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Stream multimedia wirelessly

There are lots of different solutions for transferring multimedia content to and from a device and these can be divided into two groups: wireless technology and (not surprisingly) wired technology. Depending on what hardware you have and it's vendor you can use a combination these groups on your devices. Most modern devices have the option to connecting a wire called 3.5mm stereo jack for transferring sound. In adition you can use HDMI or Mobile Hight Definition Link (MHL) for transfering video and sound via cable. While HDMI is widely used on computers, MHL is basicly used on tablets and cell phones. In this article am I not going to describe wired technologies but it's nice to know about them. When it comes to wireless transfer you have a variety of options and that's what I am going to focus on. Technology for transferring multimedia wirelessly can roughly be divided into two groups; proprietary solutions and open standards.

The proprietary group of technology consist of ie AirPlay and devises from Sonos or Bluesound. AirPlay is something that Apple has built into their laptops, computers, phones and other devices and allows wireless streaming of audio, video, photos, or even your entire desktop. There are two types of AirPlay devices: those that send audiovisual content, and those capable of receiving the content and rendering/sending it on displays and speakers. Originally implemented only in Apple's software and devices, Apple has licensed the AirPlay as a third-party software component technology to manufacturer partners for them to use in their products in order to be compatible with their iDevices. Like Chromecast, AirPlay relies on an wireless network for it to work. If you are going to buy a radio or loudspeakers with AirPlay there are two types and which to choose depends on where you are going to use it. You have those you connect to the wireless network in ie your house and those which have wireless network themselves. If you are going to use it somewhere a wireless network exists (like in your home) you should buy the first one. If you are going to use it somewhere with no wireless network the second one is the best option.

AirPlay receivers from Apple include AirPort Express and Apple TV. Apple TV can be connected to both the TV and stereo/radio and can stream picture, music and video. Airport Express is connected directly to a receiver/radio, using either a stereo jack or an optical cable to transfer sound. Both Apple TV and Airport Express can be connected to a wireless network and are available for other devices on the network once it is connected. It is possible to give the device names based on where it is, ie "Living room" or "Bed room". This way it is easy to know where you send the content. If you use Apple TV to watch Netflix or HBO GO, it is recommended that you use a network cable to connect it to your network as wired networks provide better bandwidth. Better bandwidth gives netter quality on the video displayed.

By installing a program called Airfoil, Windows-based machines can use AirPlay on any application. By installing a program called Airtwist you can use Airplay on Android-based systems but there are some limitations. Airtwist can not, for example stream audio from streaming services like Spotify and Wimp/Tidal. You are therefore stuck with multimedia that is stored locally on your tablet or phone.

In adition to AirPlay you have other proprietary systems like Sonos and Bluesound. As with AirPlay and the Chromecast technology you can use different zones/rooms with this system. The biggest difference between Sonos/Bluesound and AirPlay/Chromecast is that Sonos and Bluesound deliveres loutspeakers, amplifiers and so on. You have to buy the entire infrastructure from them whilst AirPlay and Chromecast audio can be used as an adition to whatever you have today. The Sonos wireless HiFi system allows for the streaming of internet sourced audio and files stored on the local network to any Sonos device on the same network. To retrieve internet audio, one Sonos device must be connected via a connection to the local router. Expansion can then be achieved through the addition of additional Sonos devices up to a maximum of 32 devices. Control of the system and streaming to the system is available by apps for Android and iOS platforms and desktop software for PC and Mac.

There are two main types of players in the Sonos Music System: all in one 'boomboxes' and components that convert existing audio equipment into a Sonos Zone. Sonos allows audio to be played simultaneously in separate zones. The Play 1, Play 3 and Play 5 are all-in-one self-contained units. The CONNECT:AMP connects to unpowered speakers, creating a Sonos Zone and the CONNECT connects to an existing audio amplifier or receiver, turning the audio system into a Sonos Zone. There is also a Subwoofer and a Playbar, which is a Sonos enabled Sound Bar for use with a television. If you set up a complete surround sound system using the Sonos you should have a soundbar, a sub and two surround loud speakers. The soundbar virtualizes both the center and side speakers in front. The disadvantage using something like Sonos or any similar technology is that this is proprietary. When you start with Sonos or Blue sound, you are stuck with the hardware from that brand.

In fall 2015 Google released Chromecast audio. It uses the same technology as the ordinary Chromecast but it only receives audio. It get power from USB and can ble connected to any loudspeaker or amplifier on which you want to stream music. It does not have a build in amplifier like Bluesound or Sonos but upgrades your stereo or portable loudspeaker so that they can be used for streaming music. If you have a mix of devices with Windows, iOS, Android and OSX this is problaby the best devic to use. Like AirPlay, Sonos and Bluesound (and many other similar technologies) it have to be connected to wireless networks to work.

Bluetooth (BT) is available on phones and tablets and often incorporated on laptops/computers as well. It is possible to use a BT adapter to connect to a recieving end to stream music from your device to a reciever/radio. There are lots of portable loudspeakers that supports streaming via BT as well. I have tested Sandstrøm bluetooth receiver and is happy with the sound quality from this device. Once you have paired the adapter and the phone/tablet/etc it looks upon the adapter as headphones and automatically sends the sound to it. This solution allows you to send audio regardless of the programs or device you play music from. BT have limitations in distance and in open air it may reach as far as 10 meters. Using it indoord this distance is shortened by walls and and stuff like that.

In July 2013 Google released Chromecast and in November 2014 Microsoft released Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter as competitors to Apple TV. Both Chromecast and Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter are digital media players that can be used to transfer multimedia content wirelessly over any given wireless network. They are connected to your TV using the HDMI interface and they get power from a USB-wire. You could either connect the USB directly to your TV or in the power outlet in the wall. The disadvantage with connecting it to the TV is that it only works when the TV is in use. Connected to the outlet in the wall they will switch the TV on when it receives any content. These multimedia players are not proprietary like AirPlay or using open standards like Bluetooth. Chromecast can receive content from devices from multiple vendors (Google, Apple and Microsoft) and can ble used by any applications that have the Google cast technology embeded. In October 2015 a new version of Chomecas were released. On this version, and an updated version of the first version Chromecast, you may stream music from ie Spotify and Google music. If you have a Chromecast that is connected to a surround receiver you can use the Chromeast to stream both video and music. You can stream music to your tv as well but the sound quality is normally better on an amplifier than on a TV.

Users select the media to play using mobile apps and web apps that support the Google Cast technology. Content can also be mirrored from the Google Chrome web browser running on a personal computer, as well as from the screen of some Android devices. This list provide information about which apps that support Google Cast technology. Chromecast is connected to your local wireless network.

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter uses Miracast which is a standard formed by the WiFi Alliance and is therefore the most open standard compared with AirPlay and Google cast technologies. Miracast is not a new technology but it is more and more incorporated. It enables wireless delivery of audio and video to or from desktops, tablets, mobile phones, and other devices. It allows users, for example, to echo display from a phone or tablet onto a TV, share a laptop screen with the conference room projector in real-time, and watch live programs from a home cable box on a tablet. Support for Miracast is built into Android 4.2, BlackBerry 10.2.1 devices and Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1. For Linux desktops there exists MiracleCast which provides early support for Miracast but is not tied to that single protocol. Apple supports its own Peer-to-peer AirPlay instead of Miracast on OS X. Using Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter you can share whatever your screen displays and you are not tied to certain apps like you are with Chromecast or a certain vendor like you are with AirPlay.

Which technology you should use depends on what you have today and how you want to use it.
Einar Herstad-Hansen © 2002 - 2017