums, and they all had 90-second previews, except for tracks shorter than 2:30.

My money is on a server glitch on the iTunes Store. If all tracks were changed to 30-second previews, then I’d wonder why Apple was making this change. But since that’s clearly not the case, I think it’s best to wait rather than assume that previews have been changed across the board.