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Friday
Mar182016

Podcast #731: DTS Play-Fi

We had a chance to check out the WiSA standard in our review of the Axiim Q Wireless Home Theater System on Podcast 728 a couple weeks ago. On top of that, Ara is a big AirPlay fan for whole house audio and Braden is invested in Sonos. Since we can’t have just one, or even four, standards, it looks like another competing technology, this one from DTS, is hoping to fulfill our dreams of wireless audio around the home. The technology, called DTS Play-Fi, looks pretty promising and has some solid companies in its corner.

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DTS Play-Fi

We had a chance to check out the WiSA standard in our review of the Axiim Q Wireless Home Theater System on Podcast 728 a couple weeks ago. On top of that, Ara is a big AirPlay fan for whole house audio and Braden is invested in Sonos.  Since we can’t have just one, or even four, standards, it looks like another competing technology, this one from DTS, is hoping to fulfill our dreams of wireless audio around the home. The technology, called DTS Play-Fi, looks pretty promising and has some solid companies in its corner.

 

What is it?

DTS markets Play-Fi as a premium, whole-home wireless audio ecosystem. They are quick to point out that the technology is open and available to anyone. Not open as in free, but open as in unrestricted access. They claim to have the largest ecosystem of brands in the world, allowing you to build an AirPlay or Sonos like system, without the restrictions that come with those platforms. Since all Play-Fi products are seamlessly interoperable, you have the freedom to select the perfect speaker for each room, and know that they will all work together as if they came from one manufacturer.

With AirPlay from Apple, you get a lot of freedom to select the right speaker, but you’re pretty limited on the control side. Apple really wants you to control the system from one of their products. There are third party apps that allow you to stream to AirPlay devices from an Android phone, but nothing like the native support you get from an Apple device. Sonos is the complete other side of the spectrum. You have total freedom in how you control your audio system, use a Mac, a Windows PC, an iPhone or iPad, or any Android phone or tablet. But you have to buy Sonos speakers. There aren’t any non-Sonos speakers that will work in that system.

DTS actually came by the technology via their acquisition of a company called Phorus in July 2012. Phorus was using the technology in their PS1 speakers. Staying consistent with how DTS tends to operate, they decided to open the platform and license it, hoping to get on as many devices as they possibly could. They didn’t want to make the devices themselves, they wanted to build a technology to allow their partners to enable wireless, whole-home streaming and take a little cut. It has worked out pretty well for them with other technologies.

 

What does it do?

In a nutshell, it allows you to essentially build your own Sonos with any devices you like. Prefer the tonal quality of one speaker brand over another? Go for it. Buy their Play-Fi speakers. Prefer the aesthetic look of a particular speaker, have at it. Want to control it from an Android phone? iPhone? Windows PC? Go for it. All with native support. Bottom line, stream your favorite content at high audio quality from every device that you've got.

Like Airplay, Play-Fi sends audio from your devices to speakers throughout the home over WiFi using their proprietary streaming, synchronization, and authentication technology. Features include:

  • Lossless audio transmission

  • Multi-room, multi-zone, multi-user options

  • Advanced Left/Right speaker configuration for stereo speakers

  • Support for high-resolution audio (24bit/192kHz)

  • New features and services delivered wirelessly

  • Works over standard Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Powerline networks

  • For Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, and Windows PCs

 

Just like Sonos and AirPlay, Play-Fi works over your home WiFi network. If you have spotty WiFi coverage in some rooms, this could be an issue. And you need to make sure your router is up to the task of streaming all that music simultaneously. Play-Fi support streaming the same source to up to eight devices simultaneously. Of the three, only Sonos offers the ability to create its own dedicated network by connecting one of your devices via hard-wire to your router. In this mode each Sonos device also operates as a wireless repeater, extending the range of the dedicated network and helping you overcome spotty WiFi issues.

And, of course, Play-Fi comes with a bunch of music options from around the world.  The native app has support for Spotify, Pandora (enabled for select Play-Fi products only), Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Deezer, Songza, Sirius XM, KKBox in Taiwan, QQ Music in China, and multiple others. They also support DLNA for access to content from your local network. And they’re adding new sources all the time. Since the sources come from the control devices, the speakers don’t need to be updated to support new ones as they come out.

Doing a feature for feature comparison, Sonos and Play-Fi are fairly neck and neck, while AirPlay lacks a few capabilities they both offer. We already know Apple doesn’t do Android, but AirPlay also only supports multi-zone streaming from an iTunes collection on a computer, not from your iPhone or iPad. AirPlay can’t stream from multiple sources, and doesn’t support left/right stereo pairing, while both of the others do. Play-Fi differentiates itself from both of the other options with support for High-Resolution (24bit/192kHz) files and a 5GHz Wi-Fi option for interference-free playback on most devices.

 

What doesn’t it do?

WiSA gives you up to 7.1 surround sound, all wirelessly. Sonos provides a surround sound experience by pairing two Play:1 speakers for rear surround with a PlayBar sound bar for front L/C/R and a Sub to make it go boom. Not really a full surround sound experience, but absolutely better than a sound bar all by itself. Like AirPlay, Play-Fi does not have an option right now for wireless surround sound in your home theater. They have sound bar options from a few manufacturers, but nothing for the rear or side surrounds.  

To be frank, this really surprised us when we started looking into the tech. We naturally assumed that a company best known for surround sound would use their wireless technology to enable that in your home theater. No such luck. There are even a couple receiver and processor options from Anthem that have native Play-Fi support. Just not for surround sound. You can use them to stream music to your home theater speakers, but only in stereo.

 

Device Options

Play-Fi has an impressive lineup of technology partners. Anthem offers two receivers and a pre/pro. There are speaker choices from Definitive Technology, MartinLogan, McIntosh, Paradigm, Phorus, Polk Audio, and Wren. Many of whom also offer a sound bar option or two. Other partners include certain Hewlett-Packard tablet models and Fusion Research who make the first multi-source server designed specifically for the custom installation market so you can integrate Play-Fi into your home automation system. They have partners announced with products to come in the future like Klipsch, Rotel, Dish Network, Acer, Arcam, SVS and more.

 

Conclusion

We aren’t looking at another VHS vs Beta, Blu-ray vs HD-DVD format war for wireless audio protocols in your home theater just yet, but it could happen. Right now for whole-house audio, much like automation protocols, if there are enough devices, or more specifically the right devices to meet your needs, in the technology camp you select, you should be fine. With the relationships they already have from licensing surround sound technology, and the established expertise in audio, DTS should be able to build a solid ecosystem that only grows over time. They already have more options that just about any competing technology.


 

Download Episode #731

Reader Comments (4)

Morning Guys!
The link appears to be error-ing on iTunes.

March 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJim in Butler

Non-iTunes as well...
File not found on authors server

Best regards,
PCH

March 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPHugger

The file on the server is dated 3-17 but the download points to a file 3-18 causing errors.

Enjoy the show.

March 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

This sounds like a good alternative over a conventional whole home audio system in a house that already has the dry wall up. Often just putting a few Sonos in each room doesn't provide the user experience we're after. I really like the concept of wireless streaming, but being able to install my own speakers.

September 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCaleb

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