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AirPlay 2 multiroom audio: Hands-on with the iOS 11.4 beta

We're still waiting for AirPlay 2's official launch, but beta software shows us how multiroom audio will likely work with Apple TVs and HomePod speakers.

Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Apple's beta software for TVOS and iOS is here, so we took a look to see what it might tell us about AirPlay 2 -- whenever iOS 11.4 launches for real.

AirPlay 2, first announced last June at WWDC 2017, promised to expand on Apple's streaming service to allow for multiroom audio as well as a stereo function, so two HomePod speakers could play in the same room. Not only would you be able to play music or listen to a podcast from your iPhone or iPad's Control Center like before, but you should also be able to ask Siri to play audio on more than one speaker.

Apple's Beta Software Program gives us nondeveloper folks early access to what its upcoming operating systems might look like before their official launch. Use your iCloud login here to sign up for Apple's public version of its TVOS 11.4 and iOS 11.4 betas to test out some of the features it's currently working on. (Remember, though: This is beta software for a reason -- only sign up if you have spare devices that you aren't relying on for everyday use.)

While we liked the HomePod's sound during testing, it was light on features. AirPlay 2 could greatly improve its current functionality and bring Apple closer to parity with rivals such as Sonos, Google and Amazon, all of which currently offer robust multiroom audio streaming options. (Sonos has long offered stereo pairing, too -- and it sounds great on the Sonos One.)

Unfortunately, this feature isn't yet available through the iOS 11.4 beta. The app does let you get part way, by selecting "Create Stereo Pair" in the app. But when you try to select two HomePods to make them a stereo pair, it says you need to update your software (but won't let you actually do it). 

Testing multiroom audio with Apple TV

You can't set up two HomePods as a stereo pair -- yet -- but you can play multiroom audio with two Apple TVs. The Apple TVs I updated to the TVOS 11.4 public beta now show up in the Home app.

Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Things worked better with the TVOS beta software. Your iPhone or iPad Control Center now lets you select more than one Apple TV to play the same audio. Saying "Siri, play Bob Dylan in the gym and in the kitchen" worked too.

The Apple TVs I updated with the TVOS beta also appeared in the Home app, presumably to allow for future integrations with HomeKit, Apple's smart home platform. The Home app lets you create "scenes" where lights, thermostats and other HomeKit-compatible devices can kick on to your preferred settings at the same time. It seems likely that Apple TVs will be added soon so you can include audio along with other things in your HomeKit scenes.

While the TVOS and iOS public betas don't give us a complete picture of what the final software will look like, this is a promising sign that AirPlay 2 support will likely launch with 11.4. But since AirPlay 2 and iCloud-based Messages -- also in the 11.4 beta -- were in the 11.3 beta before being pulled before the final version hit on March 29, I'm not holding my breath.

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