Beamer 2 review: Drag and drop to stream any video to an Apple TV
Early last year, I reviewed Beamer 1.5.3, an app that lets you easily stream any video file from your Mac to an Apple TV. It’s a great app if you want to watch Mac-hosted videos on your TV instead of physically connecting the computer to the TV using cables.
As I explained in that original review, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and OS X 10.9 Mavericks include AirPlay mirroring, but that feature mirrors your Mac’s entire screen to your Apple TV, rather than just your video file, and it’s available only on recent Macs. You can stream video to an Apple TV using iTunes, but only if iTunes supports the format of the video file—and sometimes you don’t want to add a video to your iTunes library just to watch it once on your TV.
Beamer, on the other hand, streams individual video files to your Apple TV, and it supports “all common formats, codecs and resolutions”—a blanket statement that includes AVI, FLV, MKV, MOV, MP4, and WMV files. (It doesn’t, however, work with DRM-protected videos.) The company says Beamer is optimized for high-quality video playback—if you’ve got a Mac that just barely supports AirPlay mirroring, you may find that streaming videos using Beamer looks a lot better, and stutters less, than mirroring your Mac’s display.
The developer recently released Beamer 2, a major update that adds a new interface and a number of useful features, as well as support for more file formats and high-bit-rate video. The $15 app is available at a discount to owners of Beamer 1—either $6 or $9, depending on when the license was purchased—although anyone who purchased Beamer 1 after October 1, 2013 gets version 2 for free. The new version works with any Mac that can run OS X 10.9, and can stream to 2nd-generation or newer Apple TV units.
As with the original Beamer, you just launch the app and drag a video file into the Beamer window; the video plays immediately on your Apple TV. (If you have more than one Apple TV, choose the desired destination from the AirPlay menu in the lower-right corner of the window.) The video looks exactly as it would if you streamed it from iTunes or played it directly from the Apple TV. You can even use your Apple TV’s remote to control playback.
If your video file includes subtitles (or is paired with a subtitles file in the same folder), Beamer can display those subtitles during playback, although, as with the original version, you can’t adjust the size or font. (The developer says Beamer will, when possible, select the appropriate subtitles based on your Apple TV’s Subtitle Language setting; I didn’t test this feature.)
New to Beamer 2 is a feature I asked for in my original review: a playlist. Click the list-icon button at the bottom of the window, and you can drag multiple videos into the playlist; drag items up or down to rearrange them. Beamer will play the videos sequentially; an overlay in the Beamer window shows you the current playlist position (1 of 5, for example), as well as the total playback time of the playlist.
Queue is probably a better name for this feature, as there’s only a single playlist, and you can’t save a playlist and load it later—a feature I hope the developer adds in a future version. I’d also like the capability to loop videos and the playlist. But Beamer does remember your playlist between launches. (To delete a video from the playlist, you select the item and press the Delete key, or, if you want to remove the video that’s currently playing, right-click in the Beamer window and choose Remove From Playlist from the resulting contextual menu.)
Speaking of remembering, another addition in Beamer 2 is that the app now preserves your video-watching progress when you quit the app—the next time you launch Beamer, your video is waiting for you at the same playback position as when you quit. Beamer 2 also now supports 5.1-channel surround sound, assuming your video includes it. (The original Beamer mixed multi-channel audio down to stereo.) And a new H.264-passthrough feature improves performance with older, “very slow” Macs—the developer’s description—though it’s recommended only for such computers, as some videos won’t play properly with this setting enabled.
As with the original Beamer, version 2 can’t stream movies from DVDs or Blu-ray discs. That would be a fantastic feature, but I suspect the copy protection applied to these discs is the roadblock. (Beamer can stream the individual VOB files contained in a ripped DVD’s VIDEO_TS folder.) There also doesn’t seem to be a way to navigate among a video’s chapters, if present.
Overall, however, Beamer 2 is a nice update to an already handy app. My Mac’s drive has scores of videos that I don’t want cluttering up my iTunes library, and Beamer is a great way to easily stream those videos to my Apple TV. It’s also useful if you’ve got an older Mac that supports Mavericks but not AirPlay mirroring—or that offers lackluster performance while mirroring.