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Multi-Room Media Streaming

Over a period of time you would have accumulated tons of digital content on your PCs and other devices. Managing all this digital content is one of the biggest issues you may face. You like store it one place and stream them to all the devices across your Home network. In one of the previous post, I have discussed how to store it centrally with NAS (Network Attached Storage) and share it across the network.

In this post, I will discuss about multi room media streaming and streaming server. Once you have set up your home networking you like to listen to music / watch video in all the rooms with ease and without duplicating your media files. NAS allows you to avoid duplication. Next biggest question is how to share it and stream it across the network. There are too many solutions to it, some are elegant and costly and some are not so elegant but cheaper. Let us look at various popular solutions.
  1. DLNA (Digital Living Network alliance, www.dlna.org)
  2. Apple Airplay (www.apple.com)
  3. Sonos multi room music (www.sonos.com)
  4. Placeshifting Technologies from Sling Media Inc (www.slingmedia.com)
  5. Time shifting Technologies (ex: PVR,DVR etc)
DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance)

DLNA is a global collaboration of computer and consumer electronics companies (245 at present) which started in 2003. It issues a set of interoperability guidelines so that all dlna certified products from these companies can share their content, view and play them. It basically uses UPNP (Universal Plug and Play) and extends it for the network sharing of contents. Most of the CE devices available in the market are dlna certified. Ex: TV, Game stations (PS3, XBOX), Blu-Ray players, Media players, NAS, AVRs etc.. Most of the popular operating systems and media player apps support DLNA.

Pros: It is universally supported and quite easy to set up. Generally no extra cost involved.

Cons: It relies on the existing network, so if your wireless network signal is weak or has blind spots this will not work. Since it is based on UPNP it sometimes becomes plug and Pray . DLNA implementation is buggy in some of the devices and it may lead to errors. So eventhough it is easy to setup you need to be tech savvy to make it work.

DLNA certified devices can stream music, photos and videos. For HD content streaming you may require a wired network or the latest Wi-Fi n+ networks .

Apple Airplay (www.apple.com)

If you own lot of Apple products Apple, Airplay may be the best choice. Basically Apple redesigned its popular Air Tunes protocol to include all media files, ie, videos and photos apart from music. So you need a one of the Apple iOS devices (iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch) to stream the media and the receiver end you can have an Apple TV connected to a TV and AVR or any other Air Play compatible devices, ex: Denon, Maranaz, JBL, iHome, Pioneer AVR. Since there are 200+Million iOS users around the World, device manufacturers competing to launch Airplay compatible equipment. So by the end of this year you will be spoiled for choice.

For video streaming use Apple TV connected to you AVR or directly to TV. Use your iPhone/ iPad/ iPod Touch (using the same Wi-Fi) to control the media from anywhere. For extending multiroom operation you can have Airplay compatible speakers in any room for music and Apple TV for video + Audio. In addition you can add Airport express (it works as a repeater) for better Wi-Fi reach and its audio output can be used to connect to any speaker set or use Airplay compatible speakers.

Sonos Multiroom System

This is the best multi room music system money can buy. It is costly but ensures that high quality music follows you to even the nook and corner of your house. The system consists of Sonos Zone Player S5, Zone Player 120, Zone Player 90, Zone Bridge and a controller 200. All these forms a mesh network with each Sonos device acts as a repeater to cover the entire house. This mesh network in turn connects with internet using a Zone Player or bridge to stream internet content. Apart from the Internet connection the rest of the Sonos mesh network is independent of your Wi-Fi network, so there is no question of bandwidth issues or blind spots. It has built in more than 30,000 Internet radio stations and connects to your music stored in your NAS or any other computers.

Zone Player S5

The S5 is a high-performance; all-in-one wireless music system that has 5-driver speaker system which is individually powered by 5 internal digital amplifiers. It includes 2 tweeters, 2 mid-range drivers and 1 subwoofer for high-quality sound. Apart from S5 you need a ZonePlayer or a ZoneBridge connected to the router to play music wirelessly. S5 communicates to other Sonos devices through Sonos 2.0 mesh wireless network

Picture above shows S5 front and rear and the control apps running in an iPad. Sonos S5 is recommended to be used in bedroom or a living room where you may not have a full-fledged AVR and Speaker systems. Sonos S5 retails at $399/- For budget conscious Sonos is bringing S3 or P3 which is cut down version of S5.I will include the details in our quick look session when they release it to public.

Zone Player 120

The Sonos ZonePlayer 120 has a built in stereo amplifier of 50WX2. It is compact and convenient and can be connected to any pair of speakers. The ZP120 works anywhere you've ever dreamed of having music — the bedroom, the bathroom or even the backyard. This works wirelessly with your Sonos 2.0 mesh network established by a Zone bridge or S5 conencted to your router. It retails at $499/-

Zone Player 90

The Sonos Zone Player 90 does not have a built-in amplifier but it outputs digital music through optical or coaxial connectors and analog through RCA connectors. It can be connected to the AVR in your living room. In all other respects it will work the same way as other Sonos components.

Zone Bridge BR150

Sonos Zone Bridge is used if you do not have a Ethernet network and your Internet router is located in a place where you do not need a music player. Zone Bridge helps in establishing the Sonos 2.0 wireless mesh network and providing internet connectivity. It has built in 2 port switch so that you can extend the reach of your data network too. It retails at $49/- Sonos starter kit is available from Amazon with Zone palyer S5 and BR150 in a bundle.
Zone Controller C200

Sonos system can be controlled using any iOS devices or using Android phones. But if you need a dedicated controller you need to spend whopping $349/- for C200

Sonos Zone player is the best multi room music system you can have and won too many award to count. It is costly but known to be worth.