GooGle CAST for Audio
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