Bluetooth, AirPlay, DLNA: What's The Best Streaming Format Today?

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Bluetooth, AirPlay, DLNA: What's The Best Streaming Format Today?

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DLNA
Think of�DLNA�as "AirPlay for devices that aren't made by Apple." Like AirPlay, DLNA relies on your home network for streaming and, as such, it is just as difficult to pin down in terms of range. It's totally dependent on the quality of your network. DLNA is supported by pretty much every major non-Apple smartphone, including Android devices, Nokia Windows phones, and Blackberry 10. And yes, there are even DLNA apps for iOS - some of them are built-in control apps for AV receivers (the�Onkyo Remote iOS app�is a notable example), and some of them are dedicated servers that allow you to stream music from your iOS device library to DLNA-compatible players via your home network.�

As for the availability of DLNA-capable players, there are a lot of them.�Literally millions. There are even DLNA-certified refrigerators, for goodness' sake. But that brings up an interesting point. Just as not all Bluetooth devices are designed for music streaming, not all DLNA-capable devices are designed for music playback. I wasn't kidding about that DLNA-capable refrigerator, but try to stream music to it and nothing will happen. It relies on DLNA for photo sharing only.�

The upside is that, given the rather open architecture of DLNA, you're much more likely to be able to stream FLAC and other high-resolution file formats. That ability, of course, depends on the player itself and whether it supports such files. The�Pioneer Elite SC-79 networked AV receiver, for example, will accept streaming FLAC files. The�Sony PlayStation 3�- which for quite some time was one of the most popular DLNA players - won't, at least not without some serious tinkering.�

DLNA can also be a bit fussy overall, despite the fact that it's based on Universal Plug and Play, which is again probably a result of its open architecture. Servers can crash. Setup can be difficult (or it can be a snap, depending on the app). Things have, of course, gotten a lot more streamlined as DLNA has matured, and the interfaces have gotten a lot prettier. But DLNA still has a bit of a reputation as a tinkerer's streaming audio system. If you're looking for something a bit easier, there's always...

Sonos
Sonos�hit the scene in 2005 and positively revolutionized the multi-room distributed audio market. Before that, listening to the same source of music in multiple rooms in the house generally meant relying on incredibly expensive audio matrix switchers and miles of wiring buried in the walls or ceilings, more often than not operated by advanced control systems costing tens of thousands of dollars.�

Relying on a mix of WiFi and its own proprietary network technology - called SonosNet - the original Sonos system consisted of ZonePlayers, which formed their own mesh network (in other words, the more players you added, the stronger the network became), to which you either connected a set of bookshelf speakers or ran a line-level audio or optical digital output to your home sound system like any other source device. From there, you used a dedicated controller to select music from your computer and streamed it anywhere in the house. Since then, Sonos has introduced numerous new players, some with built-in speakers, as well as a soundbar that can be paired with Sonos players to form a completely wireless surround sound system. Numerous Internet music services have been added, as well, including Pandora, Spotify, MOG, and iheartradio. These days you can even stream music directly from iOS or Android devices.�

Setup is also incredibly simple - so simple, in fact, that it either works or it doesn't. I've set up a couple of Sonos systems in my day and, with some computers, it was a matter of plugging it in and patting myself on the back for a job well done. During my Windows 7 days, though, I couldn't get a Sonos system to access my music library to save my furry Wookiee butt.

For being a proprietary system, Sonos does support a�wide range of audio file formats, including MP3, WMA, AAC (although not DRM-protected iTunes downloads, if you still have any of those), OGG, both FLAC and ALAC (up to CD quality), AIFF and WAV (with limited metadata support), and even Audible audio book downloads.

And the Rest...
Of course, this isn't an exhaustive list of every streaming audio option out there. There are other proprietary formats, each with its own pluses and minuses - like�Kleer, an audiophile alternative to Bluetooth that operates in much the same way, except that it has vastly more bandwidth, requires a transmitter dongle attached to either your portable media player or laptop, and has only ever seen much hardware support from Arcam and Sennheiser. But if you're just dipping your toes into the streaming audio waters, chances are good that one of the above will suit your needs. Which is the best? Again, that depends on what sort of hardware you already own, what sorts of files you want to stream, and how willing you are to find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Additional Resources
� Read more original content like this in our�Feature News Stories section.
� See�more streaming, apps, and downloads news�from HomeTheaterReview.com.
� Explore reviews in our�Media Server Review section.

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