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From its humble beginnings back in 2013, DTS' Play-Fi has now become the biggest brand-agnostic service, helped with the addition of new names including Rotel and Klipsch. But can it stave off the newest threat of Google?
Play-Fi is one of over a dozen proprietary streaming systems competing in the market, with Sonos being No. 1, and Bose's SoundTouch a distant No. 2. With the recent introduction of Google's Streamcast Audio and its ability to mimic most features of much higher-end products -- multiroom, high-res, multiple app support -- competition has never been tougher.
Play-Fi is a streaming music platform that offers playback from iOS, Android and Windows machines in a multiroom environment. To DTS' advantage, the "open standard" now covers a wide range of brands including Anthem, Definitive Technology, MartinLogan, McIntosh, Paradigm, Phorus, Polk Audio and Wren, and enables them to interoperate via the use of the Play-Fi app.
New products announced at CES 2016
Hi-fi manufacturer Rotel is known for its high-end hi-fi and home cinema products and enjoys a somewhat leisurely (as opposed to yearly) pace for releasing new products. The company has announced it is developing a Play-Fi-enabled speaker -- probably its first speaker in at least 30 years -- and audio components to be announced later in 2016. The company's last two receivers, the RSX-1562 (2012) and the RSX-1582 (2015), only feature the older HDMI 1.4 standard, and may not actually pass protected 4K video from a Roku 4 or similar device. The promise of a modern update with Play-Fi onboard in addition to perhaps the latest HDMI standards (2.0a and crucially HDCP 2.2) would be very welcome.
Klipsch has also announced it is planning Play-Fi-enabled "premium" speakers to be announced later in 2016. Klipsch traditionally offers passive bookshelf and tower speakers, though it also has a range of multimedia and sound bar speakers.
DTS has also announced Play-Fi support for two more streaming services, which helps make the standard more competitive with streaming leaders Sonos. These are Amazon Prime Music (available now on Android and iOS "coming soon") and iHeart Radio (coming to iOS and Android devices by February 2016). They join services such as Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, SiriusXM and Tidal.
In addition Polk has announced the new Omni SB1 Plus sound bar with Bluetooth support and wireless rear speaker capability will be available in March 2016. In addition the Omni A1 Plus ($299) wireless amplifier will be available in April 2016.
While many Play-Fi components support both Apple Airplay and Bluetooth they're not part of the standard, and devices with support for Google Cast, such as Raumfeld and Denon HEOS, pose a serious threat. Not least of which because they enable you to cast straight from supported apps to the device without having to learn a new proprietary (and often more complicated) one.
Will Play-Fi become the standard that DTS hopes? It's possible, and it's certainly got a better chance than companies that only service their own product, like the Samsungs and LGs of the world.
As we see it there are at least two things potentially Play-Fi holding it back. First has been the app itself. While the updated iOS app launched a little while ago, Android users are still stuck with the original version.It looks homemade and isn't as sophisticated or powerful as the offering by its biggest threat Sonos. It's still uncertain when it will be available for download.
The second is smaller, but important to audiophiles. While the system will support high-res files, unlike Sonos, it "dumbs them down" to 48kHz over wireless in order to minimize playback problems. Competitors like Yamaha's MusicCast and Raumfeld don't do this.
While Qualcomm is another company that has entered this space with its AllPlay products its engineers told CNET last year that it expects the number of competitors to whittle down to "two or three" major players within the next 18 months.
From over 12 to 3? It's going to be a very interesting couple of years, and ironically enough it's Play-Fi, Chromecast and Sonos that are probably in the best position currently.