Our mini-announcement of the new TV mode in the upcoming The Incident 1.3 seems to have generated a relatively large amount of buzz. This is great - we honestly just wanted to share a little photo of the game running on Matt’s TV, but it’s turning into a discussion of whether Apple should just enter the TV-console market fully. (Personal note: I’d love it.)

Many, many people either assumed that we were using AirPlay to send the game from your iPad to your TV, or they suggested that we do so ourselves. Now, I’m not a developer and I’m not an expert on video, but I talked to a few and I’m here to bring some bad news:

AirPlay could not be used to stream games from your iOS device to your AppleTV. It will also probably not be able to do so in the future.

AirPlay is a streaming protocol for moving compressed audio or video. It’s the next generation of Apple’s AirTunes technology, which lets you play music from your computer to the AirTunes router/speaker, sending it wirelessly.

There are two things at work that make it basically impossible to do the same with a game running on your iPad.

  1. AirTunes enforces a two-second latency; AirPlay will certainly do something similar. From the moment you press Play to the moment music actually started playing, there’s a short pause. This sort of buffering is required by almost every streaming protocol, to avoid problems caused by unpredictable networks; bits can’t magically appear on the other side without delay. Waiting a brief moment before your movie begins isn’t a big deal, but with an interactive game, you’d experience the same delay every time you did anything. This makes it practically unusable.
  2. If you’re sending an uncompressed song over AirTunes/AirPlay, your Mac can perhaps encode it on the fly. Maybe your iPad could do the same with a music stream - maybe. But there is absolutely no way that your iPad could generate and compress 1280 x 720 HD video in real time. With any complex game, the device struggles to show its own resolution, let alone encode and send a bigger one.

Of course, It’s possible that Apple will come out with a new sort of technology that lets you play your iPhone games on your AppleTV. Perhaps the game’s binary could be “streamed” to the AppleTV, then executed there. Who knows. But as things stand, streaming video is subject to pretty strict latency and performance bottlenecks, and that means today’s iOS games will have to be played on your TV using a cable.

Which is still pretty awesome! Matt has a few more notes on this subject. Once The Incident 1.3 ships, we think you’ll find iOS gaming on your TV a blast.

Update: The Incident 1.3 is now out!