GooGle CAST for Au­dio

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With enough ver­sions of mul­ti­room au­dio al­ready on the mar­ket to make se­lec­tion an in­creas­ingly baf­fling process for prospec­tive pur­chasers, Google weighed in at CES with a sur­prise launch of its own — Google Cast.

As its name sug­gests, the tech­nol­ogy fol­lows the model of Chrome­cast, the $49 HDMI don­gle which streams from any com­puter us­ing the Google Chrome browser. Chrome­cast streams any cho­sen tab on your Chrome browser, and while most users will cur­rently be send­ing video this way, you can equally eas­ily stream a tab play­ing au­dio from, say, Spo­tify or Deezer straight to your TV and out into your AV sys­tem.

Google Cast takes this a stage fur­ther, al­low­ing smartphones to stream mu­sic di­rectly to a Cast-equipped re­ceiver. It is app-based, rather than a uni­ver­sal au­dio push as of­fered by Ap­ple’s AirPlay sys­tem, so it works from specif­i­cally Cast-ready apps, and there are al­ready a great many of th­ese, in­clud­ing Rdio, YouTube, Pan­dora, TuneIn, Songza, Google Play, and in over­seas mar­kets BBC iPlayer, Hulu Plus, Net­flix, HBO GO, WatchESPN, and more. If you have a Chrome­Cast you will al­ready be set to stream from th­ese apps and from many more when the lat­est up­dates come through.

But Google is also ex­pand­ing the ways Cast can be re­ceived. If you have an An­droid-based tele­vi­sion, for ex­am­ple, you will no longer need a Chrome­cast don­gle plugged in, as the ‘Google Cast for An­droid TV’ app will be eas­ily in­stalled (or pre-in­stalled) to re­ceive streams di­rectly to the TV.

Most ex­pan­sively, Cast will begin ap­pear­ing as a re­ceiv­ing sys­tem on wire­less speak­ers and mul­ti­room au­dio sys­tems. Some of th­ese will add the ser­vice via firmware up­date, in­clud­ing, we gather, our cur­rent Sound+Im­age award-win­ning mul­ti­room au­dio sys­tem, Denon’s HEOS. LG’s Mu­sicPlay wire­less speak­ers and Sony’s new Walk­man and AV re­ceivers are also spec­i­fied as early adopters of the Cast tech­nol­ogy. (Sony also has a new mul­ti­room stream­ing sys­tem of its own, called SongPal Link, which sup­ports high-res au­dio.)

There is, as yet, no white pa­per to in­di­cate stream­ing rates and codecs for Google Cast. Chrome­cast’s record here is im­per­fect — for ex­am­ple, we be­rated Google for launch­ing the Chrome­cast don­gle in Australia with no abil­ity to out­put video at 50Hz (so lo­cal 50Hz ma­te­rial suf­fers a jud­der-in­duc­ing frame-rate con­ver­sion). But then Ap­ple’s Ap­pleTV has long locked its au­dio out­put to a strange­ly­cho­sen 48kHz rather than 44.1kHz, and few peo­ple have ob­jected to the re­sults.

Our Chrome­cast re­view un­der­taken at its Aus­tralian launch noted that it doesn’t sup­port FLAC, nor in­deed any loss­less for­mat other than WAV, and all high-res for­mats were down­sam­pled so that 96kHz files played at 48kHz. Whether the au­dio-cen­tric­ity of Google Cast changes that, we will re­port as we ex­per­i­ment!

Mean­while the com­bi­na­tion of Google Cast with lead­ing stream­ing ser­vices and key wire­less speak­ers looks like adding a use­ful new plat­form of au­dio de­liv­ery — and with­out con­sumers need­ing to in­vest in any­thing much at all.

What’s not to like? Google Cast will be added to the HEOS mul­ti­room sys­tem late this year

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