Q: I have heard about a new “Airtunes” feature on Apple TV, and assumed this meant that the Apple TV could also function as “remote speakers” and therefore I could stream music from my computer to speakers connected to the Apple TV. However, after reading the most recent Apple TV article on iLounge, I now understand the “Airtunes” feature is actually to enable the Apple TV to stream to another Airport Express. Can an Apple TV function as an Airport Express in addition to everything else it does? Would I be able to simply choose the speakers in iTunes and stream the music to the Apple TV without going into any of the Apple TV settings?
A: Although the new AirTunes support is a relatively minor feature in the new Apple TV update, the specifics of what it does still seems to be causing some confusion, with some conflicting reports, even from some of the folks at the Apple booth at Macworld itself.
To get clarification, we went straight to the product manager, and the answer was simply that the Apple TV 2.0 will now act as an AirTunes client, meaning that it will presumably appear in iTunes as a set of speakers in much the same way that an Airport Express would, effectively eliminating the need for a separate Airport Express and allowing music to be streamed to the Apple TV directly from iTunes without the need to turn on the TV or browse through the Apple TV menus.
In addition to the simplicity of playing music back from within iTunes without having to navigate through the Apple TV menus, this will also allow playback of streaming Internet radio stations from iTunes—a feature that is presently not available on the Apple TV itself, even with the new firmware.
UPDATE: According to further information from Apple, the Apple TV remote can also be used to control music playback when streaming from your iTunes library in AirTunes mode. This means that you will be able to use the Apple remote to pause and resume playback, skip tracks and even fast-forward and rewind within a track, all without needing to turn your TV on or navigate via the Apple TV interface. This provides an additional benefit over a standard Airport Express base station.